Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych: 1954-2009

What a shock to hear of the death of a true baseball legend, a guy nicknamed "The Bird".

Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, the fun-loving pitcher who baffled hitters for one All-Star season and entertained fans with his antics, was found dead Monday in an apparent accident at his farm. He was 54.

Worcester County district attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said a family friend found Fidrych about 2:30 p.m. Monday beneath a dump truck at his Northborough, Mass., farm about 35 miles west of Boston. He appeared to have been working on the truck, Early said.

The curly-haired right-hander was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1976 when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. But injuries cut short his career, and he ended up spending only five seasons in the major leagues, all with the Detroit Tigers. He was 29-19 with a 3.10 ERA.

Certainly Fidrych's shortened career numbers aren't what make him "legendary". Whether it was manicuring the dirt on the mound or talking to himself prior to every pitch, Fidrych made a name for himself as one of the daffiest characters the game has ever seen.

One of my favorite stories came courtesy of Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles. During Fidrych's stellar '76 season, the Tigers visited Yankee Stadium in September. As a practical joke, Nettles sprinkled bird seed on the mound whenever he went from the first base dugout to third base between innings. Fidrych proceeded to shut out the eventual AL champion Yankees that night, as well as eat the bird see left on the mound.

This 1985 interview with Fidrych is indicative of his personality: an odd character who loved the game of baseball. Sadly Fidrych's life, like his memorable baseball career, ended much too soon.


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