Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering the Bird, 1954-2009

While driving home from work Monday evening, I learned that former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych had died earlier that afternoon at the age of 54. He was found dead underneath his dump truck in what's been ruled an accident.

Because of the success that Michigan-based teams have had over the last 25 years, it's easy to forget that it sucked to be a sports fan in this area for most of the 1970s. However, Mark Fidrych was one of the few bright spots when he burst on the scene in 1976. With his outstanding arm and on the field antics (talking to the ball, walking around the mound, etc.), Fidrych became not only a Detroit phenom, but a national one as well. In addition to earning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1976, Fidrych also was the starting pitcher for that year's All-Star Game. Fidrych's fame also stretched beyond the world of sports as he made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in May of 1977, becoming the first athlete to ever do so.

Sadly, injuries prematurely ended Fidrych's baseball career at the age of 29. However, he was never bitter. Although Fidrych was born and raised in Massachusetts and lived there after he left baseball, he returned to Detroit on a regular basis for appearances and to help raise money for a variety of charities in the area. One of his most memorable returns was for the last game played at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 27, 1999. Always the crowd pleaser, Fidrych even played with the dirt on the pitcher's mound as if it were 1976 all over again.

A message I saw on a billboard while driving home Tuesday night pretty much sums up the feelings of many who have followed Detroit sports for years, "The Bird will always be the word."


pjazzypar said...

Ahh yes, what memories. I remember the Bird fondly, but had not thought of him in years. One thing about Michigan sport fans, they are loyal to no end.

X. Dell said...

With the deaths of Nick Adenhart, Harry Kalas and the Birdman, this has been an awful week for baseball.

Malcolm said...

Pjazzy: Can you imagine how the coverage might have been if the Bird had his magical rookie season in the ESPN/Sportscenter era?

X. Dell: Good point. Although I sometimes criticize ESPN/Sportscenter for a variety of things, I feel that they did a good job in regards to covering all 3 of these tragedies in the baseball world.

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