Monday, April 13, 2009


I cannot remember another day in which two baseball legends passed away, such as today with Phillies announcer Harry Kalas and ex-Tiger Mark Fidrych. Maybe it's just hit me harder because of my connections to both.

For as long as I've followed baseball, Kalas was the voice of the Phillies. It's hard to imagine not hearing his magnificent voice during future games. One of my favorite memories came during the radio postgame show of a game from either 1989 or 1990 (I can't recall, but it's not important). Von Hayes had hit a game-winner dinger in the bottom of the ninth and was being interviewed by Kalas following the game. During the interview, Kalas' home-run call was replayed. Hayes just chuckled and said with genuine admiration, "Harry, you sure can call 'em."

I don't know why, but that interview has always stuck with me. Kalas was no doubt "the soundtrack" to our baseball lives in the Philly area.

Then came the news about Fidrych. I was just a Little Leaguer when "The Bird" took baseball by storm. I remember his Monday night game against the Yankees, after which the fans refused to leave Tiger Stadium until he came out. Fidrych was overwhelmed and emotional, and not afraid to show it. And he never stopped being that kid and he never lost his humility. I'm fortunate to have that game on DVD and it's a game I'll always treasure.

Fidrych was the Rookie of the Year in 1976 and finished second to Jim Palmer in the Cy Young Award voting. With no disrespect to Palmer, an argument can be made it should've been Fidrych's award. The Bird was 19-9 on a team that finished 13 games below .500 and he was the only Detroit starter with a winning record. His ERA+ of 158 led the AL, as did his 24 complete games and 2.34 ERA. Palmer was 22-13 on a team that was 13 games above .500 and featured another 20-game winner in Wayne Garland. Five Baltimore starters had winning records.

It is hard to think of a player who only appeared in such limited action (only 58 games over 5 injury-plagued seasons) being so revered and beloved to this very day. Even at the height of his popularity he wore blue jeans, drove a beat-up old pickup truck, and claimed he had three dishes: a plate, a knife, and a fork.

This story, which I've noted before, from director Peter Farrelly that appeared in Sports Illustrated a few years ago tells you all you need to know about Fidrych, the man:

We offered him a role in Me, Myself and Irene. He drives a truck and lives on a farm in Massachusetts. He said, "Great, I'd love to, when is it?" I said, "It's this Wednesday." He said, "I can't do it. I have a delivery to make." I said, "Mark, is there any way to get somebody else to do the delivery so you can do the movie?" He said, "Pete, I've been making this delivery for the past 18 years every Wednesday. They count on me to be there every Wednesday. I'm not going to miss a day because I'm in a movie." I hung up thinking: That's one cool dude.

Fidrych and Kalas. Two cool dudes. Gone, but never to be forgotten.

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