Mark Fidrych: The Birdman of ’76.

mark fydrich ttm

At age 53, Mark “The Birdman” Fidrych died when the truck he was working on fell on him last spring, The date was April 13, 2009. The place was Fidrych’s own 107 acre farm in Northborough, MA. The truck was Mark’s very own pickup.

So sad. Family found the body in the early afternoon of the same day. Once again, the talented and colorful young man who set the baseball world on its ear during his 1976 rookie season as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers had left the scene too soon. Far too soon.

Selected in the 10th round of the 1974 amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers, Fidrych quickly found the roster of the big league club, winning 19, losing 9, and posting a 2.34 ERA to boot. More than games alone, Mark won the hearts and imagination of baseball fans everywhere by his fresh and unorthodox physical approach to the art of pitching. People thought he was talking to the baseballs as he prepared to throw them. It was actually an exercise in focus upon the job at hand. If he was speaking to anyone, Mark was actually speaking to himself along these lines: “Be here now fully in this moment. Give this pitch your very best shot. Visualize in you mind the outcome of this pitch as an easy out.” The young pitcher really subscribed to the belief that we cannot accomplish any goal we cannot actually see ourselves reaching. While he was meditating, a lot of people thought Mark Fidrych was simply being superstitious. They were wrong.

fidrych-300x177 Fidrych did like to get down on the ground prior to games and hand prune tiny rocks and paper trash out of the soil before he worked. He also tended to abandon and mistreat baseballs that hitters converted into hits from his pitches. More than once, he asked umpires to take balls out of play that  had been struck for hits. He wanted the umpires to place these errant balls in the company of balls that knew how to behave as outs once they left a pitcher’s hand. So, there’s no denying that Mr. Fidrych came wrapped with his own flavor of special eccentricity.

The sad elements of the Mark Fidrych story are the things that took him out of baseball – and eventually out of life. In both instances, these things happened as Mark simply went about the business of  being himself.

 

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Mark Fidrych got his "Bird" nickname from Big Bird himself!

Mark Fidrych’s future in baseball looked wide and deep as he went to spring training in the the spring of 1977. Unfortunately, while clowning around in the outfield, Mark tore some cartilage in his knee and was forced out of action for a short period. When he came back to work, he pitched fine, but about six weeks after his return, in a game against Baltimore, Mark said he suddenly just felt his right throwing arm simply “go dead.”

Mark had torn a rotator cuff, but it wasn’t diagnosed as such until 1985, eight years later, and five years beyond his forced retirement from baseball  at age 29 in 1980.

Mark Fidrych was only 10-10 over those last four post-injury seasons (1977-80) and he retired with very incomplete information about the cause of his lost skill and effectiveness. Still, he handled the end of his career well, but probably never fully appreciating the extent of the enthusiasm that his personal style had pumped back into the game. Baseball even gives Fidrych credit today for pumping several additional millions into the gate during his 1976 hay-day.

Then he goes out and gets killed by a sick truck that wasn’t  jacked up properly. What a waste.

Too bad Mark Fidrych couldn’t have hung around longer. In baseball. And in life.

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One Response to “Mark Fidrych: The Birdman of ’76.”

  1. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Former Astro Terry Puhl e-mailed me the following: “I faced Mark during instructional league in 1975…I in A ball, Mark in AAA….with a runner on third, he threw a wild pitch to me that the runner from 3rd easily scored….he ran to home plate screaming at me, “Why didn’t you swing at that pitch?”…I thought he was crazy and unusual…the next year we were reading about his antics everywhere!”

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