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Detroit Tigers Pitcher and Rolling Stone Cover Star Mark Fidrych Dead at 54

April 14, 2009 1:10 PM ET

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych, 54, died after an apparent accident on his Northborough, Massachusetts farm, ESPN reports. Fidrych, or "The Bird" as he was called because of his blond curly hair and resemblance to Sesame Street's Big Bird, became the first baseball player ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone after a 1976 rookie season in which Fidrych was named both American League Rookie of the Year and an AL All-Star while playing for the Tigers (read the story: The Tale of the Bird).

A Look Back: Sports Stars on the Cover of Rolling Stone

Fidrych was one of the original rock star athletes: His on-the-mound antics included talking to the baseball, grooming the mound, aiming pitches like darts and vanquishing balls that batters managed to hit from the game because the balls "had hits in them." Fidrych was such a draw at baseball stadiums that opposing teams would specially request the Tigers to start "the Bird" when Detroit came to visit. "It's like a band — they know how to play their music, so they just go out and present it. I know how to play baseball," he told RS in 1977.

Fridrych ended his rookie season with 19 wins, 24 complete games, a league-leading 2.34 ERA and countless offers for endorsement deals. Sadly, multiple injuries plagued what would have been a legendary career, and Fidrych retired from baseball in 1980. "The entire Detroit Tigers organization was saddened to learn of the passing of former player Mark Fidrych today," the Tigers said in a statement. "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."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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