Carlsbad baseball legend Fred Lynn still brings the lumber
Carlsbad resident Fred Lynn is 71 — he hasn’t played Major League Baseball in over three decades and is only a few months removed from double knee replacement surgery.
Even so, he is confident he can still shag fly balls with the doggedness he was known for when he patrolled the outfield for the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Granted, with a tad less range.
“I haven’t started running yet [since surgery], and my eyesight isn’t the same,” said Lynn, a four-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder and one of only two players to ever win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player award in the same season. “It takes a little bit of practice, but those kinds of things – if you have an instinct for where the ball is going to go – I don’t think that goes away. If I could run to catch it, I would catch it – there is no doubt in my mind. It wouldn’t be the smartest thing I ever did, but I’ve never been accused of being too smart when it comes to my body.”
Fred Lynn, 71, talks about hitting on Aug. 4 at his Carlsbad home. During his 17 seasons in the big leagues, Lynn won four Gold Gloves as an outfielder and an American League batting title (1979, .333). Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Fred Lynn’s Silver Bat Award after winning the American League batting title in 1979. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Over 17 seasons of Major League Baseball, Lynn built a reputation for being reckless with his body. Once, he broke some ribs in Detroit chasing a fly ball down. The wall was padded, except for a small piece of pipe on top – exactly where Lynn collided.
Another time, or, more precisely, another several times, he threw his back out, diving around the outfield like a rodeo clown corralling a bull.
“To my detriment I could still play defense, even at 38,” Lynn said. “Managers wanted me out there. When you get a little older, playing center – or the outfield in general – takes a toll.”
Lynn, a left-handed hitter with a smooth swing, launched 306 career home runs, including 39 in 1979 that helped him earn the American League batting title. When the nine-time All-Star — who hit the first and only grand slam in All-Star Game history — leaves physical therapy, a thought bangs around in his head: maybe he still has a few cuts left.
“Adjacent to where I do PT, there are batting cages,” Lynn said with a chuckle moments after finishing a physical therapy appointment for his knees. “I see kids in there all the time. I told my guy who I work with, ‘You know what, I’m going to go in there when nobody is around one day, and my knees can handle it, and I am going to see what it feels like to swing the bat.’ I’d like to hear the sound of the wood hitting the ball.”
Just don’t tell his family doctor.
“I haven’t started running yet, but I will, even though my doctor said don’t do it – I’m not going to tell him that,” Lynn said.
Fred Lynn holds his MLB Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards, both received for his 1975 season with the Boston Red Sox. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Fred Lynn’s 1975 American League Championship ring. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Lynn’s prestigious baseball career has earned him a wall of accolades ranging from leading the USC Trojans to three consecutive College Word Series titles (1971-73) to closing out his MLB career with the San Diego Padres.
After retirement, Lynn became a fixture on the Carlsbad YMCA basketball court into his mid-40s and a hill runner near the Batiquitos Lagoon.
These days, it’s golf for Lynn.
“Golf is the thing that keeps me going,” he said. “I should be able to play into my 80s for sure. Golf is a common denominator for most of us [retired athletes].”
Lynn said he applies the same philosophy that drove him during his baseball career when playing pickup basketball, golf, rehab, or anything that interests him.
“I push myself pretty hard,” Lynn said. “That’s the way I am with whatever I do. I want to do it well – working in the yard. I don’t want to be average. Average is for other people, it’s not for me.”
Lynn’s relationship with North County goes back to the 1970s when his father moved to Solana Beach. After seven seasons with the Red Sox, four with the Angels, four with the Orioles and two with the Tigers, he finished his career in 1990 with the Padres. During that season, he lived in an apartment in Solana Beach.
The following year he and his wife Natalie bought the Carlsbad home they still live in today.
“Back in 1991 there wasn’t much around here, like there is now,” Lynn said. “There are a lot more people living here – that’s okay, because there is better infrastructure; more people but more things to do. It’s a really wonderful place to live.”
After retirement, Carlsbad’s Fred Lynn enjoys the links and occasionally works for the Red Sox as a host for corporate clients in the Legends Suite at Fenway Park. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Lynn joined the Padres in 1990 with hefty expectations for how the team would perform coming off an 89-win season anchored by Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Jack Clark, Bip Roberts, Benito Santiago and Tony Gwynn. Injuries hit hard, manager Jack McKeon was fired midseason, and the team limped to a 75-87 finish.
“When I came over as a free agent, the Padres had a good team,” Lynn remembered. “They had a nucleus of something that could happen. That’s why I came here. These guys could contend. Unfortunately, Tony had knee issues, Benito broke his arm and Jack got hurt.”
For all the accolades Gwynn received as a hitter, Lynn took notice of another aspect of his game.
“I don’t think he ever got the credit for his defense,” Lynn said. “He could run and he had a good arm. He was very accurate with his throwing arm. As a centerfielder, I was sizing him up – I never had to worry about him; he knew what he was doing. It was a real pleasure to play defense beside him.”
Lynn remains active in baseball, working for the Red Sox a handful of games a year as a host for corporate clients in the Legends Suite at Fenway Park.
“I enjoy watching hitters making adjustments,” Lynn said. “The pitching is the part of the game that is frustrating for me – it’s changed so much. Speed doesn’t get you out, It’s where [the pitcher] puts the ball. Today’s pitchers strike a lot of guys out, but a lot of our pitchers back in the day, because they threw a lot of sinking fastballs, wanted you to hit the ball. If you hit it on the ground, we are going to catch it. It made defense better.”
Despite his association with the Red Sox, Lynn stays up on the Padres.
“Last year they got there without [Fernando] Tatis, which was a shocker to me,” Lynn said. “They showed that they can do it. There were a lot of expectations [this year] – one of the hardest things to do in baseball is winning when you are expected to win. It’s a lot of pressure. Their lineup is front loaded – the top five guys, that’s it. The bottom of the lineup hasn’t contributed much. You can’t win games consistently like that. Until they figure that out, they aren’t going anywhere.”