5 Questions With Fred Lynn: Talks USC Coeds, Baseball Cards & Atlee Hammaker’s Wife

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Nine-time American League All-Star Fred Lynn never competed in Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby.  He hit his home runs during the all-star games.

With four all-star HRs, Lynn shares the American League record with fellow Red Sox great Ted Williams. They trail only St. Louis Cardinal legend Stan Musial’s six homers. Lynn’s 1983 blast off Giant Atlee Hammaker at Chicago’s Comiskey Park is the only grand slam ever hit in the history of the MLB All-Star game.

“I really focused on those games. I never wanted to look bad against good pitchers,” Lynn said from Phoenix, the site of the 2011 MLB All-Star Game. His first all-star appearance was in 1975, a season when he won both the A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP.

Lynn was in Phoenix supporting the Subway Baseball Designs tour, a traveling exhibit of kid-designed baseballs autographed by athletes (Blake Griffin, Ryan Howard, etc.) and celebrities like Katy Perry, Yvonne Strahovski (“Chuck”), Jessica Szohr (“Gossip Girl”) and more (Nick Jonas, Zac Efron). (Tour dates and link to site below.)

A collegiate athlete in both baseball and football at USC prior to his 17-year major league career, Lynn was fresh off an appearance at the All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, an exhibition in whose 2010 game, he homered.

What’s your favorite all-star memory other than the ’83 grand slam?

My first year (1975) was special. I got to be on the same team as Henry Aaron, who I watched as a kid. I had been hitting pretty well going into the game and I remember (Pirates catcher) Manny Sanguillen coming up and touching me, shaking his fingers and saying “Woo, son: You hot! You hot!” I’ll never forget it.

Contrast the friendly exhibition feel of today’s game vs. the games in the ’70s and ’80s. Some of this year’s players, such as Derek Jeter, have asked out of the game. What would have been the reaction to that when you played?

I don’t think it would have happened then. If you didn’t want to play for any reason other than you were injured and couldn’t play, I think you’d really catch it from your teammates…I think it’s sad. ‘I want a rest’ is not good enough for me. It’s not a stressful atmosphere out here. It’s very relaxed. I think you should show up and play if you were voted in by fans.

What’s your favorite baseball in the Subway Baseball Designs tour exhibit? Do you see enough kids still playing baseball?

My favorite ball is the one I just signed. It’s for a great cause. If fans can’t see the tour, they should check out the website…It breaks my heart to drive by a baseball field and see no one on it. We used to get to the fields early or else we’d have to fight for the field…One of the reasons I support Subway is they promote a healthy lifestyle of getting outside and doing things instead of just playing video games. Kids need that social experience of playing, not social networking.

You’ll be forever linked to the Red Sox and many fans will always think of you that way. How do you think of yourself?

Personally, I am a (USC) Trojan, first and foremost. The Red Sox are the team that signed me and where I played the longest, so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for them.

Which was a better game: Game Six of the 1975 World Series or the USC-Minnesota semi-final of the College World Series in 1973?

Game Six was just named the number-one game of the last 50 seasons (by MLB Network) and people think it’s the greatest game I’ve ever played in, but I don’t know… that game against Minnesota — Winfield struck out 15 and had only given up one hit going into the ninth with a 7-0 lead.

We scored eight runs in the ninth to eliminate them and went on to win the College World Series the next day. This was during the wooden bat era too, not the aluminum bats, so it was difficult to get that type of offense. It was some kind of game.

The MLB Home Run Derby is a crowd-pleaser. What three players that you played with would you pick for a home-run derby team and why?

I’m a little, scrawny guy, so I wouldn’t have picked myself, but right off the bat, I’d pick Jimmy Rice. He could launch them pretty good. Wade Boggs is my sleeper pick. People don’t realize Wade was 6’1″- 6’2″; he’s a big guy and he could launch, but he preferred to hit for average in his career. Finally, I’d have to go with Eddie Murray, who could crank them out. Eddie was so good that if he got tired hitting them right-handed, he’d just turn around and hit them left-handed.

 

You played baseball and football at Southern Cal. Even though ‘SC baseball won five College World Series in a row in the 1970s, did they get out-shined by UCLA basketball and USC football in Los Angeles?

Yeah, no doubt. We never drew a crowd unless we were playing UCLA; it was usually girlfriends, dads and scouts, but more girlfriends than anything else.

Which team did better with the coeds?

I think (UCLA basketball) Coach Wooden had his guys on a short leash, but if you were an ‘SC football guy, you did well.  I am sure they still do. The football guys used to tell the baseball guys ‘We pay for your jerseys,’ so it was definitely a football-first environment at ‘SC.

You do a lot of charitable events and celebrity and legend games. Has anyone -inside or outside baseball – been an asshat to be around at those events?

All the people I’ve worked with through Subway have been great, but (former Red Sox pitcher) Bill Lee and (former Bears quarterback) Jim McMahon are very different cats. They show up to play golf in sandals and do whatever they like. They are interesting to say the least. You never know what they might do.

Do you have a favorite baseball card of those you appeared on?

I appeared on a lot of them. What I really didn’t like is that Topps, who was the top dog in the card game at that time, you never knew when they were going to take a picture and use it. I wouldn’t have chosen many of the ones they used. One of them — I am wearing six sweat suits and standing around looking like a mess. Who chooses these things !?!…Some of them turned out to be a real trainwreck. If I had right of first refusal, there might not have been any cards of me.

Which player from your era would have been in the most trouble if the social media of today was present then?

If they had this stuff in the 1970s with the political unrest – or with the (segregated) busing situation they had in Boston — it would have been a mess. I’m not going to single out any one player, but a lot of guys would have gotten burned because no one was shy to say what they felt. It would have been very dicey.

Does Atlee Hammaker still send you hate mail for ruining his career?

You know, when I went to San Diego (in 1990), Atlee was a teammate of mine. As soon as I walked in the clubhouse, all the guys on the team said “Hey, Atlee: Look who’s here!” and laughed. I walked over to him and he said’ Welcome aboard,’ but I don’t think his wife liked me very much (after hitting the grand slam off him in 1983).

The Subway Baseball Designs tour will make stops in New York City (Aug. 8) and Williamsport, Pa. at the Little League Baseball World Series (Aug. 19-28).  After the tour, the baseballs will be auctioned off in August for the benefit the Little League Baseball Urban Initiative program. View them at www.subwaykids.com.

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