Boom goes the Dynamite: Harry Kallas and Mark “the Bird” Fidrych both gone on the same day

Posted by Andy Durham on April 13, 2009 at 6:59 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

It is not often that you lose two huge names like these baseball men both on the same day, but BOOM and they are gone, and they will be remembered as two of the biggest names in the history of the sport for very different reasons, but again they are part of the thread running through the history of baseball and are almost like folk heroes in their own special ways.

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia icon Harry Kalas died at 1:20 p.m. ET on Monday, shortly after collapsing inside the team’s broadcast booth at Nationals Park.

He was 73.

“We lost Harry,” Phillies president David Montgomery said. “We lost our voice today.”

Kalas was a Hall of Fame voice. He was inducted into the broadcaster’s wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2002, having won the Ford C. Frick Award, which is presented to broadcasters who made major contributions to baseball. Kalas had been a broadcaster for 43 years, the previous 38 with the Phillies, where he began working in 1971.

He had been the voice of summer for Phillies fans, but that rich baritone reached much further than the Delaware Valley. He was the voice for NFL Films and could be heard on numerous commercials and movie trailers.

“Major League Baseball has lost one of the great voices of our generation,” Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “Harry Kalas was an outstanding ambassador for the game. … Baseball announcers have a special bond with their audience, and Harry represented the best of baseball, not only to the fans of the Phillies, but to fans everywhere.”

It seemed impossible to go more than a couple days this winter in Philadelphia without hearing Kalas’ unforgettable call when the Phillies won the World Series in October. It seems surreal knowing fans won’t be hearing another infamous “Outta here!” call when the Phillies hit a home run.

“I know I can speak for the Phillies when I say Harry Kalas was loved by everyone,” Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt said. “All of us could relate to our daily confrontations with his smile, his charm and his warmth. He spread his passion for people, and baseball, all over the country for almost 50 years. His voice will resonate in my mind the rest of my life. I will never be called ‘Michael Jack’ again without seeing his smile.”

Kalas was found unconscious in the team’s broadcast booth around 12:30 p.m. and was taken to George Washington University Medical Center. Team officials quickly cleared the clubhouse to talk to the players, coaches and staff.

DETROIT — Former All-Star pitcher Mark Fidrych, whose incredible rookie season with the 1976 Tigers made him a national sensation, passed away Monday in an apparent accident on his Massachusetts farm at age 54.

Worchester County district attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. told the Associated Press that a family friend found Fidrych at about 2:30 p.m. ET under a pickup truck that he appeared to have been working on. He was on the same farm he bought more than 30 years ago with his bonus money when he became a professional pitcher, signed out of Northborough, Mass.

It was an abrupt and tragic end for someone who had suddenly endeared himself to Detroit and the rest of the baseball world seemingly out of nowhere.

“The entire Detroit Tigers organization was saddened to learn of the passing of former player Mark Fidrych today,” the team said in a statement Monday evening. “Mark was beloved by Tigers fans, and he was a special person with a unique personality. The Tigers send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.”

Fidrych was the last player to make the Tigers roster in 1976, a wiry 21-year-old right-hander tucked away on the back of the roster. He made two brief relief appearances in Detroit’s first 23 games that season before the Tigers placed him in the rotation. He pitched a two-hitter against the Indians in his first start, and the rest was history.

Fidrych won seven straight games during a 9-1 start that landed him on the American League All-Star team. Among his feats were back-to-back 11-inning complete games in his third and fourth Major League starts, an 11-inning shutout of the Oakland A’s coming out of the All-Star break in July, and six consecutive complete games in August of that year.

Not only did Fidrych win 19 games that year, his 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games led the Major Leagues. Just as incredible as his performance, however, was his persona. A 6-foot-3 New England farm kid with bushy blond hair seeming trying to escape from his cap, his genuine personality and unforgettable mound demeanor — including talking to himself as well as the baseball on occasion, while also pacing around the mound — quickly landed him on sports pages and nationally televised games.

Just as sudden as his rise to fame, however, was his struggle to repeat it. He suffered torn knee cartilage during Spring Training in 1977, costing him more than a month. He returned seemingly the same pitcher, racking up six straight complete-game victories in June, before his arm essentially gave out in a July game.

Fidrych started just 16 more games for the Tigers from 1978-80, including his final big league appearance at age 25, before the Tigers released him in 1981. He then pitched in the Minors for the Red Sox until 1983. He officially retired before the age of 30 and went back to his farm.

Fidrych remained a beloved figure in Detroit, and became a more visible part of the organization in recent years. He often visited the Tigers when the schedule brought them to Boston, and he took part in several Tigers fantasy camps. Instead of lamenting his sudden fall, he remained an upbeat, positive person, true to the traits that made him so popular during his incredible season.

“He reminds me of that line of [poet] Rudyard Kipling: ‘He could meet triumph and disaster and treat them the same way,'” Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell said.

Fidrych is survived by his wife, Ann, and daughter Jessica.

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