April 14, 2009

"24!"

***In a span of just a few short hours, Major League Baseball lost two of its most colorful characters. One was the voice of the City of Brotherly Love, the other...a goofball who spoke in a thick New England accent. Here is JB's take on the latter.***
My advanced apologies to those of you who think this article will happen between the hours of 11:00am and 12:00pm.

Sorry, Jack Bauer fans. Go rent Season One, put on your Snuggie and stop reading this article.

Right.

Now.

Ornithophobia aside, I was happy to see last week’s mention of the greatest-non-title-winning wrassler of all time Koko B. Ware here at The Hall. I loved the “Ghostbuster” and always broke it out on various home furnishings.

And even though I feared feathered-friends (still do…hate it when they are “free” in PetSmart), I even had a thing for the worthless bird, Frankie that he brought ringside with him.

Suffice it to say, Koko always “smelled” like a Hall of Famer to me.

Whether it was irony or something like the Mothman Prophecies (terribly horrible film, by the way), I felt compelled to write something about a bigger “Bird” that captivated our country, even before Koko was on the top ropes flapping his arms.

No, not the eight-foot tall, yellow S.O.B. from our favorite Street growing up.
You know…the one with the sexual identity issue.

Not him.

I am talking about a bigger “Bird,” one that transcended professional sports and made a country smile during a difficult economic time.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych died Monday at the age of 54 in an apparent accident on the farm he retired to when injuries cut short his brief, spectacular career.

In 1976 when the United States was finally overcoming the division of the populace over a foreign war and facing struggling economic times (sound familiar?), “The Bird” gave us the opportunity to turn on the TV and not have to watch the doom and gloom of the world around us. Comedic actions aside (i.e. talking to the baseball, hand-grooming the mound and all apologies to college softball teams…starting the congratulatory handshake with an infielder after a run/game saving play), the guy could flat out pitch.

Fidrych brought a mid-90’s heater to the table along with a slider that fell off of one.


Granted, he is remembered for what he did on the mound and not the numbers he put up on it…but the man had talent that does not come around overnight.

As a 21-year-old rookie in 1976 (he would turn 22 later in the year), Fidrych put up numbers as insane as his actions. How does 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and a .218 average against sound?

Good enough for the AL Rookie of the Year.

He should have won the Cy, but that was awarded to the prima donna in Jockey briefs that year. Sorry Mr. Palmer, but you shouldn’t have gotten the chicks AND the hardware that year.

All jokes aside, Fidrych threw 24 complete games that year.

24!

He was second in the Majors to Randy Jones 25 for the Padres, who in fact, DID receive the National League Cy Young Award. Only one pitcher has topped it since (Rick Langford had 28 for the A’s in 1980) and one other has reached that mark. Bert Blyleven had 24 in 1985 for the Indians and Twins.

Can you imagine Cito Gaston asking Roy Halladay (last year’s leader last year with nine) to finish another 15 games?

I know I can’t.

Point is, all the articles you will read on Fidrych in the next couple of days will be about his quirks, the kind of guy he was (outstanding, I have read) and the magical 1976 season he turned in.

Remember him, if you would, as a guy who helped people forget the tough times they faced each and every day and made people smile with his fastball as much as his mound-grooming antics did.

Try to picture Manny Ramirez (cue the reprehensible “I’m Back!!!!!” soundbite) or T.O. doing something to make you smile and not seethe. How about “Pacman” Jones making it rain at a Boys/Girls club rather than a strip club?

I know athletes donate to this or that all the time, set-up their own charities, etc…but can you say “tax write-off”?

Ask yourself as you watch highlights tonight the last time a pro athlete genuinely made you smile with his personality and not a charitable photo op.

I will leave you with a quote below from “The Bird,” as I go back to the doom and gloom of today’s world. Hoping and praying for the next Mark Fidrych to give us something to all smile about again.

"That ball has a hit in it, so I want to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls in there. Maybe it'll learn some sense and come out as a pop-up next time."

BallHype: hype it up!

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