Mark Fidrych was literally the only reason to watch the Detroit Tigers in 1976. Unfortunately, on this day in 1977, his promising career began to come to an end.
After pitching for just one inning in the first six weeks of the 1976 season, Mark Fidrych became an unexpected star for the Detroit Tigers. He excelled in a spot start, then, after his second start also went well, he stayed in the rotation. Fidrych became an instant star, not only from his performance, but from his antics on the mound. He would groom the mound with his hands, talk to the baseball, and shake the hands of his fielders after a particularly great play.
Along the way, Fidrych became an All Star and won the Rookie of the Year award. He led the American League with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games, posting a 19-9 record for the fifth place Tigers. Fidrych placed second in the Cy Young vote, and appeared on his way to a stellar career.
That promising career began to come to an end on this day in 1977. Pitching in a Spring Training outing, Fidrych tore the cartilage in his left knee. He required surgery, and rushed back to the mound, making his first start on May 27. As was the case in his rookie year, manager Ralph Houk kept Fidrych on the mound for as long as possible during each outing.
For a time, that strategy worked. Fidrych was back at his previous form, completing seven of his first eight starts. Then, in his ninth outing, he felt his arm go dead. He continued to pitch before being shut down in his 11th start, and did not pitch again in 1977.
He would only make 16 more appearances in the next three years as his arm refused to heal. Eventually, almost a decade after it happened and well into his retirement, it was discovered that Fidrych had torn his rotator cuff. By that time, it was too late – his career was over.
It was truly unfortunate that Fidrych never had a chance to build off his incredible rookie campaign. He was a unique character, given the sobriquet of ‘Bird’ as he looked like the Sesame Street character. His antics, and general love of life, were a joy to behold during his heyday.