Sunday, April 14, 2013

Into the Sunset, Pt. 16: Mark Fidrych

I'm not sure what else I can say about Mark Fidrych.

Along with Roberto Clemente, I've probably talked about "The Bird" more often on this blog than any other topic in the world of baseball.

I could probably write a series of posts on his famous '77 Topps rookie alone.

During a bit of down time at a friend's house last night, I hopped on the computer to catch up on my blog reading. One of my friends happened to catch me in the middle of browsing through a Bird-centric post.

He asked me something along the lines of, "What's the story with that card?"

All I said was, "It's one of the greatest cards ever."

And I left it at that. I didn't really have time to delve deeper into it, although what I ended up saying summed up such an iconic card fairly well, I think.

One of the proudest moments of my life is and will always be meeting Mr. Fidrych at a card show as a kid. The ball I had him sign is arguably the most sentimental piece in my collection.

As most baseball fans know, Fidrych enjoyed a memorable season in the sun during 1976, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award and capturing the hearts of millions of fans in the process.

Sadly, "The Bird" would be featured on "sunset" cards just five years later.

Fidrych was never quite the same after sustaining an arm injury in just his second season.

Although he earned a second All-Star apperance in '77, he'd only pitch in 27 games over his final four years in the bigs.

Fidrych pitched his last big-league games in 1980, going 2-3 with a 5.68 in just nine games for the Tigers that year.

While he was only 27 at the time, "The Bird" was a shell of his former effervescent 1977 Topps self. To young collectors at the time, Fidrych probably looked like he was about 50 when his '81 cards rolled off the presses.

Donruss didn't help things much by producing such an out-of-focus shot of "The Bird" in their initial release.

I guess it's fitting that my last "sunset" post featured the "Spaceman" himself, Bill Lee.

Both Lee and Fidrych were two of my dad's favorite players when he was a kid. As a result, they've become favorites of mine as well. It's one of the many things my dad has passed down to me over the years.

For a long time, I never knew Donruss and Fleer had produced "sunset" cards of Fidrych in 1981. I snagged both of them from a single nickel box at the local flea market a few years ago.

I still rate it as one of the better steals of my collecting career.

Fleer's first go-around in the hobby didn't produce a ton of memorable pieces, but I've always ranked Fidrych's dugout-themed card near the top of their initial checklist.

Still, it's not enough to earn the top slot of this "sunset" countdown.

In the case of Mark Fidrych, that honor goes to Topps.

While I've always liked the initial efforts of both Donruss and Fleer in '81, I've always felt that Topps easily produced the best cardboard that year.

I'd probably rank it as one of the ten best designs in their long history.

Although "The Bird" does look a tad worn out in this shot, Topps still granted him a perfectly acceptable send-off piece in 1981.

Unfortunately, his ride off into the sunset happened far too soon than fans would've liked. Fidrych attempted a comeback with the Red Sox in 1982, but he never wound up making it back to the bigs.

I'm not sure what the future holds in store for this blog, but you can bet that Mark Fidrych will continue to be a major part of my writings down the road.

Nothing will ever change that.


Fuji said...

Love this guy. There's a video on YouTube that has him beating the Yankees. It's one of my favorite videos to watch.

hiflew said...

I agree that Topps was far and away the best of 1981. However, I do disagree about it being one of their 10 best sets. I will say that conceptually it is one of their 10 best designs, but it just lost something in translation. It's not that I think it is a bad effort, but with better coloration, a reexamination of the logo ball, and perhaps a less cartoony cap it could have been so much better. I would put the set in the top 10 letdown sets of all time.

Mike said...

All 3 are fantastic!....

beefman said...

Nick, your 'Into the Sunset' theme remains my single most favorite Baseball Card Blog theme - and I'm very sad to see it retired. I do hope it's temporary! Also, My second-favorite theme is the 'Short-Term Stops' theme you've also created. I absolutely love what you've given us over the last couple of years, and I hope you're willing and able to keep it going for us fans - you know you have many of us out there!

Cheers again,

Nick J

Nick said...

Hey Nick, I'm not retiring this theme in the slightest. My "Sunset" posts are here to stay. I doubt I'll ever retire it. :)