This Bird has flown
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych has died this afternoon in an apparent accident, at the age of 54.
Fidrych was the wunderkind Detroit Tigers pitcher who took baseball by storm in the summer of 1976. Fidrych nicknamed "The Bird" because of his striking resemblance to Big Bird, the towering Muppet from Sesame Street became a household name as much for his antics on the mound as for his prodigious pitching prowess.
A frenetic bundle of nervous energy, Fidrych talked aloud to himself and occasionally, to the baseball while pitching. He would kneel on the mound between pitches and groom the dirt with his hands. He'd run over to his teammates and congratulate them with high-fives for making successful infield plays. His infectious enthusiasm made The Bird an overnight superstar.
After starting the year with a 7-1 record, the rookie phenom received the starting assignment for the American League in the 1976 All-Star Game. Fidrych finished the season with a 19-9 record and a 2.34 earned run average. Named the American League Rookie of the Year, he also came in second in the voting for the Cy Young Award.
He was never the same again.
Plagued by injuries beginning in his sophomore campaign, Fidrych would pitch sporadically with the Tigers over the next four seasons. He won only 10 more games after that legendary rookie year. He pitched his last game for the Tigers in 1980, and when Detroit released him at the end of the 1981 season, The Bird was out of the game.
He attempted an unsuccessful minor-league comeback in the Boston Red Sox organization in 1983, but he never got back to The Show.
I had the privilege of seeing The Bird best the Oakland Athletics in a game at the Coliseum during that shining Bicentennial summer. That memory remains one of my all-time favorite baseball moments.
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was truly one of a kind.