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Sports Then and Now



Flash and Burn – Rookie of the Year Doesn’t Guarantee Long-term Greatness 5

Posted on June 18, 2017 by Dean Hybl

 

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was a baseball phenomenon in 1976.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was a baseball phenomenon in 1976.

The recent Major League Baseball Draft has brought a new crop of prospects vying to one day secure major league stardom. It is likely that a significant number of players selected in the draft will reach the majors, but even if they achieve short-term success, forging a long and successful career is much harder.

Many players who burst onto the scene as rookies have struggled to maintain that success over the long-term. Below is a look at some former Rookie of the Year winners whose careers soon flamed out.

Earl Williams – 1971 NL Rookie of the Year: At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Earl Williams was a powerfully built versatile player who was primarily a third baseman when he came up with the Atlanta Braves late in the 1970 season. After hitting .368 in 10 games in 1970, Williams earned a starting position for 1971. He began the season at third base, but despite having never played catcher in the minors was soon planted behind the plate and caught 71 games out of the 145 he played as a rookie, On a team with all-time slugger Hank Aaron, Williams proved to be another valuable weapon as he finished second on the squad with 33 home runs and 87 RBI while hitting .260. Playing primarily behind the plate the next season, Williams again had strong offensive numbers with 28 home runs and 87 RBI. However, after striking out only 80 times as a rookie, he whiffed 118 times in 1972. The Braves traded him to Baltimore in the offseason for second baseman Davey Johnson and several other players. He gave Baltimore much needed offensive pop in 1973 with 22 home runs and 83 RBI. His power numbers started to decline in 1974 as he hit only 14 home runs with 52 RBI. He was traded back to Atlanta after the season and spent a year and a half with the Braves before finishing the 1976 season in Montreal. After being released by the Expos, he hit 13 home runs with 38 RBI for the Oakland A’s in 1977. That proved to be the end of the line for Williams, who finished his career with 138 home runs, 457 RBI and a career batting average of .247. He passed away from Leukemia in 2013.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych – 1976 AL Rookie of the Year: Few players have enjoyed the meteoric rise or quick fall of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Earning a spot on the Detroit Tigers roster as a rookie in 1976, Fidrych made only two relief appearances during the first month of the season. However, in his first major league start on May 15th, he allowed the Indians only two hits and one run in a 2-1 complete game victory and the legend of “The Bird” had begun. With his curly hair and lanky body, Fidrych quickly was dubbed “The Bird” in reference to Sesame Street character Big Bird. He also entertained the crowd with his many mannerisms, including grooming the mound and talking to the baseball. Though he lost a 2-0 decision to Boston in his next start, Fidrych rebounded to win his next eight starts, with seven complete games, including back-to-back 11 inning performances. He took his act national on June 28th when more than 32 million people watched on ABC’s Monday Night Baseball as he defeated the New York Yankees 5-1. After losing a 1-0 decision to Kansas City on July 9th, Fidrych entered the All-Star game with a 9-2 record and 1.78 ERA and was named the American League starter for the All-Star Game. For the season, Fidrych completed 24 of 29 starts (five of which went extra innings) and had a 19-9 record and 2.34 ERA in 250 innings. He won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Fidrych suffered a knee injury while fooling around in the outfield in spring training before the 1977 season. However, he appeared fine after his return as he posted a 6-4 record with a 2.89 ERA, but suffered a shoulder injury (later diagnosed as a torn rotator cuff) that proved to be the beginning of the end of his career. He would make only 19 starts for the Tigers over the next three seasons with a 4-6 record. The Massachusetts native tried to make a comeback with the Boston Red Sox, but eventually retired after pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Fidrych died on April 13, 2009 after an accident on his farm.   Read the rest of this entry →

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