Mark Fidrych (1954-2009)
Baseball fans and even pop culture observers may remember when Mark "The Bird" Fidrych electrified the baseball world in 1976. The charismatic 20 year old rookie joined the pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers during the Bicentennial year. He collected 19 wins, 24 complete games and a league-leading ERA. His performance earned him the Rookie Of The Year award and a starting spot in the All-Star Game.
Fans were intrigued with his on-field antics -- he would TALK to the baseball, manicure the mound with his hands and generally inject enthusiasum into the game while strutting around the mound between pitches. Attendance numbers dramatically increased for both home and road games when The Bird was pitching.
He was nicknamed "The Bird" because of his resemblance to Big Bird from Sesame Street. The two even posed together for a magazine cover. That year he was also the first athlete pictured on the cover of Rolling Stone.
I was saddened to hear the news of his passing on Monday. It instantly transported me back to the Bicentennial year and those memories. As a kid, that was when I first started playing organized baseball and also collecting baseball cards. This is his rookie card from my childhood baseball card collection. I haven't looked at my cards in about 15 years, as I moved on to collecting other things. But when I heard the news, I immediately thought of this particular card, recalling from memory exactly what it looked like.
Injuries cut his career very short, but fans still fondly remember that one magical year. Baseball needs more like him. Rest in peace.