Mark “the Bird” Fidrych Has Flown Home

fidrych Mark Fidrych, a Northborough native whose aw-shucks charm and on-the-mound antics helped make him a national phenomenon as a Detroit Tigers rookie pitcher in 1976, was killed in an accident in his hometown this afternoon while working on his pickup truck. He was 54.

Fidrych, who won 19 games as a rookie before injuries derailed his career, was found dead on his 107-acre farm this afternoon, according to the office of Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. Fidrych was found by a family friend underneath his truck at about 2:30 p.m.

In the 1974 amateur draft, he was not selected until the 10th round, when the Detroit Tigers picked him. In the minor leagues one of his coaches dubbed the lanky right-handed pitcher “The Bird” because of his resemblance to “Big Bird” of the Sesame Street television program.

In the process Fidrych also captured the imagination of fans with his antics on the field. He would crouch down on the pitcher’s mound and fix cleat marks, what became known as “manicuring the mound”, talk to himself, talk to the ball, aim the ball like a dart, strut around the mound after every out, and throw back balls that “had hits in them,” insisting they be removed from the game.

At the of his rookie season, the Tigers gave him a $25,000 bonus and signed him to a three-year contract worth $255,000. Economists estimated that the extra attendance Fidrych generated around the league in 1976 was worth more than $111 million.

Fidrych tore the cartilage in his knee fooling around in the outfield during spring training in 1977. He picked up where he left off after his return from the injury, but about six weeks after his return, during a game against Baltimore, he felt his arm just, in his words, “go dead.” It was a torn rotator cuff, but it would not be diagnosed until 1985.

At age 29, he was forced to retire. After seeing everyone from chiropractors to hypnotists, Fidrych went to famed sports doctor James Andrews in 1985. Dr. Andrews discovered the torn rotator cuff, operated, and cleaned out the shoulder. But, the damage already done to the shoulder effectively ended Fidrych’s chance of making a comeback.

Fidrych remained cheerful and upbeat. In a 1998 interview, when asked who he would invite to dinner if he could invite anyone in the world, Fidrych said, “My buddy and former Tigers teammate Mickey Stanley, because he’s never been to my house.”

It doesn’t seem possible, he seems to young to be dead, maybe because his career was a flash of light, like a meteor streaking across the sky. I just watched a special on the MLB Network about Mark Fidrych, now surely to be replayed, I’ll be watching for it. But it brought back great memories of Bird Mania, what an exciting time it was, the ballpark was electric, and then he was gone, just like today. Gone too soon! Our thoughts & sympathies go out to the Fidrych Family & the entire baseball world. Gone, but not soon forgotten.

2 Responses to “Mark “the Bird” Fidrych Has Flown Home”

  1. MLB Network just showed Mark’s game from June of ’76 against the Yankees. For some reason, I sat transfixed Saturday while watching this game and thought that we would never again see someone so enthusiatic and so excitable and so genuine. I called my 13 year old in to watch him if only to have him try and experience why I (we) loved him in that magical summer of ’76. The city of Detroit and alas all of baseball loved him if for but a brief moment. He was a memorable character and will be missed. He was in studio March 9th st MLB Network and he appeared to me to be the same loveable Birdman-only older.
    RIP “The Bird”

  2. It was shocking to hear of his death. I still remember parents comparing him to one of the children on my little leagu team. He’s gone but, not forgotten.

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