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The zany Bird made for a memorable summer ...

I can imagine for Generation X, Y or Z or whatever nomenclature the young are attaching to themselves these days the grumblings from old-timers about “the good ole days” is probably annoying and maybe even a bit overblown. Phooey.

I presumably got annoyed by old people saying such things many years ago, though I concede I don’t remember that happening. I always kinda liked old people, even when it wasn’t even imaginable that I would one day join the ranks. Maybe that’s why I like old baseball cards, too.

Back in the spring of 1976, it probably wasn’t the good ole days, but in the pre-free agent baseball world it certainly was simpler, and smaller scale. “The Bird” truly captivated the whole nation that spring and early summer, most completely after that late June Monday Night Baseball win over the Yankees at a soldout Tiger Stadium.

Through the whole decade of the 1970s, the only other phenom that I can recall reaching the fever pitch of “The Bird” was in 1971 when Vida Blue dominated the American League for much of the whole campaign. But as exciting as Vida was, he didn’t mix in the zany elements of odd pronouncements, flowing curly locks, a penchant for odd, frenetic gestures from the mound and, of course, the eccentric groundskeeping that he undertook between pitches.

It never occurred to me at the time, but the Fidrych shtick probably couldn’t have endured over a long span of time. It was just too unusual, to bizarre, and presumably would have lost some of its zing after a couple of years. Sadly, because of injury, we never got an opportunity to test our long-term patience with his zaniness.

But what great fun it was for the better part of a whole baseball season, in this case with the actual better part being a joyous spring as we awaited the Bicentennial and the Olympics, both of which seemed like contrived, orchestrated hoopla compared to the fun we had with Fidrych.

Even before the odd, fragmented reference to him took on the weight of obituary, most everyone who witnessed it all insisted that it was nothing if not genuine.

That wouldn’t be a horrible epitaph for anybody.


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