As Michael Rosenberg writes, “Mark Fidrych reminded you of your childhood, no matter how old you were when he pitched.” For one spectacular season, 1976, the curly-haired rookie from small-town Massachusetts was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. But the 21-year-old phenom was so much more than his stats (19-9, 2.34 ERA). “The Bird” (a nickname he earned because he looked like so much like the Sesame Street character) yelled at the baseball, sprinted to the dugout after every inning, and if a batter got a hit off him (a rarity during that magical year) he demanded a new ball from the umpire. After the games, Fidrych would tell reporters at old Tiger Stadium that his real dream was to drive a dump truck. The crowds loved him, the women screamed his name, and his cover shot on Sports Illustrated—grinning alongside the real “Big Bird”—is still a classic. More than three decades later, even the most casual sports fan has a Fidrych story. As for the man himself, his story ended far too soon. Hampered by injuries and unable to regain his fastball (that’s what happens when you toss two dozen complete games in your rookie season) The Bird threw his final major-league pitch in 1980, and then retreated to Northborough, Mass.—where he bought a dump truck. Yesterday, at the age of 54, Fidrych was found dead underneath his beloved truck. An investigation is ongoing, but it appears that he was accidentally crushed while doing repairs.
Long live “The Bird”
Mark Fidrych, from all-star pitcher to dump truck driver
FILED UNDER: In Memoriam