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Mark Fidrych Diary

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This year marks the 30th anniversay of Mark Fidrych's magical rookie season in 1976 and, to honor the memory of that campaign, I am writing a diary of his season from the perspective of a fan who does not know what lies ahead. I was 13 years old that summer so I have some vivid memories but I also use retrosheet.org and various newspaper archives to make sure I get the facts straight. I update the diary regularly on Tiger Tales. The segment below is for April, 1976

April 1, 1976

Last night’s Tigers/Red Sox spring training game was on television here in Massachusetts so I finally got a chance to see the Tigers in action. It wasn’t a great game because the Red Sox pounded the Tigers 13-4. I did get to see Mark Fidrych pitch for the first time though. He pitched the first three innings giving up 4 runs in the third after two scoreless frames. He is a tall skinny pitcher with long curly hair. My father said he reminds him of Bill Lee of the Red Sox. He does seem kind of flaky – shaking his arms a lot, making gestures and talking to himself.

I wanted to see him pitch because he is supposed to be a good prospect but also because he grew up in Northborough, Massachusetts. Northborough is just about 40 minutes from where I live so I’m pulling for him. It would be great to see a Massachusetts boy pitch for the Tigers.

The Tigers seem to like him a lot. I was just looking at his statistics and I see that he’s 21 years old and 6-3 175. No wonder why he looks so skinny. He was drafted in the 10th round and was the 231st pick overall last June. He pitched 34 innings for Bristol in the rookie league in 1974 and compiled a 2.38 ERA. Last year he started in Lakeland and moved up to Montgomery and Evansville before the year was over. That is quite a quick progression for a 20 year old 10th round pick!

At all three stops combined in 1975, he pitched 171 innings, had a 3.23 ERA and a 113/62 strikeout /walk ratio. That is not a lot of strikeouts but he is young and I like the fact that he improved with each level. He is definitely somebody to watch this year. I would guess that he will spend much of the year in Evansville but he could get called up to Detroit at some point if he pitches well.

April 5, 1976

The Tigers beat the Reds yesterday 3-2 thanks to a single by rookie Jerry Manuel with the bases loaded in the 11th inning. Fidrych pitched 3 shutout innings to start the game and Steve Grilli pitched 2 1/3 shutout innings to win it.

With spring training winding down, it appears that Ralph Houk is leaning towards putting non-roster invitee Fidrych on the 25 man roster. He would start the season in the bullpen but could get some spot starts later in the season. Joe Coleman, Ray Bare, Dave Robets and Vern Ruhle have the starting spots locked up. It seems to me he might be better off getting some starts in Evansville rather than mopping up in Detroit. We'll see what happens.

I've been reading some scouting reports on Fidrych and, despite his young age (21), he is apparently a pretty polished pitcher for a kid two years removed from high school. He has three pitches - a good fastball, a great slider and a change-up. He also has good control, keeps the ball down and has excellent concentration. I'm looking forward to seeing his progress. I hope they are not rushing him.

April 8, 1976

With opening day two days away, Ralph Houk completed his 25 man roster today and Fidrych did indeed make the team. He was a long shot to make it at the beginning of camp but Houk made it increasingly clear as the spring went along that he was very impressed. It doesn't seem like a great idea to me as I see him spening a lot of time sitting in the bullpen and occasionally mopping up games. I'd rather he be pitching games for Evansville.

The Tigers starting staff will consist of the aging Joe Coleman, Ray Bare, Vern Ruhle and Dave Roberts. Coleman will be the opening day starter. I'm excited about Ruhle's potential but the rest of the rotation looks like one that won't help them improve on their 102 loss season last year. Come to think of it, maybe Fidrych will get a shot to start some games this season. I do question whether he will be ready to help much this year though. Along with Fidrych, the other relievers are John Hiller, Steve Grilli, Bill Laxton and Jim Crawford.

Here is the opening day starting line-up:

Ben Oglivie CF

Dan Meyer 1B

Willie Horton DH

Rusty Staub RF

Alex Johnson LF

Milt May C

Aurelio Rodriguez 3B

Tom Veryzer SS

Gary Sutherland 2B

The bench consists of: Ron Leflore, Mickey Stanley, Jerry Manuel, Bill Freehan, Chuck Scrivener, John Wockenfuss and John Knox.

Rusty Staub makes them look a little more respectable and the acquisition of Milt May gives them a decent young catcher but it's still not exactly a line-up that strikes fear into opponents. I have no idea why they felt it was necessary to acquire Alex Johnson. I'd much rather see Ron Leflore in there everyday. One thing to look forward to is Jason Thompson, the young slugging first baseman, who should be called up later in the season.

I'm not expecting much from this crew but I can still hardly wait for opening day, always one of the best days of the year. Hopefully, theTigers will make a little progress this year.

April 15, 1976

The season is about a week old but the Tigers have only played two games because three games have been postponed due to rain/snow. They are 1-1 so far.

In their first game, Joe Coleman and John Hiller combined to beat the Indians 3-1. Coleman pitched the first six innings allowing one run and Hiller pitched three scoreless innings to get the save. Willie Horton smashed a two run home run and Dan Meyer added two hits.

Two days ago, the Brewers blanked the Tigers 1-0 on a two hit shutout by Jim Slaton. Ray Bare pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings before being replaced by Hiller. The Brewers scored an unearned run off Hiller when Aurelio Rodriguez, of all people, booted a grounder in the ninth inning. Slaton has two shutouts already.

With lots of days off and good pitching in the first two games there has been no use for Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. I read in The Sporting News this week that Fidrych’s teammates call him “The Bird” because he looks like Big Bird on Sesame Street. He first got the name while playing for Bristol in the Appalachian League. Based on the one game I saw him, I can kind of see the resemblance.

April 20, 1976

The Tigers lost a tough one day. I was catching updates on local radio WEEI through the late afternoon. They scored two in the first on a two run home run by Horton and two more in the second on a single by Veryzer. Feeling pretty good about the four run lead, I went outside to shoot baskets for a while. When I came back inside for another update, I found that the Tigers were now ahead 5-1 after an RBI single by Horton in the top of the seventh.

After that, things began to fall apart. The next report was that the Athletics had scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to cut the lead to 5-3. It was still 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. At that point, I was able to get a faint early evening signal from WJR. Here is how the inning went:

Bert Campaneris singled and stole second

Phil Garner walked

Jim Crawford replaced Joe Coleman

A double steal put runners on second and third

Bill North lined out to left

Claudell Washington walked to load the bases

Joe Rudi got a two run single to tie the game

Mark Fidrych replaced Jim Crawford

Don Baylor singled on the second pitch to win the game 6-5.

So Fidrych finally had his first chance to pitch but did not have a good start to his career. That's a really tough spot for a rookie to be making his debut. I certainly won't judge him on two pitches after sitting for two weeks.

This is the third time this year the Tigers have blown a lead in the ninth inning. In another game, the score was tied after 8 and they lost it in the ninth. They are now 3-4 and all of their losses have been tough ones. Their bullpen has not been impressive. I suppose it's better than getting routed every day like last year.

One good thing today was that Leflore started his second game of the season and scored two runs. He has a hit in each game so far. On a re-building team, Leflore really needs to start playing regularly.

April 25, 1976

The Tigers lost another game in the 9th inning today. They were tied 3-3 going into the ninth inning but John Hiller gave up two runs in the top of the inning. Ben Oglivie got a pinch home run to lead off the bottom of the inning but the next three batters were retired and the Tigers lost 5-4. So the Tigers are now 5-5 with all 5 losses coming after they were ahead or tied in the ninth inning.

There have been several line-up changes since the beginning of the season. Milt May broke his leg Tuesday on a play at the plate and is out for the season. That is disappointing because May is a pretty good young catcher. Now, 35 year old Bill Freehan is back behind the plate.

They are re-building in other areas though. Ron Leflore has started 5 straight games and has gone 7-22 getting at least one hit in each game. Big Jason Thompson, a very good power hitting first base prospect, has been re-called from Evansville and has started the last two games going 2-8. Another rookie Jerry Manuel has been getting some starts at second base in place of Gary Sutherland. Manuel is not a great prospect but he’s young and he can’t be worse than Sutherland. Here is the new line-up:

Leflore CF

Johnson LF

Horton DH

Staub RF

Thompson 1B

Freehan C

Rodriguez 3B

Veryzer SS

Manuel 2B

Fidrych has not pitched since Tuesday but Ernie Harwell told a good Fidrych story this week. When Fidrych was told by GM Jim Campbell that he had made the team, Campbell also ordered him to buy a suit. Fidrych, who wore cutoff jeans and a tee shirt all spring, didn’t know where to buy a suit so Campbell gave him the directions to a store. Fidrych went to the store and found that a suit would cost him over $100 so he left the store empty handed. Campbell saw him later and wanted to know how it went. Fidrych told him he wasn’t going to blow all his money on a suit and said something about picking up a $20 leisure suit at K Mart. So Campbell offered to buy him a suit as a bonus.

So now Fidrych is a major leaguer with a suit but he never pitches.

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This will be so Cool. I am pretty pumped that we seem to be getting more of a historical perspective of the Tigers on the board in recent months with this folder.

I think I may do the same think for Dave Rozema! :classic:

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Great Job Tiger337! I was 11 yrs. old that year and this team was the first team that I remeber following. I'm looking forward to more entries in the diary!

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I don't remember May breaking his leg. Guess that explains how Bruce Kimm because Fydrich's personal catcher when he got rolling.

Great Job Tiger337 !

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May 5, 1976

The Tigers lost to the Twins for the second straight night. Unlike last night’s extra inning loss, they got pounded 8-2 in today’s game. Disco Danny Ford and Craig Kusick killed them getting 5 hits and 7 RBI between them. Dave Roberts (3-1) lost his first game of the year. One of the few bright spots for the Tigers was Ron Leflore who got 3 hits and scored both of their runs. More on him in a minute.

Fidrych finally got an opportunity to pitch his second game of the year. He mopped up in the 9th and here’s how it went:

Larry Hisle singled

Bill Freehan allowed a passed ball. Hisle to second.

Rod Carew got an infield hit. Hisle stayed at second.

Ford struck out

Butch Wynegar grounded out to second. Both runners moved up.

Danny Thompson flied out to right. Inning over.

This outing was a little better than his two pitch outing two weeks ago. It still seems crazy to have him on the team if they aren’t going to use him. Hopefully, he is learning something.

Anyway, the Tigers are now 8-8 but I like what I’m seeing from some of their hitters. Ron Leflore has now started 10 games and has a 10 game hitting streak. He is batting .348 with 14 runs scored and 8 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot. Jason Thompson has played the last 8 games and is hitting .382 with a home run and 7 RBI. Those are two young players who are really exciting to follow. They look like two great building blocks for the future. Another player who is not young but is off to a good start is Rusty Staub. He is batting .345 with 2 home runs and 12 RBI. The line-up is looking a lot better than last year.

May 9, 1976

The Tigers lost to the White Sox today 4-2. Joe Coleman lost to Wilbur Wood. Red hot Ron Leflore got three more hits and now has a 13 game hitting streak. They are now 10-9 and are in third place 4 games behind the Yankees. This isn’t bad for a team that lost 102 games last year.

The Tigers actually have a few hitters among the batting leaders. Willie Horton leads the league in home runs with 6, is 2nd in RBI with 21 and is in the top 10 in batting average (.357). It looks like Horton is going to have another big year but this year he has some help. Leflore is second in batting at .386. He is also 4th in stolen bases with 9 and has scored 15 runs scored in 14 games. Rusty Staub is also among the top ten batters hitting at a .348 clip and has 14 RBI. Jason Thompson is off to a good start - .333 with 9 RBI in 11 games. The offense has been fun to watch so far this year.

Fidrych still has only pitched two games in relief but Ralph Houk said he might get a chance to start a game later in the month when they have two double headers. Their starting pitching has been surprisingly good so far:

Joe Coleman 2-1 3.63

Ray Bare 2-1 3.12

Vern Ruhle 2-0 3.24

Dave Roberts 3-1 2.94

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May 15, 1976

Fidrych got a surprise start today when Coleman was unable to pitch due to the flu. It was the backup game for the game of the week so I was really hoping that the Pittsburgh/Los Angeles game would get rained out. It didn’t happen but at least they gave regular updates of the Tiger game.

The Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the first inning when Leflore singled and scored on Horton’s sacrifice fly. They scored again in the fourth as Jason Thompson doubled and scored on another sacrifice fly, this one by Tom Veryzer. So, the Tigers were up 2-0 after 4 innings.

Meanwhile The Bird was mowing down the Indians with no trouble at all. He retired the first 14 batters and only one ball got out of the infield. With two outs in the 5th, Fidrych allowed his first base runner when he walked Alan Ashby. Fidrych retired the next batter and followed with a perfect sixth. He had a no hitter through six in his first major league start.

In the 7th, Buddy Bell singled to left to break up the no hit bid. Manning followed with a single to center and Bell took third. But then Fidrych settled down. Rico Carty grounded out to second to score Bell and Fidrych retired the next two batters to end the inning. The score after 6 ½ innings was 2-1 Tigers.

Fidrych retired the side in the 8th and 9th innings without a ball going out of the infield. He ended the game with a strikeout of Manning and the Tigers won 2-1. He finished with a complete game two hitter striking out 5 and walking only 2. It was a tremendous starting debut for the rookie. It sounds like he dominated and I wish I had seen it. Obviously, I’m not expecting him to pitch like this all the time but I’d like to see him get another start pretty soon.

The kid from Northboro, Massachusetts was featured on the local news in Boston tonight. They showed him talking to the ball and getting down on his knees and grooming the mound with his hands. They said he was constantly fidgeting and bouncing around. I knew he looked kind of goofy that time I saw him in the spring training game. He seems like quite a character. Rico Carty said: “My mind was concentrating more on what he was doing than concentrating on my hitting.”

Other than the Fidrych news, Leflore extended his hitting to 18 games and is now batting .387. What an exciting young hitter he is turning out to be. The Tigers are now 13-11 and are in 2nd place 3 games behind the Yankees. Half way through May and the once hapless Tigers who lost 19 in a row last year are in striking distance of the lead.

May 25, 1976

The Tigers played the Red Sox tonight so I was able to watch the game on TV. It’s always exciting when I get a chance the watch the Tigers on TV but I was especially looking forward to this one after hearing this morning that Fidrych was scheduled to pitch. I was expecting him to pitch in tomorrow’s doubleheader but Houk shuffled his rotation at the last minute. Fidrych faced Red Sox ace Luis Tiant. Tiant is my favorite Red Sox player and I imitate him when I pitch in Babe Ruth League games. I love his twisting and turning windup and the way he looks out at second base before delivering. It turned out to be a pretty good pitchers duel.

In the top of the first, Alex Johnson singled, stole second, went to third on an error but was left stranded. In the bottom of the inning, Fidrych allowed a single to Freddie Lynn and that was it.

The Tigers got two men on in the second but could not score. In the bottom of the inning, Jim Rice singled to right and Dwight Evans doubled to right to put runners on second and third. Rico Petrocelli then hit a bouncer back to Fidrych and he threw Rice out at the plate. Evans was then caught stealing home when catcher Bruce Kimm faked a throw to second base. I was laughing at that one.

After an uneventful third inning, the scored was tied 0-0. In the 4th inning, Jason Thompson and Aurelio Rodriguez both singled but no runs scored. Carlton Fisk walked to leadoff the bottom of the inning and Carl Yastrzemski homered to right to put his team in front 2-0. In a post-game interview, Fidrych said it was “weird” pitching to Yaz who he had often watched as a kid.

The other big story of the night besides Fidrych pitching came in the top of the fifth. Ron Leflore extended his amazing hitting streak to 27 games when he doubled to right. He is now tied with Dom Dimaggio for the longest American League hitting streak since 1951. Joe Dimaggio hit in 34 straight in 1949. Leflore is now leading the league in batting with a .402 average!

The second half of the game flew by. Fidrych is one of the fastest working pitchers I have ever seen. Despite all his bouncing and fidgeting out there on the mound, he gets the ball back from Kimm and he throws it almost immediately. He looks goofy with all his constant movement but he actually seems like a very serious pitcher. It was fun to watch both the Bird and El Tiante. They definitely have style.

Fidrych allowed just one more hit after the Yastrzemski home run. For the night, he pitched 8 innings allowing 6 hits and just 2 walks. Tiant was better though. The Tigers threatened once more when they got two men on base in the seventh but again they could not score. The Red Sox won 2-0 and Tiant went the whole way for his 6th win of the year.

The Tigers have slumped badly since my last entry. They have lost 8 of their last 9 and are now 14-19 which puts them in last place 7 games out in the AL East. Leflore is still hitting and Rusty Staub is batting .327-3-22 for the year but Thompson and Willie Horton have slowed down.

Their pitching hasn’t been so great lately either. Joe Coleman hasn’t made it out of the third inning in any of his last three starts and now has a 4.82 ERA. He stunk last year too. I think they need to get him out of the rotation. I’d love to see Fidrych start in his place. They’ve got another doubleheader coming up next Monday so Fidrych should get another chance soon.

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I was working on organizing my VCR tapes of games and came across my ESPN classic copy of the Fidrych game against the Yankees on a Monday night on Sunday. I get a kick watching that game every time it pops up, which is about once every six months on my VCR.

Unfortunately, it set my identifying the games on my other tapes and the organization of those tapes by about 2 1/2 hours. :classic:

BTW: I couldn't believe the quality of some of my old Red Wing games from like 1996. If you didn't know what the broadcasts looked like today and didn't know the players you wouldn't know the games were taped if you just walked into the room. Unfortunately there was a period just after that I had a pretty poor VCR in my office I used to tape cable games (I didn't have cable in my apartment). Most people would never look at those tapes and call those things "quality".

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May 28, 1976

Just a quick entry today. Leflores’s 30 game hitting streak finally came to an end. He went 0 for 4 against Ed Figueroa and Tippy Martinez in a 9-5 loss to the first place Yankees. It was among the 20 longest streaks in the history of baseball and was tied (with Goose Goslin) for third longest in Tiger history. The two longest streaks (40 games and 35 games) were by Ty Cobb. Leflore is still leading the league in batting with a .381 average. This guy is really fun to follow. I hope starts another streak tomorrow.

They still have two more games to play against the Yankees this weekend. After that, they play the Brewers. Fidrych is scheduled to pitch against Jim Slaton on the 31st. If the Bird pitches another good game, I think Houk will have to think about keeping him in the rotation permanently.

May 31, 1976

Fidrych started his third game of the year today against Jim Slaton and the Brewers. Bruce Kimm was the catcher for the Tigers. Ernie Harwell said that Fidrych feels comfortable working with Kimm and Houk likes to use them together. The Fidrych/Slaton matchup turned out to be another pretty good duel.

The Tigers got a bunch of runners on base early but couldn’t score. In the 1st inning, they got a man on first when Gary Sutherland made an error. Sutherland is having a horrible year and I really think they need a new second baseman. Jerry Manuel is not the answer either. Anyway, Hank Aaron came up with one on and two outs and Fidrych struck him out. In a post-game interview, Fidrych admitted that he was excited about pitching to Aaron and he felt good when he got him the first time.

George Scott and Bill Sharp singled to start the 2nd but Fidrych worked his way out of it. Pedro Garcia got a leadoff double but then the Bird got them 1-2-3. Fidrych walked Scott in the 4th and gave up another hit to Garcia in the 5th but again no harm was done. Fidrych loaded the bases in the 6th on two walks and a hit batsmen but then retired Bob Hansen for the final out. Meanwhile, Slaton matched Fidrych pitch for pitch and the game was scoreless through 5 ½ innings.

Leflore led off the bottom of the 6th with a triple and then scored the first run of the game on Tom Veryzer’s sacrifice fly. They proceded to load the bases but had to settle for one run. The Tigers led 1-0 after 6 innings. In the top of the 7th, Pedro Garcia and Robin Yount singled with one out. Don Money then crushed a 3 run homer to put the Brewers in front 3-1.

Red hot Ron Leflore got his second triple of the game in the 7th but was left on third. He still leads the league with a .382 batting average. He also leads the league in on base percentage (.427) and slugging percentage (.556). Those are two statistics you don’t see too often but they are interesting. OBP is like batting average but it uses walks and HBP as well as hits. Slugging percentage is the total bases on singles, doubles, triples and home runs divided by at bats. Those are two stats I’d like to see more often.

The score was still 3-1 Brewers after 8 ½. Harwell said the Tigers needed some “instant runs” against new pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Here is how the bottom of the 9th went:

Meyer popped out to third.

Oglivie doubled to center.

Stanley singled to left (Oglivie scored).

Leflore walked.

Veryzer forced Leflore at second.

Staub singled to right (Stanley scored, Veryzer out at third).

Staub is awesome! The scored was tied 3-3 after 9 innings.

Fidrych stayed in for the 10th. Neither team scored in the 10th. Fidrych came out for the 11th. Sharp led off the inning with a single and Jimmy Rosario immediately followed with another single. Houk went out to the mound to talk to his pitcher and I thought he’d take him out but he didn’t. Sharp was then picked off second by new catcher John Wockenfuss. Fidrych walked Gorman Thomas to put two men on again. After Garcia flied to center for the second out, Yount followed with a single to put the Brewers in front. Fidrych retired the next batter to end the inning. The Brewers led 4-3 after 10 ½.

The Tigers had one last chance in the 11th and here’s how it went:

Scrivener singled to left.

Wockenfuss popped to first.

Manuel singled to right.

Leflore hit a sacrifice fly (Scrivener scored).

Manuel stole second.

Veryzer singled to left (Manuel scored).

Tigers Win 5-4 ! Fidrych pitched an 11 inning complete game. I’m really surprised Houk left him in there so long. He is now 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA. I’m thinking that he’ll be left in the rotation now. We’ll see. It’s now a quarter of the way through the season and the The Tigers are 17-23 and in last place 8 ½ games back.

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Fidrych with an 11 inning game? With things like that no wonder he didn't last long.

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June 5, 1976

Fidrych started his 4th game today and once again he had a tough opponent. The Rangers’ starter was Bert Blyleven who was making his first start since being acquired in a 6 player deal with the Twins earlier in the week. Just like, Fidrych’s previous starts, this one was a pitching duel.

The first two innings were scoreless but the Rangers broke through for two runs in the 3rd. Jim Sundberg led off the inning with a single to center. Gene Clines followed with a single to left. Greg Prior then moved the runners over two 2nd and 3rd with a sacrifice bunt. Mike Hargrove grounded to second to score Sundberg. Finally, Toby Harrah doubled to right scoring Clines and the Rangers had a 2-0 lead after 3 innings.

The 4rd and 5th innings went quietly and it was still 2-0 Rangers after 5 innings. In the 6th, Chuck Scrivener drew a lead off walk for the Tigers. Dan Meyer singled to right moving Scrivener to third. Rusty Staub then hit hinto a 4-6-3 double play but Scrivener scored. The Tigers were down 2-1 after 6 innings.

Nobody scored in the 7th. In the 8th, Alex Johnson grounded out to second for the first out but then Scrivener singled to left. Danny Meyer followed with a single to center to advance Scrivener to third base. Staub then singled to right to score Scrivener. The score was tied 2-2 after 8 innings.

In the 9th, Aurelio Rodriguez singled with one out but was left stranded. Fidrych retired the Rangers 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. So, the game went into extra innings with Fidrych and Blyleven still pitching. Staub reached first on a walk in the 10th but again the Tigers stranded a runner. Fidrych pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the 10th. He had now retired 11 batters in a row.

In the Tiger 11th, Ben Oglivie led off with a single to center. Blyleven struck out Jason Thompson for the first out. Aurelio Rodriguez reached on an error by third baseman Roy Howell and Oglivie went to third. Bruce Kimm then hit a grounder to third. The Brewers tried to turn two instead of coming home but all they could get was the force at second base as Oglivie scored. The Tigers now led 3-2 going into the bottom of the 11th.

Fidrych went out there one more time to face three tough batters in Mike Hargove, Toby Harrah and Jeff Burroughs. Hargrove flied to right, Harrah grounded to second and Burroughs flied to center. That made it 14 Rangers retired in a row by the Bird and the Tigers had a 3-2 victory in 11 innings.

It was Fidrych’s 4th straight complete game, the last two going 11 innings. He is now 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Houk has still not committed to Fidrych remaining in the rotation but it would be pretty hard not to give him regular starts now. There is no word on when he’ll pitch next. The Tigers went 5-2 this week and they are now 21-25 and in 5th place 6 ½ games out.

June 8, 1976

The Tigers beat the Royals 3-1 today as Dave Roberts got a complete game victory. Jason Thompson hit a two run homer, his 4th of the year. Thompson is down to .218 after a hot start. Hopefully, this will get him going again. The Tigers are now 22-27 in 4th place 7 ½ games back. They are only 1 ½ behind the 2nd place Orioles.

The big news of the day happened off the field. First, Willie Horton was placed on the disabled list with a knee problem that hs been bothering him for a long time. Horton’s bat will be missed as he’s batting .299-7-33. The good part about this though is that it will mean more at bats for Dan Meyer and Ben Oglivie.

The other big move of the day was Joe Coleman (2-5 4.86) being sold to the Cubs. Coleman has been pretty lousy for two years so I’m glad to see him go. This team needs to keep getting younger. Fidrych will now be a regular member of the 4 man rotation which is awesome news. Here is the rotation:

Dave Roberts 5-4 3.01

Vern Ruhle 4-2 4.74

Ray Bare 3-4 3.92

Mark Fidrych 3-1 2.03

Finally, the Amatuer draft was held today and the Tigers chose Pat Underwood from Kokomo HS in Indiana with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Floyd Bannister was taken first by the Astros. Both of them are supposed to have amazing talent. Here are some of the other top picks by the Tigers:

2. Alan Trammell

3. Scott Johnson

4. Dan Petry

5. Jack Morris

6. Lawrence Douglass

7. Ozzie Smith

I really don’t know anything about these guys. Hopefully, it will be a good draft for them because they need young talent badly.

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June 5, 1976

Finally, the Amatuer draft was held today and the Tigers chose Pat Underwood from Kokomo HS in Indiana with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Floyd Bannister was taken first by the Astros. Both of them are supposed to have amazing talent. Here are some of the other top picks by the Tigers:

2. Alan Trammell

3. Scott Johnson

4. Dan Petry

5. Jack Morris

6. Lawrence Douglass

7. Ozzie Smith

I really don’t know anything about these guys. Hopefully, it will be a good draft for them because they need young talent badly.

WOW. It's like the 1972(?) draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This was an awesome draft!

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WOW. It's like the 1972(?) draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This was an awesome draft!

It might have been their best draft ever. It shows how a really good draft or two can turn an organization around.

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June 11, 1976

The Tigers played the Angels today but before I get to that, I’ll talk about yesterday’s transactions. The Tigers traded Gary Sutherland to the Brewers for Pedro Garcia, another second baseman. Garcia is doing no better than Sutherland (they are both hitting about .200 with no power) but he is younger (26 years old) and has more potential. Garcia had a pretty good rookie year in 1973 hitting 15 home runs and a league leading 32 doubles but has not done too much since then. The new Tiger line-up will typically look like this:

Ron Leflore cf

Pedro Garcia 2b

Alex Johnson lf

Rusty Staub dh

Jason Thompson 1b

Ben Oglivie lf

Bill Freehan c

Aurelio Rodriguez 3b

Tom Veryzer ss

The Tigers also purchased Milt Wilcox from the Cubs. Wilcox was a great prospect for the Reds a few years ago but hasn’t developed as expected. The Tigers having nothing lose by trying to revive his career. He’ll be pitching for Evansville.

In the game today, it was Fidrych versus Nolan Ryan. Ryan is not having a great season so far (4-6 4.25) but everyone knows how dominant he can be when he’s on. It was a pretty big crowd tonight – over 36,000 for Polish American Night at Tiger Stadium.

In the Angels’ first inning, Bobby Bonds singled and stole second. Garcia then got off to a bad start as a Tiger by making an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Bonds came all the way around to score. Bonds is not hitting for as much power this year but he is still one of the most exciting players in the game. He’s supposed to be kind of a jerk but I’d love to see him on the Tigers. Fidrych settled down after the error and retired 13 in a row.

Meanwhile, Ryan had no trouble with the Tigers through the first 3 innings – 0 runs, 1 hit and 4 strike outs. In the 4th inning, Ryan struck out the lead off batter Garcia but he reached on a wild pitch. Johnson then struck out for the first out. Rusty Staub followed with a single to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Then the rains came. First there was a 21 minute rain delay. The game resumed only long enough for Ryan to throw 3 pitches and a 34 minute rain delay followed. All the waiting seemed to throw Ryan out of his rhythm as he struggled with his control when he came back out. Thompson drew a walk to load the bases. Ben Oglivie then scored one run on an infield hit and another scored on an infield grounder by Rodriguez. It was 2-1 Tigers after 4 innings. In the fifth inning, Ryan walked 3 batters and another run scored making it 3-1 Tigers. Paul Hartzell replaced him in the 6th.

In the Angels’ 6th, Andy Etcherbarren and Bonds singled. Then Chuck Scrivener made an error on a grounder by Ron Jackson and Etcherbarren scored. Tommy Davis followed with a single to score Bonds. It was tied 3-3 after 6 innings but only one of the runs off Fidrych was earned. Fidrych did a good job recovering from the sloppy play behind him and the Angels did not score any more runs.

On the other side, Hartzell was mowing down the Tigers and it was still a tie score after 8. In the Tigers’ 9th, Dan Meyer popped to third for the first out. Leflore reached on an infield hit. He was then picked off but was safe at second on a throwing error by Hartzell. Garcia moved Leflore to third on an infield grounder. Leflore finally scored on an infield hit by Johnson. The Tigers won 4-3. It was the 3rd straight time the Tigers won the game in their last at bat in a Fidrych start.

It might have been the rain but this was a really sloppy game all around. Nevertheless, it was the 5th consecutive complete game for Fidrych. He has not needed a reliever in any of his starts so far. He is now 4-1 1.84. I know it’s still early and he might have trouble the second time around the league but this is getting exciting. The Bird could be for real.

June 16, 1976

The Tigers played the Royals today and it was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych against Doug Bird. It would be a tough test for Fidrych as Kansas City came in to the game with a 7 game win streak and the best record (38-19) in the American League. They had the league’s best offense leading in runs scored with 313. The second highest total was 265 by the Rangers. The had a slew of individual batting leaders:

George Brett – 1st in batting average (.356) and triples (6)

Amos Otis – 1st in home runs (12), runs (45) and slugging (.527), 2nd in RBI (43)

Hal McRae – 1st in doubles (16) and on base percentage (.414), 2nd in batting avg (.355)

Freddie Patek - 1st in stolen bases (34)

That’s a really strong offense.

In the Royals first inning, Dave Nelson led off with a single but was caught stealing on a nice throw by Fidrych’s personal catcher Bruce Kimm. Amos Otis followed with a double and then scored when Jason Thompson booted a George Brett grounder. Fidrych, who never seems to get rattled by fielding errors, escaped with no further damage and then set the Royals down 1-2-3 in each of the next 3 innings.

Meanwhile, Jason Thompson made up for his error when he hit his 5th home run of the year tying the score at 1-1 in the 2nd. Thompson hit another home run (his 6th) in the 4th inning to put his team ahead 2-1. It was really good to hear Thompson get those home runs because he was slumping. He had come in to the game batting only .216 and I was worried they would have to demote him to Evansville.

In the 6th inning, Nelson singled and this time successfully stole second. Nelson then advanced to third on a fly ball by Otis and scored on a Brett grounder. The score was tied at 2-2 after 6.

In the Royals 8th, Jamie Quirk doubled, moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt by Buck Martinez and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nelson. This made it 3-2 Kansas City. The Tigers failed to score in the bottom of the inning despite Ron Leflore’s 3rd hit of the game. Leflore is now third in the league in batting at .346.

Fidrych retired the Royals in the top of the 9th so the Tigers came up in the bottom of the inning still down by one. Mark Littell, who replaced Bird in the 6th after he left the game with a sore shoulder, allowed a leadoff single by Dan Meyer. Tom Hall relieved Littell and allowed a 430 fly ball by Rusty Staub. Otis caught it at the warning track but it was deep enough to advance Meyer to second base. Hall then retired Thompson on strikes for the second out. Marty Pattin replaced Hall and Alex Johnson greeted him with a sharp single to right to tie the game. He then stole second. Aurelio Rodriguez was then intentionally walked to set up a force at every base. Mickey Stanley pinch hit for Kimm and looped a single to right scoring Johnson. The Tigers had a 4-3 comeback victory.

It was the 6th straight complete game including two 11 inning games for Fidrych. It was also the 4th straight time he won when the Tigers scored in their last at bat. He is 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA and all of his wins have been one run victories. The Northboro native is on a roll!

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June 20

Fidrych started against Bill Singer and the Twins today. The Twins line-up features one of my favorite players – Rod Carew. He has won 4 consecutive batting titles but is off to somewhat of a slow start this year batting just .309. Their leading hitter at this point is 25 year old Lyman Bostock who is batting .331.

After a scoreless first, Alex Johnson singled with one out in the second, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Aurelio Rodriguez. In the bottom half of the inning, Fidrych walked Larry Hisle and Steve Brye and then Jerry Terrell singled home Hisle to tie the game at 1-1.

The Tigers came right back in the third. With one out, Tom Veryzer and Dan Meyer got back to back singles to put runners on first and second. Then, with two outs, Jason Thompson hit a three run homer into the upper deck in right field to put the Tigers up 4-1. It was his 8th home run of the year. Thompson is starting hit for some good power lately as he has 4 home runs and 10 RBI in his last 5 games.

The Tigers scored again in the 4th when Bruce Kimm walked with two outs and came around to score on a double by Ron Leflore. That made it 5-1 Tigers. Leflore had 3 hits today and now leads the league in batting at .356.

In the bottom of the 6th, Butch Wynegar singled, Mike Cubbage walked and Brye singled home Wynegar to make it 5-2 Tigers. The walk was Fidrych’s 4th of the game. Ernie Harwell commented that Fidrych’s usual pinpoint control was not there today but he was getting the big outs with men on base.

In the top of the 7th, Leflore singled and Veryzer was hit by the pitch to start the inning. With one out, Singer balked the runners to second and third. Staub then hit a sacrifice fly scoring Leflore. Jason Thompson followed with a single for his fourth RBI of the game. That put the Tigers up 7-2.

In the Twins 8th, Fidrych retired the first batter on a grounder but then walked Cubbage and Hisle. Brye followed with a double to score a run to make it 7-3. Then, for the first time this year, Houk removed Fidrych from a start. The Bird walked 6 batters in uncharacteristic bout of wildness today. John Hiller came in to pitch and got out of the inning. He also pitched a scoreless 9th to give the Tigers a 7-3 victory.

Fidrych’s streak of 6 straight complete games came to an end but he is now 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA. He now has enough innings to qualify for the ERA leaders and he ranks second behind Bill Travers of the Brewers (1.85). The Tigers are 27-33 and are in 5th place 10 1/2 games behind.

June 24

I went to see the Tigers play the Red Sox at Fenway Park tonight. Fidrych pitched against Rick Wise. There were over 26,000 fans on a beautiful summer night at Fenway.

The first three innings were scoreless and Fidrych allowed only one base runner, a single by Carl Yastrzemski. The Bird was doing his thing – talking to the ball, grooming the mound before the inning, congratulating infielders on good plays, extending his arm and aiming the ball towards the catcher before each pitch, etc. I heard one fan a couple rows in front of me saying that it was a bush league act. I, of course, enjoyed every minute of Fidrych’s routines.

The Tigers scored first in the 4th inning when Rusty Staub singled, Jason Thompson doubled and Alex Johnson grounded out. The Red Sox came right back in the bottom of the inning. Cecil Cooper led off with a triple and scored on a grounder to tie the game. Then Fred Lynn and Yaz hit back to back home runs and Fenway Park erupted. When things calmed down a bit, I heard the fan in front saying that Fidrych would get eaten alive the second time around the league. The score was 3-1 Red Sox after 4 innings.

The Tigers took back the lead in the sixth when Ben Oglivie singled, Staub doubled and Thompson hit a two run home run, his 9th of the year. That would be all Fidrych needed as he held the Red Sox scoreless the rest of the way. The Tigers added two more runs in the 8th to make the final score 6-3 Tigers.

Fidrych was excellent the last 5 innings allowing 0 runs on just 2 hits. He allowed 7 hits for the game. He is now 7-1 with 7 complete games and a 2.18 ERA (3rd in the league behind Bill Travers and Wayne Garland). The Tigers are now in 5th place with a 30-34 record and 9 ½ games behind.

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June 28

The Tigers were on national television tonight – Monday night baseball. It was Fidrych against Ken Holtzman and the Yankees. Tiger Stadium was packed with nearly 50,000 fans, half of them there to see The Bird who has become a big fan favorite in Detroit. It turned out to be one of the most amazing televised games I’ve ever seen.

The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning on a two run home run by Rusty Staub, The Yankees got one back in the second on a solo shot by Elrod Hendricks. It was 2-1 Tigers after 2 innings.

Then Fidrych and Holtzman settled down and cruised through the middle innings. At one point Fidrych retired 13 out 14 while Holtzman retired 15 of 17 (with one of the two base runners reaching on an error). It was still 2-1 Tigers after 6 innings.

TheTigers scored one run in the 7th on a solo homer by Aurelio Rodriguez. They added two more in the 8th on singles by Ron Leflore and Tom Veryzer, a ground out by Staub and a double by Alex Jounson. The Tigers won 5-1. Fidrych is now 8-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 8 complete games.

It wasn’t so much the 5-1 victory which made the game exciting though. It was the electric atmosphere. The crowd went crazy like I’ve never seen a regular season crown get. I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a post-season crowd get like that. I think the crowd got Fidrych pumped up because he was even more animated than the other times I saw him. And the crowd was with him on every pitch. The concentratrion and pinpoint control was still there though.

When the game was over, he shook every hand in sight including that of a policeman who was on the field for crowd control. The most amazing thing was that almost none of the 50,000 fans left when the game was over. They stayed and chanted “We want Mark” over and over. Finally, at the urging of teammates, he went back out and waved to the crowd. Although he seemed genuinely surprised by all the attention, he certainly enjoyed the moment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player look happier. I think the kid from Northboro, Massachusetts, who even avid Tiger fans knew little about until a month ago, just became a national star tonight. He seemed to thrive on the attention tonight. Hopefully, he continues to do so.

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I had a friend of mine by the name of Fred Swanson who I played high school ball with. He was drafted by the Tigers and played a couple of years in their minor league system in the late 70's. When he would come home, he would tell us about this goofy kid who talked to the ball all the time, manicured the mound with his hands, etc, etc ,etc. I still couldn't believe it till I saw Mark in person. Talk about a different personality. He not only lit up the town of Detroit, but all of baseball with his antics. Plus he was a superior talent.

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Traditionalists had to appreciate his talent and baseball intelligence. Newer fans viewed him as a breath of fresh air in a sport that was considered stodgy.

As a 15 year old kid, I thought he was great because he seemed like a guy who could have just as easily been going to my high school as pitching for the Tigers. I could imagine the Bird being that guy who would buy your a six pack for you at the carryout if he got to keep two....

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July 4, 1976

I just got back from the big bicentennial parade and am getting ready for the family cookout later. Fidrych faced the Orioles last night before another massive crowd of over 51,000. Mike Cuellar pitched for the Orioles. Listening to the radio, it sounded as if the fans went crazy on every pitch thrown by Fidrych. Once again, it felt like a playoff atmosphere. It is amazing how the Bird has caught on.

After Fidrych retired the Orioles in the top of the first, Ron Leflore led off the bottom of the inning with a single and then stole his 27th base of the year. Tom Veryzer then walked to put runners on first and second and Rusty Staub followed with a 3 run home run, his 6th of the year. The Tigers led 3-0 after one.

In the bottom of the 4th, Jason Thompson led off with his 12th home run of the year. He always seems to hit well with Fidrych is on the mound. The score was 4-0 Tigers after 4 innings.

There would be no more scoring in the game. Fidrych pitched his best game yet and earned his first shutout while allowing just 4 hits and 3 walks. He is now 9-1 with a league leading 1.85 Era and 9 complete games. Just like the previous game against the Yankees, the fans refused to leave when the game was over. They chanted “We want Bird” over and over until he came out of the dugout and waved to the crowd.

I read today that President Gerald Ford called him after the game to congratulate him. Fidrych, however, was so convinced that it was his teammates playing a joke on him that he refused to take the call. He doesn’t want to get a big head though. He said:”If that starts to happen I want somebody on the club to smack me down. I want somebody to say, “you’re too cocky. You’re not that good. You’re only a rookie.”

The Tigers have now won 10 of their last 13 and are 36-36 overall. They have also moved into third place in the AL East. That’s not bad for a team that lost 105 games last season.

July 10, 1976

Fidrych faced the Kansas City Royals, the top hitting team in the league, tonight. Dennis Leonard, who came into the game with a record of 8-3 3.07, pitched for the Royals. Once again, Tiger Stadium was filled with over 51,000 fans. The Bird has attracted 150,000 fans in his last three starts. He’s earning a lot of money for the team right now but makes only $16,500. It doesn’t bother him though. He said:”I was getting $2 an hour working in a garage only a couple of years ago. Right now, I’m making more money than my father.”

The first three innings of tonight’s game were scoreless. The Royals broke the ice in the top of the 4th. With one out, George Brett, John Mayberry and Hal McRae hit consecutive singles to score a run. The Royals led 1-0 after 4 innings.

There would be no more scoring for either team the rest of the game. Both pitchers went the distance. Fidrych did a great job scattering 9 hits and allowing just 1 run against a very tough team but Leonard was a little better. Fidrych is now 9-2 with 10 complete games and a league leading 1.78 ERA.

It was announced today that Fidrych will start the all-star game against Randy Jones (16-3, 2.53) of the Padres. It’s not too many times a rookie pitcher starts the all-star game. When asked what was his biggest thrill before the all star game, Fidrych responded:”Getting a minibike and working on cars.” Rusty Staub and Ron Leflore will also represent the Tigers in the game.

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