Fidrych stayed optimistic after career
Teammates, colleagues recall pitcher's upbeat nature
DETROIT -- For so many years, Mark Fidrych and his magical season were the territory of legend for many Tigers fans. In recent years, however, Fidrych brought the memories and the genuine personality back to life with his numerous activities.
He treated his post-baseball life, many said, with the same upbeat nature that helped make him so popular during his playing days. Instead of regretting what he had lost, he was grateful for what he had gained, a nature that stayed with him until an apparent accident on his farm took his life Monday.
"Even in those years, he was an optimistic, cheerful kind of guy," Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell said Monday. "Same old Mark."
Though Fidrych last appeared on a Major League mound in 1980, he continued pitching for three more years at the Triple-A level -- first with the Tigers' affiliate at Evansville under then-manager Jim Leyland, then with the Red Sox affiliate at Pawtucket. He finally retired in 1983, a reliever with the PawSox at age 29 after taking the Majors by storm at age 21. After years of struggling to regain the life in his arm that threw so many brilliant innings in 1976, he was eventually diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, too late to help him salvage his career.
Fidrych went back home to his farm in Northborough, Mass. -- the same farm he bought during his playing days and where his parents lived -- and settled into regular life. He was married and had a daughter. He opened a gravel business and bought a dump truck, which he drove himself.
Longtime Detroit sports writer Jim Hawkins, who wrote a biography on Fidrych soon after his rookie season called "Go, Bird, Go," said after his retirement, Fidrych turned down invitations for some baseball card shows if they wanted to charge for his autograph.
"He never really got down," Hawkins said. "He had his big year, and it's sad that was his only season in the sun, so to speak, but he never complained or said he got a raw deal. He never wanted any pity or anything. That was sincere, too."
It was in recent years that Fidrych became a more frequent figure in the organization. He made the short drive to Boston and visited the Tigers virtually every time the team was facing the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He took part in festivities when the All-Star Game came to Detroit in 2005. He traveled to Lakeland, Fla., to take part in Tigers fantasy camps for several years.
"We had him at the fantasy camps. He was terrific, always happy, always chirping," former Tigers player and current broadcaster Jim Price said. "He treated everybody the same. He was a wonderful, wonderful ambassador."
Fidrych was a frequent guest on Tigers radio and television broadcasts, his way of connecting with fans in Michigan. For Tigers radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Dickerson, it was his chance to talk with someone he remembers vividly from his incredible summer of 1976, when Dickerson was a teenager in Michigan.
"He just had a natural exuberance around him that you couldn't help liking the guy," Dickerson said. "He was just very comfortable, working for a living, and seemed OK with that. I don't think his personality changed at all."
But generally, Fidrych stayed close to home. He didn't really need the celebrity life in retirement. He would haul gravel in his truck, and he would reportedly help his mother-in-law at her restaurant in Northborough.
"He loved his farm, loved his dump truck," said Arizona Diamondbacks coach and former Tigers great Kirk Gibson, a teammate of Fidrych in Detroit's farm system.
Former Alan Trammell said he last saw Fidrych when he was passing through Boston.
"He was one of those guys who never changed," Trammell said. "He liked to have a good time. He was the kind of guy that if you came over to his house, he cooked you dinner."
Fidrych was apparently working on his dump truck on Monday when an accident took his life.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.