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Published: Tuesday, 4/14/2009

'The Bird' Fidrych killed in accident

FROM BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES
Mark 'the Bird' Fidrych in 1976, when he was an All-Star and the American League's Rookie of the Year with the Detroit Tigers. Mark 'the Bird' Fidrych in 1976, when he was an All-Star and the American League's Rookie of the Year with the Detroit Tigers.
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BOSTON - Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, the fun-loving Detroit Tigers 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. 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 Worcester, Mass., native owned a trucking business.

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 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.

It was against the Toledo Mud Hens that Fidrych made his first appearance with the PawSox, on May 22, 1982, before an overflow crowd of 8,998 at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. Fidrych pitched 52/3 innings, giving up five hits. Pawtucket trailed 3-2 when Fidrych left the game but rebounded to win 7-5.

Fidrych pitched in Toledo twice. On June 14, 1982, he received what Blade Sports Columnist Dave Hackenberg wrote was "a thunderous welcome" from 8,236 fans at the Lucas County Rec Center during the pregame warmup and a standing ovation after six strong innings in which he held the Hens to three hits and two unearned runs. Fidrych left with an injury but picked up his first win of the season against two defeats in Pawtucket's 6-2 victory.

An hour after the game, Hackenberg wrote, a couple hundred fans gathered outside the Pawtucket clubhouse chanting, "We want the Bird." Mud Hens staff told Fidrych he could duck the crowd by going through the Toledo clubhouse and out a side door, but he was quoted as saying, "No, I owe a lot to these people."

He said, "I'm nervous before every game, but it was special coming back to this part of the country. The fans made me feel so good. They were with me in the good times, and they've been with me during the bad times."

On Aug. 2, 1982, Fidrych pitched again in Toledo, in front of another large crowd but with less success. A Downtown Toledo Night throng of 8,873 - the second-largest of the season - saw Fidrych leave in the seventh after giving up a leadoff double that led to the Hens' 5-4 win. At one point, though, Fidrych faced 14 Hens without allowing a hit. "He was throwing some heat," then-Hen Scott Ullger said. Fidrych was tagged with the loss.

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.

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.

Fidrych's first major league start was a complete game, two-hitter in which he beat the Cleveland Indians 2-1. He struck out five and walked one. 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 suffered a shoulder injury in July 1977.

He pitched in 58 major league games.

In 1982 he went to Pawtucket. 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.

Pawtucket team president Mike Tamburro, who was general manager when Fidrych played there, said, "His baseball career certainly ended far too soon, and now I'm sorry to say we've lost him far too soon."

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

State police detectives are investigating the circumstances of his death, Early said.

WASHINGTON - Longtime Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who punctuated innumerable home runs with his "Outta Here!" call, died yesterday after being found in the broadcast booth before a game against the Washington Nationals. He was 73.

Kalas was found by the Phillies director of broadcasting at about 12:30 p.m. and taken to a local hospital, the team said.

Kalas joined the Phillies in 1971. Before that, he was an original member of the Houston Astros' broadcast team from 1965-70. He also did voiceover work for NFL Films and for commercials.



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