On this day in 2009, former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych is found dead at the age of 54 following an accident at his Massachusetts farm involving a Mack truck he was working on. Fidrych, the 1976 American League Rookie of the Year, suffocated when his clothes got tangled in the truck’s power takeoff shaft.
On April 15, 2009, The New York Times Wheels blog referenced a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on noncrash fatalities and injuries: “According to the report, in 2007 more than 168 people were killed by falling vehicles, and more than 10,000 people were injured in hoist or jack incidents. While Fidrych’s death did not seem to involve a jack, it was still a noncrash fatality that probably could have been prevented. ‘About 29 percent (168 of 588) of the noncrash fatalities involved people who were pinned or trapped under vehicles, usually while working on passenger vehicles that fell from their supports,’ says NHTSA in the report.”
Fidrych, who was born on August 14, 1954, in Worcester, Massachusetts, became a national sensation during his rookie season with the Detroit Tigers. That year, his record was 19 wins and 9 losses with a league-leading 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. The 6’3” Fidrych, who reportedly earned his nickname for his resemblance to the “Sesame Street” character Big Bird, was a favorite with fans. However, after his spectacular rookie season, he was plagued by injuries and his career with the Tigers ended in 1980. He attempted a comeback with the Boston Red Sox during the 1982-83 season then retired in July 1983. Following baseball, he went on to own a trucking business.
On the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Fidrych’s body was discovered by a friend beneath a Mack truck (brothers Jack and Augustus Mack began making motorized vehicles in 1900; in 1905, they started producing trucks in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the company is located today) at the former baseball player’s farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. According to the AP, the friend reported that it appeared as if Fidrych had been doing maintenance work on the truck at the time of his death.