Talk about a depressing week for baseball fans. First Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart is killed in a car crash by a drunk driver leaving the stadium after a start; then early today we learned that legendary voice of Phillies Harry Kalas died after collapsing in the broadcast booth before a game. And now this: the BOSTON GLOBE is reporting that ’70s Tigers pitching phenom Mark Fidrych was killed today when he was crushed by a truck he was working on at his Northborough, Massachusetts, home.
For people who are too young to remember, “The Bird” was the talk of the baseball world in the 1970s, winning the AL Rookie of the Year for the Tigers in 1976 after going 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA. But it wasn’t just Fidrych’s wins that made him special: it was how he got them. He was a fidgety, neurotic mess on the field, making Nomar Garciaparra’s pregame hitting routine seem … well, routine. He also showed a love for the game that bordered on childlike and endured him to millions of fans.
To see for yourself, check out this 1985 profile of Fidrych by Steve Stone after the jump:
As ESPN.COM notes, Fidrych’s antics sold tickets and excited fans across the American League that year. He would talk to the ball between pitches and motion which way it should go. He would shake hands with teammates during innings if they made nice plays. And he would get on his hands and knees and personally manicure the pitching mound. In the annals of baseball oddballs, he was right at the top of the list, and for one season he was basically a rock star (witness the Rolling Stone cover above).
But just as quickly as he went from non-roster player to hero in 1976, he burned out. He injured his knee in spring training in 1977, and a torn muscle in his shoulder later that year would sideline him for the season. He pitched sparingly before retiring in 1980, finishing with a 29-19 record, a 3.10 ERA and millions of fans who wondered “what might have been.”
Feel free to attribute this horrible week in baseball to deaths running in threes. I’m not into the superstitious mumbo jumbo, but this does make me want to crawl under the covers of my bed for the rest of the week just in case.