Mark ‘‘the Bird’’ Fidrych dies at 54
Published 3:04 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009
By 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
San Francisco Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford’s first three seasons, with the California Angels, coincided with Fidrych’s last three in the majors.
Fidrych married his wife, Ann, in 1986 and they had a daughter, Jessica.