Mark Fidrych ducked his head and scrunched his shoulders as he brought his 6-foot-3 frame from the tunnel into the dugout at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. It was media day at the 1976 All-Star Game and Fidrych had the widest-eyes in the ballpark. Less than three months earlier he’d been in the Detroit bullpen languishing as a mop up reliever. Absolutely no one would have imagined the curly-haired 21-year old would be the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game after only 11 big league starts.
Fidrych accepted a handshake from Steve Garvey, the star first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. More greetings came from his All-Star teammates and members of the NL club too: Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver. The man they called “The Bird” didn’t even bother to conceal his huge, toothy grin.
“Tom Seaver shook my hand!”
Everyone wanted to be seen with Fidrych. There he was with opposing pitcher Randy Jones, a mop-topped fella as well. There “The Bird” was in between teammates Ron LeFlore and Rusty Staub, nervously trying to come to grips with the fact that he belonged with them on such a stage. There he was chatting with Joe DiMaggio (“The Yankee Clipper”) and other baseball legends on hand. Having grown up a Red Sawx fan he wondered if his family and friends would be irritated that he was rubbing elbows with Yankees.
The American League manager was Darrell Johnson, the Boston skipper. He’d seen The Bird flapping his wings in his own ballpark, Fenway, just two weeks earlier. Fidrych had stymied the mighty Red Sox lineup, holding them to seven hits and three runs in a complete game 6-3 victory. It improved Mark’s record to 7-1 and it was his sixth consecutive win, his second straight on three days rest.
Fidrych didn’t pitch particularly well in the All-Star Game that took place the following day. It was America’s bicentennial and the Philadelphia ballpark was adorned with countless red-white-and-blue banners. Rose and Garvey may have been pleasant when they saw Fidrych on media day, but they weren’t so chummy when the game started. Charlie Hustle lined a single to center field, and Garvey followed with a sharp triple down the right field line to make it 1-0. A few batters later Garvey trotted home and “The Bird” was clipped. He spun one more inning, surrendering two more hits (both to members of Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine) and was done for the night. He got the loss when the NL won (like they always did back then).
“I don’t think I knew where I was and before I knew it [they] had a runner on third,” Fidrych told the sea of reporters stacked around his locker after the game. He was wearing tan corduroys with his faded tee-shirt because Staub had told him “Mark, you can’t wear blue jeans when you’re an All-Star.”