Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mark Fidrych Diary - April, 1976

The Mark Fidrych Diary will be a regular feature on Tiger Tales during the course of the spring and summer. This year is the 30th anniversay of Fidrych's magical rookie season in 1976 and, to honor the memory of that campaign, I will be writing a regular diary of his season from the perspective of a fan who doesn't know what lies ahead. I will update the diary once or twice a week during the season. I was 13 years old that summer so I have some vivid memories but I will also be using retrosheet.org and various newspaper archives to make sure I get the facts straight.

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.

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 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 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 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 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.


  1. Yes it's nice to see LeFlore get some action. With Staub and Alex Johnson out there, he had better be prepared to cover about 4/5ths of the outfield.

    I'm predicting that the Tigers won't be in any brawls this year...what team would be crazy enough to start something with Horton and Johnson both available to respond?

  2. Not only Horton and Johnson but also Leflore. I wouldn't want to mess with an ex-con.

  3. Ozz, I'm in Massachusetts so I can't listen to day games. The WJR signal does not work here until the evening.
    I was getting updates on a local radio station every half hour.

  4. I love that you are doing this. You are insane. Also, the very first time you did I for a minute thought you were going to do them IN THE VOICE OF THE BIRD, which both amused and terrified me.

    Also, I couldn't leave comments on your blog for ages without my internet committing suicide. What's up with that?

  5. Sam, there was some weird HTML in one of my posts which brought Tiger Tales to its' knees for several days. This happened a couple of weeks ago and I temporarily lost half of my readers. I fixed it though.

  6. Ozz, they brought up Thompson sooner than expected. This seems pretty quick but I'm glad he's getting a chance to play regularly rather than just sitting on the bench.



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