Mark Fidrych, Always Gracious

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Scott Simon remembers former All-Star pitcher Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, who died this week in an accident.


Sometimes you do a story where you learn something you remember more than the story. Years ago I was doing a story on economic reverses in Evansville, Indiana and went to a minor league ballgame. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was in the Evansville bullpen.

With his tussled blonde curls and stork-like limbs, he was called The Bird when he pitched for the Detroit Tigers. He was Rookie of the Year in 1976 and started the All-Star Game. He massaged the pitcher's mound and talked to the baseball to coax the homeruns out of it, he said, and his boyish zest reminded the people who played and ran baseball that it was a game.

But within 10 years, injuries and surgeries put The Bird back in the minor leagues. But what I noticed that night in Evansville was his joy and graciousness with the fans, especially children. They yelled bird, bird from the stands, and he took off his cap to show them his curls. After the game, he stayed on the field and posed for pictures with the children, signed their little league gloves and told them to work hard and be happy.

I asked after Rookie of the Year and the All-Star Game, isn't this kind of a come down? And with utter friendliness, Mark Fidrych, hey, pal, it was good enough for me on the way up, it's good enough for me on the way down.

Mark Fidrych died this week in a dumptruck accident at the age of 54. If there's a hall of fame for graciousness, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych belongs in the first row.

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