Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, shown in 1976 with a friend, attempted a comeback in 1982 with a Red Sox's farm team after he flamed out in the bigs.  Getty Images

July 1 in sports history: One last, magical flight for 'The Bird'

Here's a look back at notable sports news on July 1 through the years:


1982: In 1976, rookie right-hander Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was a phenomenon with Tigers, finishing 19-9 and winning AL Rookie of the Year. His strange gyrations on the mound and his talking to the baseball and assorted other goofiness made him a fan favorite.

By 1980, though, Fidyrch was out of the big leagues, done in by an arm injury. Hoping to work his way back to the bigs, he signed on with Boston's Pawtucket, Rhode Island, minor league team.

On a magical night, nearly 9,400 fans somehow packed the Pawtucket ballpark designed to accommodate 5,800 to watch "The Bird" pitch against the Yankees' Triple-A farm team. Slumping Dave Righetti, the 1981 AL Rookie of Year who had been sent down to the minors, started for Columbus.

Nearly 125 media members had credentials for the game — mostly to see Righetti. "I have never seen anything like it," Columbus manager Frank Verdi told the Boston Globe.

But "The Bird," a New England native, stole the show, improbably pitching a complete game in a 7-5 win by Pawtucket. When he struck out Butch Hobson for the final out, the crowd went bonkers.

"Bird ... Bird ... Bird," they chanted.

"Fidrych danced around the entire field, trailed by the TV crews, by his teammates, by the noise," wrote Globe columnist Leigh Montville. "He went into the dugout, but the crowd stayed, cheering. 'We want Bird.' He reappeared, back from the clubhouse, and thrust his right arm high."

"The Bird," though, never made it back to the bigs. He died in a truck accident in 2009. He was 54.

THE KING JOINS THE LAKERS

2018: LeBron James took his talents to L.A., agreeing to a four-year, $154 million deal with the Lakers. "Welcome to the family," Kobe Bryant tweeted about James, who left his homestate Cavaliers.

BASEBALL NUGGETS

1941: In a 9-2 win in the rain-shortened nightcap of a twin bill against the Red Sox at Yankees Stadium, New York's Joe DiMaggio tied Wee Willie Keeler's 1897 major league record consecutive game hit streak of 44. 

1945: Tigers star Hank Greenberg, playing his first game since serving in the military during World War II, made a dramatic return in Detroit. In a 9-5 win over the A's in the first game of a doubleheader, he went yard — the 250th HR of his career — for the first-place Tigers. The crowd gave him a standing O.

1951: In a 2-1 win over the Tigers, Cleveland right-hander Bob Feller became the third pitcher in major league history to pitch three-no-hitters. Detroit scored in the fourth on an error, stolen base, an errant pick-off throw and a sacrifice fly.

Feller credited his teammates for some great gem-saving plays. "The weather helped me too," he told United Press. "It was cool enough to be ... exhilarating."

AIRING IT OUT

Gather 'round, youngsters, and let us tell you a story about when big-league pitchers were real men, could throw forever and their managers were .... well, MIA, perhaps?

In 4-1 and 5-1 wins on a brutally hot day Cincinnati in 1917, Reds right-hander Fred Toney went the distance in both games against Pittsburgh, prompting the question:

Did the Pirates simply stink?

Well, yes, they did, finishing the season with a 51-103 record. In pitching three-hitters in each game, Toney "appeared to be lined with asbestos for he remained as cool as a mint julep," the Pittsburgh Daily Post reported.

The losses spoiled the managerial debut of Honus Wagner, who was also playing in the last season of his Hall of Fame career with the Pirates. Cincinnati management gave Hans a "magnificent silver pitcher" before the first game, the Post reported; between games, he got a bouquet of flowers. Perhaps they felt sorry for him and his weak-hitting club.

At the end of the first game, Toney said "he felt great and could pitch till the crows came home." Hmmm...


Dizzy Dean of the Cardinals went 17 innings before he was pulled in a 1934 game. Bettmann / Contributor

In the Cardinals' 8-6, 18-inning win over the Reds in 1934, each manager took "saving his bullpen for another day" to the extreme. Starters Dizzy Dean of St. Louis and Tony Freitas of Cincinnati each pitched the first 17 innings. The Cardinals won it with two runs in the 18th.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Dean was "pretty tired" when he was pulled.

Ya think?

Happy birthday ...

  • Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis. The sprinter and long jumper broke records in the 100-meter, 4x100-meter and 4x200- meter relays and held a 10-year unbeaten streak in the long jump. He holds the record for the indoor long jump. (59)

Happy 62nd birthday, Nancy Lieberman. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
  • Nancy Lieberman, Hall of Fame basketball star nicknamed “Lady Magic.” She played in the WBL and the men’s USBL before coaching, including as an assistant with the Sacramento Kings.  (62)
  • Aaron Sanchez, free agent right-handed pitcher. He led the AL in ERA in 2016 and made the All-Star team. (28)
  • Former NFL cornerback Mike Haynes. The Hall of Famer, known for his punt return prowess, was a nine-time Pro-Bowler and two time First Team All-Pro. He won a Super Bowl with the Raiders. (67)

R.I.P.

2010: Don Coryell, longtime coach of the Chargers. Considered a visionary who revolutionized the passing game, his “Air Coryell” teams led the league in passing seven times. He died at 85.

2019: Tyler Skaggs, pitcher for the Diamondbacks and Angels, who struck out close to 500 in seven seasons in MLB. He was found unresponsive in his hotel room, and it was later determined his accidental death was due to a combination of drugs and alcohol. He was 12 days shy of turning 28.


June 30 in sports history: A brief glimpse at Magic kingdom

A longtime editor at ESPN and The Dallas Morning News, Banks has written for The New York Times, Civil War Times, America's Civil War, Military Images and other publications. He lives in Nashville.



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