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(Sports) Remembering Harry Kalas and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

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Two baseball guys of my childhood died within a short span of time from each other.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1976 when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games (a lost art). What really put him on the map was the dongwhipping he gave the evil Yankees on Monday Night Baseball. He talked to the ball and he cleaned the mound with his hand. He was my first sports personality that I liked. Al Kaline was a great player, but Mark Fidrych was a great character.

Fidrych's arrival in Detroit came at the right time. It was two years after Al Kaline's retirement and the departure of that late '60s/early '70s squad (Kaline, Cash, Horton, Northup, McLain, Coleman, etc.). He became an immediate baseball rock star in Detroit. I was thrilled when I got his baseball card in the numerous packs. The Flint and Detroit media followed him where ever he went. He was leading the next generation of Detroit Tigers. A few years later, there would be youngins named Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and Jack Morris. At the time, who knew?

Fidrych was also my first brush of an athlete with great potential that just didn't come through. He spent five years with Detroit with a 29-19 record. His rookie season was 19-9. Knee and shoulder injuries plagued his career. This along with the Tigers trading Ben Ogilvie to Milwaukee for Jim Slaton and Rich Folkers in 1977 brought me into sports reality where not everyone stays with one team - and healthy - their whole career.

The other death is legendary Phillies broadcaster and voice of a NFL Film Harry Kalas. My dad's side of the family is from central New Jersey and my grandmother was a huge Phillies fan. Every summer of my boyhood, I would spend 2-4 weeks with my grandmother in Trenton. After that we would meet up with my parents at Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore.

I spent a lot of time watching baseball on TV. There were days I could watch it from morning to night. Thanks to cable, there were Cubs, Braves, Monday Night Baseball and the local Phillies, Mets and Yankees. Hearing Harry Kalas was always a treat.

Salute, gentlemen.

Matthew Socey is host of THE BLUES HOUSE PARTY and FILM SOCEOLOGY for WFYI 90.1 FM

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