Monday, February 3, 2014
Happy Birthday, Fred Lynn
By David Schoenfield
All-Stars born on Feb. 3 -- Bake McBride and Joe Coleman (once each). And this guy.
Fred Lynn: Born 1952
Here's a question: Who's the most famous non-Hall of Fame player? And by that, let's exclude steroids guys who haven't been elected, Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, players not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame, active players and players who also made a mark as managers (say, Lou Piniella).
I'm not asking who the best player not in the Hall of Fame, but simply the most famous. Doesn't Fred Lynn have to rank up there? Compare him to somebody like Tim Raines, who was unquestionably the better player. Raines spent his best years in Montreal, underrated and in relative obscurity. He never won an MVP Award, was never a big star on a World Series team and so on.
Lynn played for the Red Sox and was Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season, which gave him name recognition the rest of his career. That same season he played in one of the most famous World Series of all time. He later went to the Angels, another big-market team. The fans loved Lynn. He made nine straight All-Star teams from 1975 to 1983, starting six of them.
The kicker is that Lynn was really a great player in just two seasons -- 1975 and 1979. Lynn may not have not the best player in 1975, but was one of the best, and he was probably the best player in the American League in 1979, him or George Brett, but neither the Red Sox nor the Royals made the playoffs so they gave the award to Don Baylor. Lynn was very good in 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1982, earning between 4.4 and 4.7 WAR each season.
So there must have been something about Lynn that captured the fans' imagination. He drove in 100 runs just twice, reached 80 just two other times. He hit 30 home runs just once. But he was good-looking and smooth and graceful with a pretty left-handed swing. I guess everyone remembered that rookie season and Lynn crashing into the wall at Fenway Park in the World Series and wanted to believe he was still that kid running around the outfield.
Maybe he's not the most famous non-Hall of Famer. You have Steve Garvey and Dale Murphy and Roger Maris or guys who became announcers or Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Jose Canseco. Anyway, Lynn is up there. He was one of the most famous players of the '70s and '80s.
He was a good player, a guy who did everything well except steal bases. His main problem was staying healthy. He played 140 games just four times and only once reached 150, and that was 150 on the nose. If he'd stayed with the Red Sox -- they traded him to the Angels, not wanting to pay him what he wanted -- maybe he'd be a Hall of Famer. He hit .347/.420/.601 in his career at Fenway. He hit .300 four times with the Red Sox, none after leaving Boston.
For me, I'll always remember one Lynn moment above all others: His home run in the 1983 All-Star Game. I was an AL kid and the NL won every year back then and we actually cared about this stuff at the time. The NL had won 11 in a row and 19 out of 20 heading into that game at Comiskey Park. Lynn started (in what would be his final All-Star appearance) and hit third, between Robin Yount and Jim Rice. In the third inning he came up with the bases loaded and two outs, the AL already up 5-1. I still see him rounding the bases, arm upraised in triumph. It remains the only grand slam in All-Star history.