For most modern(ish) baseball fans, and baseball card collectors, the frenzy around rookies and rookie cards traces right back to the summer of 1976.

That’s when Mark Fidrych — The Bird — took the sport, and the world by storm with his fun-loving antics on the mound for the Detroit Tigers. Of course, the antics wouldn’t have mattered a wit if Fidrych didn’t back it up with his performance.

And, boy, did he!

All the 21-year-old did was run up a 19-9 record with an MLB-leading 2.34 ERA and an American League-best 24 complete games.

It all made The Bird a national phenomenon, and it had collectors frothing at the mouth just thinking about his first baseball card, which would hit the hobby in the 1977 Topps set.

Alas, the shine didn’t last, thanks mostly to injuries, and Fidrych’s Big League career dimmed, then fizzled even as other young Tigers like Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lance Parrish, and Lou Whitaker forged their own paths toward stardom.

After five seasons of struggles and a 1981 spent entirely in the minor leagues, Fidrych found himself on the outside of pro ball looking in, released by the Tigers in October after that split season.

At age 27, though, Fidrych wasn’t quite ready to hang up his spikes, and teams weren’t quite done believing. And so, in February of 1982, the Boston Red Sox inked him to a minor league free agent deal.

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The new scenery didn’t help much, as The Bird scuffled to a 6-8 record with a 4.98 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Things went even worse in 1983, as the balky shoulder — which turned out to be a torn rotator cuff, diagnosed in 1985 — sent him spiraling to a 9.68 ERA.

And that was the end of the line for Fidrych in pro ball.

But he had one last cardboard trick up his sleeve that summer — namely, a 1983 TCMA card showing an older, mustachioed Bird in a Red Sox warmup jacket, and a sort of stunned, almost pained look on his face.

The card is dark and cold, the stadium behind the former phenom nearly empty.

It’s a far cry from the sunny, smiling 1977 Topps Fidrych rookie card that lit up the hobby landscape, and that’s still an icon today.

But it was one last chance for collectors to grab onto the Bird while he was still active, still taking the mound, where something magical might happen — just one last time.


Wow! Wax of the Day

You won’t find a Bird rookie card, or any Mark Fidrych cards at all, inside, but 1983 Topps wax packs offer the lure of possible rookie cards of Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Ryne Sandberg … not to mention tons of Hall of Famers and a great design.

And … you can usually find more than a few wax packs and boxes for sale on eBay:

Check out the current listings right here (affiliate link).

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