The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych
By Doug Wilson
(Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9781250004925, 320pp.)
Publication Date: March 26, 2013
The first biography of the eccentric pitcher, rookie All-Star starter, 70s pop icon, and first athlete on the cover of Rolling Stone
For those who remember him, Mark Fidrych is still that player who brings a smile to your face, the irresistibly likable pitcher whose sudden rise brightened the star-spangled season of 1976 and reminded us of the pure joy of the game.
Lanky, mop-topped, and nicknamed for his resemblance to Big Bird on Sesame Street, Fidrych exploded onto the national stage during the Bicentennial summer as a rookie with the Detroit Tigers. He won over fans nationwide with his wildly endearing antics such as talking to the ball---and throwing back the ones that “had hits in them”; getting down on his knees to “manicure” the mound of any cleat marks; and shaking hands with just about everyone from teammates to groundskeepers to cops during and after games. Female fans tried to obtain locks of his hair from his barber and even named babies after him.
But The Bird was no mere sideshow. The non-roster invitee to spring training that year quickly emerged as one of the best pitchers in the game. Meanwhile, his boyish enthusiasm, his famously modest lifestyle, and his refusal to sign with an agent during the days of labor disputes and free agency made him such a breath of fresh air for fans that not only did attendance in Detroit increase---by tens of thousands---for games he pitched, opposing teams would specifically ask the Tigers to shuffle their rotation so Fidrych would pitch in their cities, too. A rare player who transcended pop culture, Fidrych was named starting pitcher in the All-Star Game as a rookie (the first of his two All-Star nods) and became the first athlete to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Baseball researcher Doug Wilson delivers the first biography of this once-in-a-lifetime player. Through extensive interviews and meticulous research, the author recounts Fidrych’s meteoric rise from Northborough, Massachusetts, to the big leagues, his heartbreaking fall after a torn knee ligament and then rotator cuff, his comeback attempts with the Tigers and in the Red Sox system, and one unforgettable night when The Bird pitched a swan song for the Pawtucket Red Sox against future star Dave Righetti in a game that remains part of local folklore. Finally, Wilson captures Fidrych’s post-baseball life and his roles in the community, tragically culminating with his death in a freak accident in 2009.
The Bird gives readers a long-overdue look into the life of a player whom baseball had never seen before---and has never seen since.
DOUG WILSON is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and author of Fred Hutchinson and the 1964 Cincinnati Reds. An ophthalmologist by day, Wilson has been a lifelong baseball fanatic. He played baseball through college; however, his grade point average was higher than his batting average and he was forced to go to medical school to make a living. He and his wife, Kathy, have three children and live in Columbus, Indiana.
David Greene talks with Doug Wilson about his new book The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych. The Tiger's pitcher got the nickname because of his resemblance to the Sesame Street character. More at NPR.org
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“Solid, understated prose allows both the happy and sadder moments to shine through on their merits. He [Wilson] has a fine ear for anecdotes—which he has collected from friends and family, teammates and secondary sources—and he never strangles the subject with too much inside baseball…The Bird is a well-written, definitive book about a good guy with a great story.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“There had never been a biography written about The Bird. Leave it to an eye specialist to bring Fidrych’s life and career into proper focus…Wilson helps the reader see how much joy Fidrych had — and gave to baseball fans.”
“It's a Cinderella story: Out of nowhere, a flaky, infectiously enthusiastic pitcher captures the nation's attention, a happy reminder that baseball is fun and a business…The "Bird" he captures is a reminder that there's still joy in the game, in playing and sharing the experience.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Anyone who remembers the magical summer when the Bird spun gold every time he took the mound will love reliving the stories here…This is a fun book about a regular guy who never changed, even after exploding into a national sensation. The next time the business side of the modern game gets you down, “The Bird” should prove the perfect antidote.”
“Wilson makes plain by means of a skillful weaving of distant accounts and contemporaneous stories, many raising a tear, that Mark Fidrych deserved his celebrity and our admiration. Highly recommended…and explanation of the mania that last engulfed the National Pastime in a worthwhile way.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“For a short time in the 1970s, the country was in thrall to Mark Fidrych, who came to be known as ‘The Bird’ for his resemblance to Big Bird. Fidrych emerged seemingly from nowhere in the summer of 1976 and became an unlikely but legitimate phenomenon. Wilson tells the Bird’s story in this biography of the Massachusetts native whose antics included tending to his own pitching mound during games and allegedly talking to the baseball. Wilson also dispels a few myths along the way, namely disputing the demotion of Fidrych to a ‘flake,’ despite his antics. He also paints Fidrych as a product of his time and argues that only in the 1970s could someone like Fidrych become such an icon. The beloved pitcher’s every move drew national attention, and his appearances sold out stadiums, whether for away games or for the home games of some lousy Tigers teams. Unfortunately, knee and throwing-shoulder injuries curtailed the career of the Bird….Fidrych transfixed the country, albeit too briefly. This book serves as a reminder of why.”
“Wilson interviewed many former teammates, managers, friends, and family members in the course of researching this biography of the ballplayer and the man…A compassionate, engaging biography of a player whose star shone brightly, if briefly.”
“In chronicling the sudden rise and fall of Fidrych, Wilson takes us into the Tigers organization and the Major Leagues to show how an obscure baseball player could capture the hearts of fans nationwide.”
“Mark Fidrych's sudden emergence in the spring of 1976 was a gift from the baseball gods; his equally sudden fall from glory was one of the game's more puzzling disappointments. With THE BIRD, Doug Wilson clears away the myths and misconceptions surrounding Fidrych and his brief but magical career, leaving us with an inspiring portrait of a unique individual who truly played the game (and lived his life) for the pure joy of it.”
—Dan Epstein, author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swingin' '70s
“Mark Fidrych's magical single-season flight into baseball history exploded into rock star legend. In The Bird, Doug Wilson captures the essence of this unlikely icon with extensive insight from family, friends, fans, teammates, opposing players, managers and media. This portrait of a once in a lifetime phenomenon is a must read for all baseball romantics.”
—Dan Ewald, author, baseball writer and former Tigers executive