Throwback Thursday: Mark Fidrych

An ultimate "what if?" story found in old Sports Illustrated.

A funny set of sports threads that take us way back!

Brash Young Bucks and Mark Fidrych

Two Boxscore Geeks podcasts ago — subscribe if you haven’t — I talked with Ty about the Bucks of the 70s. Namely, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade isn’t thought of as poorly as it should be due to the Bucks' performance in the 80s, including Marques Johnson. Ty even remembered a great “poster” in Sports Illustrated titled “Brash Young Bucks” with him. I was able to track it down because the internet is awesome!

This is the April 24th, 1978 Sports Illustrated, which happens to have this cover.

I was not familiar with Mark Fidrych, and there are some obvious reasons. He only lasted five seasons and played 58 games. But as fans of both “The Bird” and the Tigers, his rookie season was legendary!

He easily won Rookie of the Year and placed second in the Cy Young Award — best pitcher award, for the non-baseball fan. He lead the league ERA+. Brief recap, as I understand it. ERA+ is 100+, the percentage better than league average adjusted for ballparks played in. So at 159, Fidrych was 59% better than the average pitcher in 1976. Second place was Vida Blue of the Athletics (142), third place was John Denny (141). Denny is mentioned as he was the top National League pitcher, Fidrych was American League.

Jim Palmer of Baltimore won the Cy Young due to leading the league with 22 wins — tied with the Cy Young winner of the NL Randy Jones. Unlike Jim Palmer, Fidrych did play (and start!) in the All-Star game at least.

Sadly, between an injury in training camp in 1977 and then an undiagnosed rotator cuff injury the same season basically ended his promising young career. I want to stress the absurdity of this. A star baseball pitcher a mere 45 years ago was able to tear their rotator cuff and have it go undiagnosed for eight years! Mark earned $330,000 over his career. Adjusted for inflation, that’s worth roughly $1.3 million. A modern MLB 3rd-round pick can likely expect near $1 million as a signing bonus, for perspective. Fidrych was picked in the 10th round of the 1974 draft, but that was out of 16 rounds.

Basically, “The Bird” was an amazing prospect that sadly played in an era with worse medicine and resources for players. As shown, Sports Illustrated in 1978 was expecting big things from him. I stress, again, he had a torn rotator cuff no one knew about! Having never heard of him as a casual baseball fan, I was happy to learn about him, as he definitely joins the ranks of “what if healthy players”, and may perhaps be the ultimate answer to that when it comes to baseball pitchers.

Until next time!


Baseball-Reference — Mark Fidrych page.

Wikipedia Mark Fidrych page.