45 Years Ago: ‘The Bird’ Takes Flight [Video]
The summer of 1976 was not a great time in Michigan, but one shining light made things a little easier.
Inflation, unemployment, high murder rates, gas shortages. These were things Michiganders were dealing with in the summer of 1976. And on top of that, the Detroit Tigers were in the midst of rebuilding year, and weren't that good.
But by June, a young rookie pitcher emerged and began running up a win streak that defied the team's expectations.
By June 28, 1976 Mark Fidrych had won six consecutive games, and had won over Tiger fans with his bizarre behavior. Fidrych seemed to talk to the baseball before throwing it and doubled as a groundskeeper by grooming the pitching mound with his hands.
But more then that, it was Mark's infectious enthusiasm for life that won the fans over. Seemingly always happy and handling pressure situations with a shrug made him a favorite from day one.
Detroit Free Press beat writer Jim Hawkins called him, "...something to behold."
On the night of June 28, 1976, the Tigers hosted the New York Yankees in front of a national television audience at Tiger Stadium.
The last place Tigers were having trouble drawing fans that season, but word was out. "The Bird" as Fidrych was dubbed for his resemblance to Sesame Street's Big Bird drew attention, and the old joint was nearly sold out for the rookie's showdown with the best team money could buy, the Yankees.
He didn't disappoint.
Fidrych made quick work of the eventual World Champions, rolling to a 5-1 win in just an hour and 51 minutes. The fans refused to leave their seats until Fidrych came back out and tipped his cap in appreciation. The Bird had become an colorful sensation, and the nation now knew it.
After two more wins before sell out crowds at Tiger Stadium, The Bird became just the second rookie pitcher to start the All-Star game on July 13.
Fidrych would finish the season with a 19-9 record, won American league rookie of the year, but more importantly, drew twice as many fans to Tiger Stadium when he was on the mound.
Although a freak injury would curtail his career, and he would tragically die young while working on his farm in Massachusetts, the 'Summer of the Bird' is something Tiger fans still remember fondly.
And that one shining moment, 45 years ago this week, when he struck down the fabled Yankees, will live on as one of the most special sports moments in history.
And the post game interview displayed the reason so many were drawn to the young man from Massachusetts, his authentic demeanor and his crediting his teammates for their work is something rare in sports.
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