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THE BIRD FELL TO EARTH
Gary Smith
April 07, 1986
For one fairy-tale year, Mark Fidrych was king of baseball, but the reign ended far too soon
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April 07, 1986

The Bird Fell To Earth

For one fairy-tale year, Mark Fidrych was king of baseball, but the reign ended far too soon

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One night in June 1983, a lonely man with a 2-5 record and a 9.68 ERA called his father from Norfolk, Va. "I'd always wanted to give him a feeling of accomplishment," says Fidrych. "I said to him, 'I'm done, Dad. They've let me go. Thanks for everything you've taught me, but I've got to get out of this game. I did it for you.' "

"I still think you've got it in you, Mahk," said his dad.

"No, Dad."

"Don't give up this easy. You've got to look in the mirror."

"Dad, I've been looking in the mirror for the last six years."

Sometimes, when Paul Fidrych is watching a ball game these days, he still feels the emotion rising up into his larynx. "I wish he would try it again," he says. "I find myself wondering how far he could have gone. I don't want that question in his mind, the way it's always been in mine since I broke my leg. I think he could do it; he has the desire. Did you see him cut wood today?

"Once in a while he'll be sitting here watching a game and he'll say, 'I had 29 major league victories, that's not too bad,' and I'll say, 'Yeah, Mahk, that's not too bad.' But you know something? Jim Palmer stole the Cy Young Award from Mahk that year. He stole it. The Gold Glove, too—Mahk had no errors. I don't understand why he doesn't get any commercial with him sipping a Coke and not saying a word.

"Listen, I'm going to give you a name: Charles Grogan. He's got the same determination Mahk used to have, never gets tired of practicing. He's big and strong, same way Mahk used to be. He's only eight years old. He's my grandson."

Eight p.m. A deep quiet grips the little town. Ten years ago, Mark Fidrych lived with an urge to roll down the window and pierce the quiet, but he is 31 now, engaged, and his soul howls less and less. "Get a few beers in him and you can still get him going," says his farming partner, Wayne Hey. "He'll wrestle with the pigs and cows when they won't go where he wants them to. He'll go to a few ball games in Boston a year and yell at the ump just like any fan. Last July 4 he started a Roman candle-throwing battle with a friend.

"Deep down, I think he's been completely lost without baseball. A lot of people wouldn't know it, because he's got something to say to almost everyone. Ann is very good for him—she's giving his life some direction."

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