Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

  • Born: August 14, 1954
  • Died: April 13, 2009
  • Location: Northborough, Massachusetts

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In this June 16, 1977, photo, Detroit Tigers' Mark Fidrych pitches to the Toronto Blue Jays during a baseball game in Detroit.

Former All-Star pitcher dies at 54

By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer

BOSTON -- 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.

"The entire Detroit Tigers organization was saddened to learn of the passing of former player Mark Fidrych today," the Tigers said in a statement. "Mark was beloved by Tigers fans and he was a special person with a unique personality. The Tigers send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."

Fidrych attempted a comeback in 1982 and 1983 in the Boston Red Sox organization. He pitched for their Triple A team in Pawtucket, R.I. But he never pitched in the majors after 1980 and retired in July 1983.

The Worcester, Mass., native later owned a trucking business. State police detectives are investigating the circumstances of his death, Early said.

Fidrych acquired the nickname "the Bird" because of his resemblance to the Big Bird character on the Sesame Street television show. During games, he would bend down and groom the mound with his hands, talk to the baseball and slap five with teammates in the middle of the diamond.

But knee and shoulder injuries limited him to 58 major league games.

"Baseball will miss him. They missed him because he didn't have as long as a career as everybody would have liked in the first place. It's just horrible," former Orioles pitcher and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said. "He did embrace life. I remember him trying to play golf when he couldn't play golf and enjoying every minute of it.

"He was a marvelous pitcher and I just hate to see him go."

Fidrych's first major league start was a complete game, two-hitter in which he beat the Cleveland Indians 2-1. He won seven of his first eight decisions and was the AL starter in the All-Star game. He allowed two runs in the first inning and put runners at second and third in the second, but he got the final two outs and left after two innings trailing 2-0. The NL won 7-1.

He tore knee cartilage during spring training the following year and was placed on the disabled list until May 24. He sustained a shoulder injury in July 1977. Fidrych pitched 250 1-3 innings in 1976 but only 162 after that when he was just 10-10.

Chicago Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell was a rookie shortstop with Detroit in 1977 and saw Fidrych's on-field behavior up close.

"He was very genuine. It was not an act," Trammell said. "He never changed. He liked to have a good time. You'd go over his house and he'd make dinner. That's the type of guy he was.

"My first spring training was 1977. I was an invitee. I remember playing the Red Sox in Winter Haven (Fla.). The three innings he pitched he broke five bats."

After taking 1981 off from pitching, Fidrych went to Pawtucket where he made his first appearance on July 3, 1982. He finished that season with a 6-8 record and 4.98 ERA on 20 games, 19 of them starts. The next season he was 2-5 with a 9.68 ERA in 12 games, including eight starts, and retired in July of that season.

"When he got to us in late June every place he pitched in the league was a sellout. Six years after his great year he was still selling out minor league parks," said Pawtucket team president Mike Tamburro, who was general manager when Fidrych played there.

"His baseball career certainly ended far too soon, and now I'm sorry to say we've lost him far too soon. He was a remarkable character. He was like a meteor in the baseball world that one year. He played center stage and the entire game of baseball kind of played around him."

One of Fidrych's most memorable minor league games was against Dave Righetti, the AL Rookie of the Year with the New York Yankees in 1981 who was sent to Triple-A Columbus the following season. Fidrych pitched a complete game, 7-5 win.

"He was almost too down to earth," Tamburro said. "He was just a wonderful guy to be around. I think the antics on the field were never an act. I think it was his true feelings. He was just a simple guy, lived a simple lifestyle and just brought that lunchpail mentality to the pitcher's mound every four or five days."

San Francisco Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford's first three seasons, with the California Angels, coincided with Fidrych's last three in the majors.

"I don't think you'll ever see someone like that come around again," Lansford said. "He was just great for the game. That's what the game needed, more guys like him—colorful. He was one of a kind. That's for sure. That year, when you thought about baseball, that's the first name that came to mind. He was a guy at the top of his game. He was the man. That's shocking. It's a shame."

Fidrych married his wife, Ann, in 1986 and they had a daughter, Jessica.


Condolence & Memory Journal

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I SAW FIDRYCH PITCH DURING HIS GLORIOUS SEASON AND KNEW RIGHT THEN THAT BASEBALL WAS ALIVE AND WELL. A JOY TO WATCH AND A REAL ASSET TO THE GAME.

Posted by DR. CURVILLE R. JORDAN - killeen, TX - an observer   January 05, 2010

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Every year,the Wertz Warriors,Mark Fidrych included,would bike to my area of northern Michigan to "Dingmans Bar" in Kalkaska for a memorial ride. It was quite a sight. It was a long ways to ride,but faithfully,there him and the rest of the riders would be. It is sad,I JUST found out he died. I am sorry to his wife and little girl,and family and his town and home state of Massachusetts. God Bless. Linda Worth

Posted by Linda /Worth - Kalkaska, MI   July 05, 2009

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Mark was a wonderful friend back in 1977. I met him and his driver where I worked. They came over to my home and had dinner with my fiance and me. He liked scotch and milk and I always kidded him about that. He would always say " It soothes my stomach." He came up to northern Michigan every year to ride with the snow mobile group to raise money for charties. Just a good human being with a life that was cut to short.

Posted by brenda    May 08, 2009

Candle

I had a huge crush on him in 1976 - saw him pitch against the White Sox and fell totally in love, in that sweet way that a 22 year old can idolize a sports hero, who just happened to be my own age. Never got to meet him. I saw this today and my heart goes out to his family.

Posted by Maran Banta    May 01, 2009

Candle

I'll miss The Bird. He was one of my favorites

Posted by Pete Johnson    April 20, 2009

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Our hearts and prayers go out to Mark's family during this difficult time. We've known Mark for over 10 years through his dedication to Michigan's Special Olympics/ Winter Games throught the Wertz Warriors. I always looked forward to seeing and catching up with him every year during their ride. He was a truly amazing, remarkable human being. He will be in our hearts and prayers forever. Michelle & George/Lakes of the North

Posted by Michelle L. Reichenbacher - Elmira, MI   April 15, 2009

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We are keeping the Fidrych family close in our thoughts and prayers. We live in Northborough and always saw Mark out and about with a smile. He will be missed by many.

Posted by Tracy & Michael Horgan    April 14, 2009

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I was playing little league when Mark Fidrych was in his rookie year with the Tigers. Myself, and all the other kids on team team, drove our coaches and fathers CRAZY imitating "The Bird". Talking to the ball between pitches, smoothing out the dirt on the pitcher's mound. Kids who weren't pitchers begs our coach to let them pitch just so they could pretend to be him. We could understand why anyone WOULDN'T want to be Mark Fidrych.

God bless ya, Bird. For me, you'll always will be a reminder how much FUN and WONDERFUL the game of baseball is.

R.I.P

Posted by Ed - Quakertown, PA   April 14, 2009

Candle

What a rookie season he had!

This is a tragedy that his life was cut so short. My condolences to his family.

Posted by Tom    April 14, 2009


Default Album

In this June 16, 1977, photo, Detroit Tigers' Mark Fidrych pitches to the Toronto Blue Jays during a baseball game in Detroit.
Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych acknowledges the crowd during the closing ceremony at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 27, 1999.
In this Aug. 10, 1976 file photo, Detroit Tigers' pitcher Mark Fidrych, is shown sitting in the Tigers dugout before a game on in Detroit, Mich.