Monday, November 21, 2016

Review of "The Bird"

This book was one that was selected as a group read in an online baseball book club to which I belong.  While it has been around for a few years, the material in it will not grow old to those of us who remember Mark Fidrych and that summer of 1976 when he talked to the baseball, groomed the mound on his hands and knees and retired a lot of batters for the Detroit Tigers.  This is a very good biography of the man.

“The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych” by Doug Wilson

Baseball, professional, biography, Tigers

Publish date:
March 26, 2013

320 pages

5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)

During the 1976 season, there was one player who took the baseball world by storm.  He had a mop of curly hair under his Detroit Tigers cap, was nicknamed after a character on a children’s TV show, would talk to the baseball and smooth the dirt on the pitcher’s mound on his hands and knees.  Oh, yeah, he was a pretty good pitcher that year too, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award.

That pitcher was Mark Fidrych and his story is told in this biography by Doug Wilson. The book does and doesn’t read like many other biographies of baseball players. It does in that the format is chronological from his Little League and high school playing days, to professional success and then life after baseball.  It doesn’t follow the typical format in that there is much more on Fidrych on his life after baseball because his time in the major leagues was all too brief.

This latter part is really what stands out because it portrays Fidrych as genuine – what people saw in 1976 was not an act, but the true personality of “The Bird.”  Even when a celebrity has a certain persona on camera or on the field, but is a little different off it, that goes away when the celebrity is no longer in the spotlight.  Not Mark Fidrych. Two of the stories Wilson shares with readers bring this out and are why I believe this book captures Fidrych’s life after baseball better than most biographies.

One is when a prominent sportswriter visits Fidrych on his farm for a “where are they now” story.  Fidrych takes the writer around the farm and introduces him to every animal that is on the farm – whether it was chickens, pigs or goats, each one was introduced.  The other is when Wilson writes about Fidrych’s other occupation – hauling asphalt and other such goods on his self-owned truck to construction sites. Down-to-earth work that he enjoyed for a down-to-earth man.

Of course, the baseball player is not forgotten either and the reader will be whisked away back to 1976 when the entire country was caught up in watching Fidrych pitch. The hype was a little different at the time since there was no social media sites and the writing captures what it was like to know about Fidrych only through Monday Night Baseball and newspaper accounts. Then when Fidrych had arm troubles and current treatments and surgical procedures were not performed yet, the reader will sympathize with Fidrych as he struggles to regain the form that made him so good in that magical summer.

Written with a passion for the game, Wilson’s account of Fidrych’s life is one that any baseball fan will enjoy, especially if one remembers The Bird or was lucky enough to see Fidrych perform his magic.

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