Mark Fidrych died in an accident today. Wow, what a terrible week it has been for baseball. First, the tragic death of Nick Adenhart is killed by a drunk driver who's BAC was almost 3x the legal definition of drunk. Then, earlier today Harry Kalas dies suddenly. Next, it is Mark Fidrych who passes away. I can't remember a worse week for baseball than this last one was. What surprised me most is that a lot of people have no idea who Mark Fidrych was and what "the season" was.
Mark Fidrych was the biggest attraction in baseball in 1976. His antics included talking to the baseball, aiming his pitches like darts and really enjoying being out there every night, playing the game he loved. He was one of the biggest stars, yet lived a very modest life, never let any of his fame go to his head. He was able to keep it all in perspective. A lot of people watching baseball today never heard of him. They have no idea what they missed. His career was cut short by arm problems and if he remained healthy, he would have been one of the greats. He won 19 games in his rookie year and had 24 complete games. His games were some of the most watched games of the year.
He was famous for talking to the baseball. Here is his explaination on that. "All I was doing it's like walking on a curb. If you step off a curb, when you're not paying attention, you'll fall, right? Have you ever done that? You stumble. Well, it's the same with pitching. If you all of a sudden step in a hole, and you gotta clear another hole, you'll land in there all the time. So you have to have everything smooth and you'll make your own groove. That's what my father taught me to do. I just always talked to myself to tell myself, What's going on? What position are we in now? Guy on first, right-handed batter up, left-handed batter coming up next.' It was just telling myself what to do."
In 1977, his second season, he suffered a torn rotator cuff. He said his arm just went dead. It wasn't until 8 years later that his injury was diagnosed and repaired, in 1985. What could have been. He was released by the Tigers in 1980 and attempted a comeback for his hometown Boston Red Sox. By 1983, he was out of baseball. He wasn't the type of person who would dwell on it. Instead, he moved on.
He lived the rest of his life like most of us do. He was a blue collar guy, so he worked blue collar jobs. He would work laying down sewer lines, he drove a truck, he would clean up at his mother-in-law's restaurant in Northborough, Massachusetts. He was one of the last "ordinary" guys in baseball. Baseball has changed so much since then, the guys like Mark Fidrych don't exist anymore. They are all corporate players, packaged and presented to us with marketers and pr folks telling them all of their next moves. We all lose because of it.