Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark Fidrych, 1954-2009. R.I.P.

Now the baseball world is truly reeling. My heart just took a leap into my throat. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych died suddenly this afternoon. He was only 54 years old.

Fidrych was found by a neighbor at his farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. He had apparently been working under his dump truck when it collapsed on him.

In 1976, Fidrych set the baseball world aflame when he won 19 games for the Detroit Tigers. Fidrych was known for his mannerisms on the mound such as talking to the baseball before he threw it and grooming the mound in between batters. He would win the AL Rookie of the Year Award and finished runner up in the AL Cy Young Award balloting to Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles.

The Tigers weren't much of a team in 1976 but Fidrych drew fans at Tiger Stadium and beyond.

In fact, it was only this past Saturday the MLB Network re-broadcast the game he pitched against the New York Yankees originally aired on ABC's Monday Night Baseball on June 28, 1976 that launched him into superstardom and into popular culture. It was not an uncommon sight to see him in a picture with Frank Sinatra or Big Bird.

Unfortunately, Fidrych's baseball success didn't last. He injured his knee during spring training in 1977 and subsequently developed a shoulder injury. Fidrych would only win 10 more big league games over the next four seasons. After being released by the Tigers following the 1980 season he tried to make a comeback in 1981 with the Boston Red Sox but never made the big league club.

Fidrych settled on his family farm and did contract work hauling asphalt and gravel. He was a cousin of one of my colleagues at work who described him as a unique, positive individual without pretensions. He is survived by a wife and a daughter.

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