Baseball is a very different game from football or basketball. Basketball is about speed and power and football has militaristic language because it’s regimented in similar ways.
Baseball is slower and more relaxed. Baseball has time for eccentrics. And baseball appreciates them.
Just consider the oddballs who have drifted through the sport: Casey Stengel. Satchel Paige. Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Jim Bouton. Moe Berg. If you don’t know about Moe Berg, stop what you’re doing now and read about the man. You will not believe what you find. We can’t believe this man isn’t worth a movie. More like several.
The greatest of all was Yogi Berra, who said things in a way that became a permanent part of the language, even if we still don’t fully understand the genius behind them (“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over..When you come to a fork in the road, take it...The future ain’t what it used to be.... No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded...Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical”).
Berra defines the baseball eccentric but he’s not the only one and one of the best, certainly the freshest, and arguably the most fun, with the possible exception of Berra, was Mark “the Bird” Fidrych.
Fidrych came out of nowhere in 1976 and became an immediate star for the Detroit Tigers. He had long, bushy hair that his hat could never quite contain, he talked to the ball before he threw it, and he shooed the ground crew away, insisting that he would manicure the pitching mound himself.
He was an immediate sensation. Fans clamored to see him. Opposing teams asked to have him pitch in their parks to draw bigger crowds. He was just something else.
Sadly, he was a brief comet, lasting only four years before an undiagnosed rotator cuff injury ended his career.
Even more sadly, he died young when he was under a large truck trying to repair it: his shirt got caught in a moving part and he was suffocated. He was just 54.
Baseball has never found anyone else close to him and been 41 years.