Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mark Fidrych Diary - May, 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 and various newspaper archives to make sure I get the facts straight.

The April entries can be found here: April, 1976

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.

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 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. 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.

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 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

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.


  1. Houk says he is going to stick with his 4 regular starters. They do have doubleheader coming up in a week and a half so we might see Fidrych pitch one of those games.

  2. I don't really blame Houk because the other 4 starters have been pretty good so far. If one of them starts to falter, Fidrych should get more opportunities.

  3. AnonymousMay 26, 2006

    I heard a rumour that LeFlore is going to be on the cover of The Sporting News.

  4. I read in the Boston Globe this morning that lots of his family and friends were at the ballpark. He said it definitely pumped him up.

  5. Charles, Leflore should be on the cover of The Sporting News. He's having a great season. I'm really excited about his future.



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