"Maybe if he'd lasted a few more years..." says Wolff. "I've been able to do a lot of things for a lot of athletes, but I've never come up with an answer for one when the people start asking, 'Who did you used to be?' "
"Hey, let's take a plane ride to Michigan," says Fidrych, kicking his boot at the snow. "They recognize you like it was yesterday. That's a plus in my atmosphere, right? It wasn't just one year of publicity. Even when I was sent to the minors, every town I went to, there was my picture in the paper and a story about me. Why didn't they just tell me I'm not good enough to do a commercial? It's obvious I didn't fit in. So I'm not pitching anymore. What in hell's wrong with showing me cutting wood and drinking a Miller Lite or a Coke?"
He remembers that he doesn't want that anyway, that he opted for the simple, uncluttered life. "Look, if it doesn't come, fine," he says. "It's no skin off my butt."
Pinkus, Fidrych's agent at the height of his popularity, estimates that the dream year grossed his former client $125,000 in off-the-field money, mostly from Florida Citrus and Aqua Velva TV ads, some speaking engagements and a book. Ten years later, when the American marketing machine was greased and waxed, another country boy with a nickname, another natural, burst into prominence on a Monday-night nationally televised game. Before his dream year ends, William Perry will make well over a million dollars off the field.
"If Mark had that year in 1986?" says Pinkus. "Oh God. I'd sign him to a five-year with the Tigers at one to one-point-five million per, with an MVP bonus and a 20-win bonus. That's close to two million. Easy. I'd sign him to represent a chicken frankfurter company, which we had contracts all written up for when he got hurt—the Bird Frankfurter line—with a guarantee of $100,000 the first year, $150,000 the second, plus a percentage of the company's profits. That would have made him another million, easy. I'd get him a sporting goods line. He'd probably be a regular on his own TV series, 10 grand an episode. He'd be a national spokesman for something—an airline, a car, a major insurance company. That's at least a quarter million a pop. Do four—it's a million. Personal appearances—$15,000 per. Easy. Kissinger and Ford get $15,000—that shows where America's at. He'd have made 10 to 15 million in the last five years, if he'd maintained who he was. Easy. He'd have been a giant.
"You say he's not working a regular job now? Maybe I could make him a sports announcer or something, pull some strings. Honey, bring me Fidrych's phone number—excuse me, I was talking to my secretary. I have the most extensive Rolodex in the country, got Ronald Reagan's number when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. What do you mean, it's not there? How could you not have Fidrych in my Rolodex?"
Dusk. Work is done. Fidrych enters through the kitchen door, past the unused living room where the furniture is covered with sheets and all the plaques and trophies from his career rest in darkness. In the attic and cellar are cardboard boxes full of the stuffed birds that fans besieged him with in '76. "I'll put everything out when I move into my new house," he says.
This house is the one Fidrych bought for his parents in '77. He always thought first of family. On a promotional tour with the Tigers that year, he kept running to the phone to see if the oldest of his three sisters had delivered her baby. "When she finally did," recalls Campbell, "he was so excited you'd have sworn he was the father."
Fidrych doesn't eat dinner at home much anymore, now that he's got a girlfriend. Sometimes his dad, Paul, an assistant principal of an elementary school in Worcester who is a year and a half from retirement, intercepts him just after he's showered off the farm dirt, just before he bolts out the door.
"What did you do today, Mahk?"