Mark (Big Bird) Fidrych may do for live television what Farrah Fawcett-Majors has done for the wet T-shirt.
While the big Detroit Tigers' pitcher could use a couple of appointments with Fawcett-Majors' hairdresser, no one needs to give him lessons in dramatics. He has enough moves to send Sir Laurence Olivier to the showers.
Appearing on ABC's Monday Night Baseball where, last year, he achieved instant national recognition, Fidrych put on a performance against the New York Yankees that cast the recent brawl between Yankee manager Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson into the dramatic range of a high school musical.
There he was in Tiger Stadium, the kind of ball park God must have had in mind when he invented Abner Double-day, standing on the mound before 47-236 delirious fans, and using only 86 pitches to put down and Yankees with three hits in one hour and 53 minutes.
It was, as those sports announcers whose chief enemy in life seems to be the English language would phrase it, some kind of performance.
Fidrych eschewed, for the most part, his usual shtick of acting as grounds-keeper for the pitcher's mound or talking to the ball as if it were poor Yorick's skull. He just stood there before each pitch, bent over and looking down each batter's throat, generating more fear and trembling on a baseball diamond than anything since Sal Maglie's 5 o'clock shadow turned grown men into Little Leaguers.
When it was all over, the Detroit fans stood in awe of his performance. They would not go home. The fans stood in the stands for 15 minutes until Fidrych came out of the dugout for an interview with ABC's Bob Uecker. Then they went home.
It was terrific television, as exciting as the 1975 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. And it was all due to the drame Fidrych brings to a game that is suposed to be slow and dull compared to most other sports.
This particular game reminded those of us who watched at home why sports is the last repository of the magic that is live television. It is magic because it is the one thing remaining on television where none of us knows how it is going to end.
Everything else on television is predictable: soap operas, comedy, drama, police shows and, on all but rare occasions, the news.
The reason why Arnold Palmer became television's first sports superstar is because he was so unpredictable. He took chances. He played a gold course as if he were starring in the latest episode of the Perils of Pauline. Win or lose, he kept us on the edge of our seats.
With the exception of Muhammad Ali, no one until Fidrych came along has managed to convey that sense of consistent dramatic expectation that Palmer radiated when he walked down a fairway or addressed the golf ball. (On a one-shot basis, the gold medal must be awarded to downhill skier Frantz Klammer in the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck.)
I am not sure this tells us so much about Fidrych and Palmer as it tells us about ourselves and our expectations of television. Today's TV fare has a predictable sameness, and over the long run manages to reduce heroes to the level of banality. This result discourages those of us who still think the medium capable of magic.
That is why it is such a pleasure - if you will, such unmitigated joy - to watch Big Bird Fidrych go to work on the Yankees like a great actor taking on the role of King Lear.
Unlike playing Lear, a role most actors feel they can never master, Fidrych managed in less than two hours to remind us how exciting live television can be. For that performanance alone, I would award him an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, a gold-plated Louisville Slugger, and an all expenses paid weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y.