The only negative thing about someone having the kind of rookie year that Mark Fidrych had in 1976, is the fear of the dreaded "sophomore jinx."
And since The Bird's debut was so spectacular, it was only natural to brace yourself for a dose of reality to set in. And did it ever.
Fidrych not only fell victim to the sophomore jinx, he practically christened his own version of it.
It all started in spring training, down in Lakeland, FL. Fidrych was shagging fly balls on a lazy afternoon. Everything was fine until Fidrych leaped for a wayward baseball and landed awkwardly on his knee. Immediately, something didn't feel right.
Speaking to the author In a 2006 interview, Fidrych said that he "felt something slushy" in his knee. Concerned, he went to teammate Rusty Staub, who told Fidrych to see the trainer.
The diagnosis was torn cartilage. The much-anticipated second season of The Bird would have to be put on hold.
Fidrych returned in late-May, starting at Tiger Stadium against the expansion Seattle Mariners. The Bird pitched a complete game and only surrendered two runs, but the Tigers didn't give him any support and lost, 2-1.
Fidrych continued to pitch well. He completed seven of his first eight starts. His pinpoint control was back, and he kept the ball in the ballpark. It looked like the sophomore jinx was just a false alarm.
But on July 12 in Detroit against the Toronto Blue Jays---another expansion team---Fidrych lasted just two-thirds of an inning, leaving the game after complaining of shoulder pain. This came two starts after Fidrych complained of a "dead arm."
Fidrych didn't pitch after July 12, but he was still selected to his second straight All-Star Game.
Meanwhile, the Tigers---remember them?---had a season to finish. Willie Horton had been traded to Texas after Opening Day, and Bill Freehan retired before the season. So the youth movement transition was now complete.
Slugging first baseman Jason Thompson, who was nicknamed "Rooftop" after lofting two baseballs over the right field roof at Tiger Stadium, was entrenched, hammering 31 homers to go along with 105 RBI in 1977. Ron LeFlore was a certified star, the year after starting in the All-Star Game. LeFlore had his second straight .300+ season (.325) and discovered a power stroke, hitting 16 homers and posting a .475 slugging pct.
Rookie left fielder Steve Kemp hit .257 and slammed 18 home runs. And veterans Staub and free agent signee Tito Fuentes provided more offense; Staub went 22-101-.278 as the team's DH, and 2B Fuentes had his only .300 season ever (.309).
But despite all that offense, the Tigers finished 74-88, as their pitching struggled mightily. Only rookie Dave Rozema (15) won more than eight games as a starter.
The Tigers finished in fourth place---23.5 games out of second and 26 games out of first.By GregEno
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- Bill Freehan, Dave Rozema, Detroit Tigers, Jason Thompson, Mark Fidrych, Ron LeFlore, Rusty Staub, Tito Fuentes, Willie Horton