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.
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.