Leyland saddened by Fidrych's passing

Leyland saddened by Fidrych's passing

DETROIT -- Jim Leyland's Monday was just starting to look up. News of Mark Fidrych's passing made it far tougher on him.

Mark Fidrych, 1954-2009

Leyland was already taking the news hard that longtime Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas passed away. Leyland became close to Kalas from his days managing the Pirates and Marlins, and they were at a White House function together last summer.

Monday's 10-6 Tigers loss to the White Sox wasn't easy on him, either. Once he returned to his office, he received a text message from home in Pittsburgh, where his teenage son Patrick had homered in his first at-bat in his high school game.

"I felt a little better," Leyland said.

It was soon after that, however, that clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel gave Leyland the news on Fidrych.

Leyland was affected enough that he did not want to comment on Monday. He was distraught enough that he still couldn't talk much about it when he spoke to beat writers Tuesday morning.

"I just will not be able to handle it," Leyland said.

It was just last week, during the Tigers' season-opening series at Toronto, that Leyland was remembering Fidrych in the Minor Leagues. He didn't manage The Bird on his way through the Tigers farm system, but he was a Spring Training instructor when Fidrych made the Tigers out of camp in 1976. He had the chance to manage Fidrych on his way back, first in a rehab stint with Class A Lakeland in 1978, then with Triple-A Evansville in 1980 and '81.

The Tigers were planning to formally remember Fidrych with a moment of silence and a video tribute Tuesday, but the game was postponed, pushing back the remembrance for a day.

Few, if any, current Tigers players had a chance to know Fidrych, who met the team mainly during its trips to Boston each season. Once news of his passing broke on Monday, though, they saw plenty of highlights to go with the stories they've heard over the years.

"I never actually got a chance to meet him, but I know a lot about him," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "I saw a lot of footage of him. He'd been to the games, but I never got an opportunity to actually speak to him.

"I feel terrible about it. He was a huge icon here in Detroit, still is. Just thinking of his family and everything else, tough times, obviously. He made a lot of people happy around here. He had a great life and a great career."

Inge, among the current Tigers, might best exemplify Fidrych's high-energy style of play and enthusiasm for the game. Though he doesn't have the eccentricities Fidrych displayed, Inge displays the same bounce in his step.

"He's the one [past Tigers great] you look at for fun on the baseball field," Inge said. "I was just talking on the radio, and they were saying how the shortstop made a great play for him one time, and he goes right up to the shortstop and shakes his hand in the middle of the game. That's a guy that's pulling for his teammates right there. It shows a lot about his character."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.