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Original Issue


Percy Bysshe Shelley certainly was a great poet, but he obviously knew from nothing about baseball:

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert....

As baseball fans in Detroit and elsewhere can tell you, the line has got to read, "Bird thou always art...." for Mark (The Bird) Fidrych of the Tigers is one of the blithest spirits baseball has ever seen, heir to the tradition of heroic innocence established by such men as Rube Marquard and Germany Schaefer and carried on by the likes of Casey Stengel and Dizzy Dean. The tradition seemed to have run out of gas in this age of big-bucks baseball, but Fidrych has singlehandedly refueled it—and become, at the age of 23, a quasi-mythic figure in the process.

Myths and legends all seem to have their ghostwriters today, so it's no surprise that Fidrych has produced something called No Big Deal (Lippincott, $8.95), in collaboration with a writer named Tom Clark. But this being Fidrych, this book is different. Instead of an as-told-to autobiography it is done in question-and-answer form; and instead of your basic for-kids-only hagiography, it is pretty much warts-and-all—though The Bird, predictably, sports some amusing warts.

Clark says in his introduction, "Interviewing Mark is like being thrown into the water at an early age. You learn how to float in time, then you take a few strokes, then you're in the swim of it." He's right. Fidrych talks in waves and floods, splattering his sentences with apostrophes and italics and exclamation points. When he gets excited he's likely to shout, "Voom!" (he loves cars), and when he doesn't like the flow of the chatter he'll cry out, "Whoa!"

He is also a very, very funny talker and he loves to tell stories. My favorites revolve around the days when he played in the Appalachian League and lived in the Jim Dandy Trailer Camp, but others may fancy his encounter with Elton John ("He goes, I know a little bit about you. I said, Whoa. He's shock-in' the hell outa me.... I was lovin' it, though"), or the time Mickey Stanley visited his apartment and checked out all the groupies hanging around. (Stanley said, " oughta make it a meat shop. Put numbers out there, it's so bad.")

Fidrych stories are like peanuts; once started, you can't stop. Since No Big Deal is full of them, it may well prove to be the funniest sports book of the year. Voom!