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MLB reacts to Jackson, Fawcett deaths

MLB reacts to Jackson, Fawcett deaths

The year was 1976.

Farrah Fawcett had the poster that was on walls everywhere.

Michael Jackson was fronting "The Jacksons" -- as the band started off on its own a year after leaving Motown.

Johnny Bench and Cincinnati's Big Red Machine repeated as World Series champs, and this time it wasn't even close -- a powerhouse sweep of the Yankees, following a three-game sweep of the Phillies for the National League pennant.

American icons.

Farrah is gone now. She passed away Thursday from cancer.

Michael is gone now. He passed away at almost the same time due to cardiac arrest.

Sparky Anderson's team was one of the mightiest in Major League Baseball history, arguably in the top five, loaded with legends and a Hall of Fame manager.

She was a symbol of beauty and then courage for so many. He was the King of Pop, fallen from this decade but nonetheless an icon for countless millions who always held hope he would find a graceful comeback, somehow, that would make us watch him again. You remembered or you were looking it up on Thursday, as hearts ached.

Nationals center fielder Willie Harris' heart ached. He was the reason that Michael Jackson's music filled Nationals Park throughout his team's 9-3 victory over Boston Thursday night. It was a somber and sad celebration, just as there will be Michael music during the Dodgers' Friday Night Fireworks event.

"I heard about Michael Jackson when I was in the batting cage before the game," Harris said. "After I heard it, it saddened me. That's why I got in touch with our music lady upstairs. I told her I want Michael Jackson played tonight. I was able to get that song played tonight. It's just to honor a legend. He is a legend, man. It's a part of life, but sometimes,it's a hard pill to swallow. I'm sure the entire world is saddened because of his death. But at the same time, you have to keep moving and pushing forward."

That's what baseball does. Nothing pushes forward like baseball, other than time itself. It was there when Michael came out with "Thriller" and "Bad" and his endless string of hits that helped define not just one generation but two. It was there through his turbulent days in recent years, during his fall from grace. It was there when Farrah drew critical acclaim and an Emmy nomination for her role portraying an abused woman in "The Burning Bed" -- in 1984, the last year the Tigers won it all. Right now they are looking very much like a team that could do it again for the first time since then, and you remember 1984.

In 1984, Michael wore one glove, which is something in common with baseball players. He was at the White House, invited there by President Ronald Reagan. That same year, Michael co-wrote the charity single "We Are The World" with Lionel Ritchie. Indeed, Michael was the world then.

No one was bigger. No one more recognizable globally. He owned it.

"It's a bad day for the music industry, or for anybody," Cody Ross of the Marlins said after his team's game. "It's a sad day. He lived a good life -- he made a lot of money and had some kids. Your heart goes out to his family.

"When I walked in today and saw the news, I was taken aback. He one of the all-time greats -- like the Babe Ruth of music. He's right there with Elvis and all those guys. Anytime something like that happens, it's tough to swallow."

Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton was born in Los Angeles in 1960 and grew up with Michael's music -- and even joined Fawcett on a sitcom set. He said after Atlanta's game that, "you just think people like that are going to be around forever."

"They're the superstars," Pendleton said. "You don't ever think they're going to die. But it's a reminder for all of us that none of us are invincible. Each of us will have a day.

"Growing up, I think all of us that were in that Michael Jackson era in 1971 or '72, when the Jackson 5 burst on the scene, knew that what he brought to the music and entertainment world might be unmatched.

"As for Farrah, I had the pleasure of [appearing in] a few episodes of a sitcom with her in 1990. She was just a great person. I had never been in that sort of environment and she went out of her way to make sure that I felt comfortable. I thought that just so professional. She was a class act."

Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens, a 23-year-old Curacao native, said, "everybody listens to Michael Jackson growing up. ... It shocked the world. We lost a good entertainer. I hear he was making a comeback too. It stinks. He had some hits. I'm young so I didn't listen to him all that much. The 'Free Willy' song was good."

Rays reliever J.P. Howell was focused on a big World Series rematch against Philadelphia, a game his team won at home, 10-4. But he also was talking about the shock of the day.

"I used to listen to his music so it's kind of weird," he said of Jackson. "My sister was a big fan. He had some trouble, but at the same time he was definitely a national figure.

"I heard when he was rushed to the hospital and you don't think much of it. Then I heard he passed away and it was kind of like, 'Wow.'"

"For me, the Jackson 5 is the part of Michael Jackson's career that I admired most," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. As a young group they were the bomb back then and they were so impressive because of their youth and their talent. It was very unique. And that's how I remember Michael Jackson, personally.

"Farrah Fawcett, we all remember Farrah Fawcett. And it's really a shame that the lady suffered. We all had that poster up on our wall at some point. And God bless her, man, she was a beautiful lady. And it's very difficult to watch her demise that way."

Right now, you might be Googling for Farrah's famous poster and remembering her career as an original on "Charlie's Angels" during a slower time when TV entertainment meant three TV networks. Maybe you are watching her recent documentary, sharing the story with younger people about how, as a cancer patient, she fought for, then surrendered, her treasured privacy to document her struggle with the disease and inspire others.

Right now, you might be searching for every Michael Jackson video you can find on YouTube. You might be crying as you hear the high-pitched voice of a child at the front of The Jackson Five, hearing "ABC" and "I'll Be There" and "Rockin' Robin." Maybe you will realize that Hall of Famer "Rockin'" Robin Yount got his nickname from a show-biz wonder.

Right now, you might be turning to a baseball game to block out the reality of loss. That's what always happens in times of trouble. A lot of us are taking this personally, because for so many it was a real fact of one's own life. When your icons go -- especially when they go one after another just like that, commanding headlines and then Twitter conversation everywhere -- it makes you reach for an escape, something to smile about and lose yourself in.

Ron Washington, the Texas Rangers' manager, was thinking back on wistful memories as people talked about Michael Jackson before that club's game against Arizona.

"He was from my era," Washington said. "He put out some outstanding music and some awesome dance steps. It was quite exciting. I don't know what to say except I'm going to miss Michael Jackson."

"I was sad," Florida's Dan Uggla said, and that pretty much summed up what Thursday was like for a lot of people.

They played Michael's music during batting practice before Saturday night's Civil Rights Game in Cincinnati, home of that old Big Red Machine. It was for a completely different reason, though. It was to celebrate the soulful sounds of the Civil Rights movement at its height. Now they play it around the Majors, on radio stations everywhere, because there is no more Michael Jackson, and there is no more Farrah Fawcett.

They are only memories now, just as the Big Red Machine's dominating 1976 sweep is just a memory, a blur in four games with Bench winning MVP.

"It's a shame when anybody passes away," Nationals reliever Ron Villone said. It's what people were talking about around baseball, besides baseball.

"They were two icons in our society in music and the acting industry. Condolences to their families. I hope everybody can mourn and get over things. It's a shame that they had to pass away. Farrah Fawcett doesn't have to suffer anymore and [Michael Jackson's death] was an unfortunate incident."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Reporters Bill Ladson, T.R. Sullivan, David Villavicencio, Bill Chastain, Mark Bowman and Zach Schonbrun contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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