When you're a nine-time All-Star and former Most Valuable Player, you know you're doing something right. That is exactly the case for former major league outfielder Fred Lynn, who made a name for himself patrolling center field at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox, and playing alongside the likes of Rod Carew, Don Baylor and Reggie Jackson with the California Angels.
Now that he's long been retired, Lynn is working hard to raise awareness and support for the Little League Urban Initiative program, which supports the growth of Little League Baseball in the United States. Along with a number of other athletes and celebrities, he is touring from coast to coast with the Subway Baseball Designs Tour, spreading the word about his cause.
The tour led him straight into Phoenix, Arizona at the beginning of the week, coinciding with MLB's All-Star Game. The former All-Star Game MVP returned to the banner that made him infamous, and I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions by phone.
In a piece that I wrote, here, Lynn talked about everything from his tour to what it was like launching that mammoth grand slam during the 1983 All-Star Game. To this day, he remains the only person to ever hit a grand slam during the event.
During the conversation though, I had the opportunity to ask Lynn about something interesting. He was easily one of the greatest outfielders of his day, having success both offensively and defensively, and I was curious as to which players of recent memory inspired him by playing the game the same way that he did.
The slides that follow are the first five outfielders that Lynn named when I asked him that question. Not surprisingly, all five of them are top talents that excelled at all facets of the game.
Of course, in order to understand why the selections are so interesting, it's important that we get to know a bit about Fred Lynn himself. He spent 17 years in the major leagues, the majority of which were spent with the Boston Red Sox and California Angels. He also had much shorter stays with the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres.
During his first full season in the major leagues with the Red Sox in 1975, Lynn set the bar high for his career. After collecting 7.3 WAR, he took home honors for not only the American League Rookie of the Year, but also as the American League MVP.
Over the course of his career, he would go on to win a number of awards, including four Gold Gloves, as well as being selected to represent his team in the All-Star Game nine times. With that being said, many believe he never lived up to the expectations he had set for himself in his rookie season, and while he had a good career, it could have been much better.
It's funny how quickly we forget. Before he managed to derail his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fans of the Atlanta Braves could not sing the praise of Andruw Jones loud enough. Throughout the 1990s, with one of the strongest pitching rotations of all time, having Jones patrolling center field was a blessing. For the longest time, as a fan of another team in the NL East, it seemed to me like everything hit his way ended up in his glove.
Offensively, he was just a powerhouse, driving in runs like it was nobody's business. With the Braves, he eclipsed 30 HRs seven times, including a 51-HR season in 2005. Of course, his substantial power outage after he left the Braves left questions about whether or not he had been using steroids, but in terms of being the complete package, there are no doubts.
In his days with Atlanta, Jones looked like a sure-fire Hall of Famer. In 2005, he took home the National League's Silver Slugger Award as a center fielder, and he was selected to the NL All-Star team five times. His dominance in terms of defense led him to 10 straight Gold Gloves, and that did not go unnoticed by Fred Lynn.
Torii Hunter is one of the most complete players ever produced by the Minnesota Twins, and for nearly a decade, was the prime example of what it meant to be a "five-tool" player.
Offensively, Hunter could do a little of everything. If you needed a base hit, he could do it. Maybe a double with some power to the gaps, or a clutch home run? He could do it. Needed him to swipe a bag to get into scoring position? He could do that too. He's had nine seasons with more than 20 HRs, showing off his power, and has scored more than 80 runs six times.
It was his splendid defense in center field that helped him make a name for himself, however. Advanced defensive metrics aren't very fond of Hunter nowadays, in large part because he's no longer capable of playing center field. In his days with the Twins, however, there were few who were able to compete with him in the outfield. He took home nine straight Gold Gloves for his work in center field from 2001-09.
When talking about Hunter, Lynn told me, "I've always had an affinity for guys who played the game the same way that I did."
Now I'm not saying that Ken Griffey Jr. was a bit overrated defensively, but those defensive metrics don't lie. In much of the same way that Torii Hunter's game declined, Griffey was a well-below-average defender at the end of his career, humbled by a knee injury that kept him from making some of those improbable leaping catches seen frequently during the early part of his career. That, however, did not stop him from winning 10 Gold Gloves, all with the Seattle Mariners, from 1990-99.
"I had the chance to play against his dad, which probably makes me sound kind of old," said Lynn as he recalled his own playing days and Ken Griffey Sr. After a quick laugh, he continued on by saying, "He (Griffey Jr.) was definitely one of the greatest."
Looking at his numbers, it's hard to disagree. He's one of only seven players to hit more than 600 home runs during a career, and he collected a fair share of stolen bases, RBI and runs scored. When he retired in 2010, he hung up the spikes boasting a career OPS of .907, but even that is a bit misleading, as the last three years of his career were mediocre, at best.
Junior racked up a number of awards during his career, highlighted by winning the American League MVP Award in 1997. He was an All-Star 13 times, and took home the All-Star MVP Award for his efforts during the 1992 showdown. He won the Home Run Derby three times and was awarded the Silver Slugger Award for his work in the outfield a remarkable seven times.
UZR: 3.3 (2002-07)
Admittedly, Mr. Lynn caught me a bit off guard by naming Barry Bonds as one of the greatest outfielders in the game. Much of my memory of the burly outfielder is just that—of a big, bulky outfielder, whose legacy is shrouded in the courts and steroid abuse. For a guy like Lynn, who made a name for himself by playing the game the right way, to name Bonds one of the greatest, I was taken aback.
I had to remind myself that, despite the steroid usage, Bonds was already a great player. In his days with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was a tremendous defensive talent, and even when he was bulked up beyond a reasonable doubt, he was an average defender for the San Francisco Giants. A lot of people are surprised to learn that he won eight Gold Gloves over the early stages of his career.
As we know, however, he made his name offensively. Though some like to tell themselves otherwise, Bonds is the all-time leader in home runs. During his early career, he was a tremendous baserunner, and managed to swipe more than 500 bases by the time all was said and done in 2007.
"He was another guy that could hit anything," said Lynn of the home run king, and for a while, the only at-bats that didn't result in a hit were those where he was intentionally walked.
Bonds was selected to appear in the All-Star Game 14 times, and won the Home Run Derby in 1996. He is a seven-time MVP, 12-time Silver Slugger Award winner and three-time winner of the Hank Aaron Award.
UZR: -19.8 (2002-11)
Even after making himself look like he's never played in the outfield before during the 2010 World Series, Frey Lynn has a ton of respect for Vladimir Guerrero. Like Bonds, he was a guy that I didn't expect to hear called one of the greatest outfielder of his generation, but Lynn thinks very highly of him.
"You can't pitch around him. He may be at the end of the road now, but in his day, it was impossible to throw something by him," said Lynn. "He can hit a pitch in the dirt, or one that was thrown up in the zone. He's just a great hitter."
Well, he certainly has the offensive accolades to back up that statement. Not only does he have a career batting average above .300, but he's also quietly creeping up on the 500 home run plateau. He's won the Silver Slugger Award eight times for his efforts at the plate, and the highlight of his trophy case is the MVP Award he won in 2004 as a member of the Los Angeles Angels.
"Not only that, but in the field, he was a good defender with a great arm," said Lynn of Guerrero in his prime. While advanced defensive metrics don't love Guerrero, he does have 128 career outfield assists. Now that he's relegated to the designated hitter's spot, we often forget that he had a cannon for a right arm in his day, and few tested it. That fact was not lost on Fred Lynn, however.