11-5-07 Update: In Monday morning’s Free Press, columnist Drew Sharp has a similar piece on the Fidrych/Zumaya comparison.
Thirty years ago, Tigers fans held out hope that the knee injury suffered by Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in spring training was merely a moment of turbulence on his career’s soaring trajectory. Unfortunately, Fidrych’s career â€” which showed such promise after a 19-9, Rookie of the Year campaign in 1976 â€” all but ended 11 starts into his sophomore season.
Despite a rotator-cuff fueled flame-out, to this day The Bird is a revered character in the Tigers’ rich history. (I still like to imagine a 1984 rotation of Jack Morris, Fidrych, Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox.)
In the wake of Joel Zumaya‘s shoulder injury â€” coming six months after his finger injury â€” one has to wonder if the closer-in-waiting could become this generation’s Fidrych.
Comparing these two pitchers isn’t apples to apples, of course. In fact, they couldn’t be any different in just about any category. Fidrych was an innings eater, which likely contributed to his truncated career. He threw 250 innings in 1976 â€” as a rookie. Those were the days before meticulous pitch-count management. (In contrast, consider that in 2006 the Tigers were concerned with Justin Verlander topping 130 innings pitched in his Rookie of the Year season.)
At most, Zumaya pitches two innings a game.
In 1977, Tigers fans expected more of the same from The Bird. Little did they know they’d already seen his best.
Thirty years later, after Zumaya’s early-season hand injury occurred, fans expected him to pick up where he’d left off. Instead, he showed only flashes of his 2006 dominance. Now we must wait until mid-season, at best, to learn more about his prospects for a long major league career.
Still, until Zumaya burst on to the scene in 2006, no pitcher has electrified Tigers home crowds like Fidrych.
Let’s hope that’s where the similarities end.