This Day in Baseball History: June 28th, 1978

Rest in peace.

On June 28, 1978:

Mark Fidrych convinces the ball to do what he wants.

Mark Fidrych is one of the most interesting people in baseball history. Known for his on-mound antics, he was worth watching purely from that standpoint, let alone his outstanding pitching. Fidrych would manicure the mound if he thought the cleat marks were too deep. He talked to himself. He had to have a personal catcher, Bruce Kimm, because he was so superstitious. He strutted after getting an out. He made the umpire replace balls that had “too many hits in them”. His most ardent supporters, “the Bird Watchers”, came to the stadium and would often chant for a curtain call (not normal protocol in the day) after his start.

But perhaps his most famous performance was his June 28th start against the New York Yankees. The Tigers hadn’t been particularly good in recent years, and they were on their way to a fifth-place finish for 1978. There weren’t too many reasons to watch the Tigers, meaning there weren’t many people who would know Fidrych. However, that night’s game was the Monday Night Game, and against the Yankees, he was sure to get some attention. And attention he received, but it wasn’t necessarily directed toward his complete-game, 1-run performance. It was mainly because he talked to the ball while on his recently-groomed mound. The audience, both the national audience and the nearly 50,000 at Tiger Stadium, were enthralled and maybe even entoxicated with the 21-year old, and he became a celebrity.

Fidrych went on to play in the All-Star Game, win the Rookie of the Year Award, and finish second for the Cy Young Award. He had won 19 games along with a league-best 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. Though not a strikeout pitcher (only 3.5 per 9), he was effective and had impeccable control (1.9 BB/9). The following season, he hurt his knee while fooling around in the outfield, and when he came back, he tore his rotator cuff (though it remained undiagnosed for 8 years). Maybe his knee injury forced him to compensate, thereby hurting his shoulder, or maybe not having a start until May 15th and still throwing 250 innings did him in. Either way, he was out of baseball by 1984, and when his shoulder was finally diagnosed, it was too late for a baseball career.

Trivia Time
Who diagnosed his rotator cuff injury?

Yesterday’s Answer –> Ian guessed it — Benito Santiago.


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