Damn, the "submit" button was barely clicked for the Harry Kalas post when word arrievd about Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who passed away Monday at the age of 54.
Fidrych arrived on the scene like a flash in the summer of '76. I remember one of my friends enthusiasticaly telling me about this crazy pitcher who talked to the ball. In those pre-Internet, pre-24 hour news cycle days, it was awhile before i got to see him for myself, and i wasn't disappointed. Antics aside (besides talking to the ball, which he later clarified was actually talking to himself, Fidrych groomed the mound with his hands, ran off the mound after retiring the side, and was known to shake hands with players after they made a nice play in the field), the kid could pitch, racking up 19 wins en route to the Rookie of the Year award.
More than that, Fidrych was genuine. By all accounts, he was just a cool guy who happened to have the ability to pitch at the big league level. After fate cruelly intervened with a series of debilitating injuries which forced him from the game by 1980, he remained upbeat and thankful for the time he had. Simply, he was a "character" who was just being himself.
The sports world is a little less cool today. Damn.