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Mike Trout could be the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year, but Fred Lynn's 1975 season offers a cautionary tale

Updated on October 4, 2012

By almost any measure, Mike Trout of the Angels is having a phenomenal rookie season (even though he played last season, he qualifies as a rookie this season because he had fewer than 130 at bats in 2011). The fact that he wasn’t legally be old enough to drink until Aug. 7 of this year makes his accomplishments even more astounding.

Personally, I hope he continues his strong showing this year (and not just because he’s on my fantasy team, although that is a factor). His energy and enthusiasm are good for baseball.

Because he is playing so well, many people believe he could win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards. He faces some stiff competition for the MVP award but should be a shoo-in for ROY. Two other players have won both awards in the same season, Ichiro Suzuki for Seattle in 2001 and Fred Lynn for Boston in 1975.

Suzuki had an amazing season in 2001, helping the Mariners win 116 games. He led the league in hits with 242 and batting average at .350, plus scored 127 runs and stole 56 bases. On top of that, he was considered one of the premier outfielders that season.

There is some dispute, though, whether he should have won the Rookie of the Year honor. He was 27 at the time and had played nine years of professional ball in Japan before that. True, it wasn’t Major League caliber but it was pretty good. The qualifications for ROY, however, only deal with Major League experience.

But the situation with Fred Lynn was much different. People younger than 40 may not remember much about Lynn but in many ways, he and Trout compare quite favorably. Both are 6-1, Lynn was listed at 185 and Trout at 210. Lynn was 23, Trout is just turning 21. But I think Lynn had a much greater impact in his rookie season than Trout is having this year. It may not seem like it when just looking at the raw numbers, since Trout will probably outdistance Lynn in most categories. But the American League in the 1970s was far different than it is today.

Rookie Seasons of Lynn, Suzuki and Trout

Fred Lynn, 1975
Ichiro Suzuki, 2001
Mike Trout, 2012

Lynn's Amazing 1975 Season

The years leading up to Lynn’s rookie season of 1975 had been an offensive vacuum for the American League hitters. The 1968 season when Carl Yastrzemski led the league with a .301 batting average was still a vivid memory. Only a handful of AL players reached even 30 homers in the early ‘70s and none made it to 40. Players didn’t score many runs or drive in many. So while Lynn’s rookie campaign looks nice but not overwhelming today, it was monstrous in 1975.

Lynn’s .331 batting average was the highest by anyone other than Rod Carew since ’71 and was the ninth highest since 1959. He smashed 47 doubles that season, the first time anyone had topped 40 since 1965 and the highest total since George Kell hit 56 in 1950. His slugging percentage of .566 was the 10th highest in 10 years. His 103 runs scored marked only the second time in five years that anyone had more than 100 and in an era when few players reached 100 RBIs, his total of 105 was a big number. His .967 OPS led the league (although we didn’t know that statistic back then). He belted 21 homers that season, not a high total today, but the leader each of the previous two seasons had hit only 32. I would guess 21 homers in 1975 would compare to 30 or 35 today.

This was also an era when hardly anyone hit for high average and power in the American League. Even the National League didn’t have a lot of players who combined them. So Lynn’s .331 average (23 points higher than third place, 28 points behind the leader, Rod Carew) along with 75 extra base hits harkened back to a previous era.

Lynn, like Trout, was an exceptional – and fearless – fielder. He had a strong arm and, while not blessed with Trout’s speed, stole 10 bases, a lot at the time for a player with his kind of power. The Red Sox stole only 66 bases as team that year.

For American League fans, it seemed they finally had a player to rival some of the stars in the National League. People assumed that it would be Lynn rather than his rookie teammate, Jim Rice, who would wind up in the Hall of Fame

The Rest of the Story

Alas, Lynn’s all-out style of play made him a frequent guest on the disabled list. He only played 150 games once in his career. In 1976 he slipped to just 10 homers, 32 doubles and a .314 batting average and struggled for a few more years.

In 1979 he enjoyed his best season, when he hit 39 homers, 42 doubles, drove in 122 runs and scored 116, although none of those led the league. But he did lead the AL that season in batting average (.333), on base percentage (.423), slugging average (.637) and OPS (1.059).

The next season he dropped to .301 batting average and 12 homers and the Red Sox shipped him to the Angels. In 1982 he had his last really strong season when he hit .299 with 21 homers and 86 RBIs. Perhaps the highlight of his career after that was hitting the first grand slam homer in All-Star Game history in 1983. He had a few more average seasons with the Angels, a few more with the Orioles and then the Tigers before ending his career in 1990 with a subpar season for the Padres.

Lots of people are predicting many years of success for Trout and they may be right. But Lynn’s career track shows that it’s difficult to predict superstardom from that initial season. Hopefully for Trout, baseball and its fans, his career builds on his first season and he enjoys many superstar seasons like he’s had this year.


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    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 5 years ago from Worcester

      Gary, I was a great fan of Fred Lynn. The reason the center field wall in Fenway is padded is because of him. He slammed into the wall in the sixth game of the '75 World Series. If Jim Rice didn't get injured in Sept of '75, they might have won the Series that year. Rice had a great rookie season that year too. Only reason he wasnt ROY was because of Lynn. Great Hub I voted up and interesting