Baseball loses an icon

0424_largeWhat a week. First Nick Adenhart, then Harry Kalas and now Mark “the Bird” Fidrych has died.

Fidrych, one of baseball’s all-time characters, was killed in an apparent farming accident. He was just 54.

I was too young to appreciate his phenomenal 1976 campaign, but I have enjoyed — more than once — a replay of an old “Monday Night Baseball” game broadcast during the height of Fidrych mania.

I’ve never seen a player take over a game the way “The Bird” did that night. He was a master showman, yet authentically self-effacing — well-deserving of the folk hero tag.

He was a helluva pitcher, too, until injuries curtailed his career. Fidrych completed 24 games his rookie year, even though he didn’t make his first start until May 15. The 21-year-old right-hander won 10 of 11 games in one particularly brilliant stretch; his only defeat was by 1-0.

Fidrych would make only 27 starts the next four seasons in Detroit. He resurfaced in the Red Sox organization in 1982, though he never regained his dominant form.

Here he is as a PawSox, facing off against Columbus Clipper southpaw Dave Righetti. The crowd, as always, was firmly on Fidrych’s side.

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11 Comments on Baseball loses an icon

  1. PepeFreeUs // April 14, 2009 at 1:37 am //

    That broadcast shows that he was the real deal. Excellent control and naturally moving stuff. He was in the MLB Network studios just a month ago, looking hale and hearty.

    Ron Darling and Gary Cohen were talking about that summer tonight on the Mets broadcast (Darling’s older brother was a college contemporary of Mark’s and they’re all from central Mass) and Cohen made the point that it’s hard to grasp how big an impression he made in the pre-Sportscenter era. I was nine that summer and he really was everywhere.

    This has been a tough day.

  2. Jack Straw // April 14, 2009 at 5:32 am //

    I remember that summer well. Fidrych really was exciting. Saw one game on tv, the rest was just clips on the news or what I could glean from my newspaper or The Sporting News. The previous summer the story was Fred Lynn, but Fidrych was so much more fun! And baseball is supposed to be FUN, right? Some people actually believed that his pitches moved because he told them to! Sad.

  3. Viva Rufino Linares! // April 14, 2009 at 6:32 am //

    Was watching the Early Show on CBS when I heard the news. Bill O’Reilly was on the next segment and mentioned how The Bird was a showman and how baseball really doesn’t have that anymore. I very rarely or ever agree with O’Reilly, but he’s right on this one. I can’t really think of a guy now like a Mark Fidrych who gives you that little something extra. Good pitcher, good showman. It’s been a tough week for baseball.

  4. Baseball needs another Fidrych. It’s interesting that he had more complete games in a single season than most modern-day starters have in their careers.

  5. clete boyer fan // April 14, 2009 at 8:22 am //

    I remember that Monday Night Baseball game very well. It was the first time I’d ever heard of Fidrych. The next day, on the playgrounds, all of us kids were talking to our baseballs or our bats, imitating Fidrych.

  6. brad komminsk's wasted youth // April 14, 2009 at 9:12 am //

    Good stuff. Also a reminder on how much I hate Steve Stone.

    Viva Rufino Linares–O’Reily mourns Roger Clemens and his ‘roid rage. The game hasn’t been the same for him since the Rocket hung them up.

  7. charlesad // April 14, 2009 at 9:16 am //

    Sports had more personalities in general in the ’70s — Fidrych, Billy Martin, the As, Hrabosky, Bill Lee, Ted Hendricks, Nastasi, et al. Fidrych was a sort of counterculture figure — long hair, a hippie more or less. These days, guys with flair are labeled hot dogs and told to tone it down. Witness Yesco. I like his panache, and the way BMF hops over the first base line.

  8. Dontrelle Willis had that same sort of crowd-pleasing panache — unfortunately, he too appears to have been a flash in the proverbial pan….

  9. Viva Rufino Linares! // April 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm //

    Agreed. Most guys who show a little flair are told to cool it. As far as favorite ’70′s baseball personalities, I go w/ Bill Lee. Like to have a good time, play the game the way it was supposed to be and HATED the Yankees. All good things. Ted Turner would be also be in that party.

  10. cleteboyerfan // April 14, 2009 at 7:34 pm //

    Here’s a pretty good article on the lack of flakes and outsized personalities in today’s game. Bill Lee has some predictably great comments….

  11. PepeFreeUs // April 15, 2009 at 1:42 pm //

    I remember in the ’77 Baseball preview issue, Sports Illustrated had an All Flake team.

    And, just for the record, I’d like to see O’Reilly and Steve Stone fight to the death with butter knives.

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