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Fred Lynn's MVP season a cautionary tale for Angels' Mike Trout

MIKE DIGIOVANNA / ON BASEBALL

Fred Lynn, who was MVP and rookie of the year in the same season, had to deal with the weight of expectations. Although he was a nine-time All-Star, it never was quite enough for some.

August 18, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Standing in his home in Carlsbad, Calif., former Angels outfielder Fred Lynn holds the rookie of the year and most valuable player awards he won in 1975. Lynn had a difficult time living up to expectations after earning the two honors.
Standing in his home in Carlsbad, Calif., former Angels outfielder Fred… (Mike DiGiovanna / Los Angeles…)

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Winning the most-valuable-player and rookie-of-the-year awards this season would be a monumental achievement for Mike Trout, a feat only Boston's Fred Lynn (1975) and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki (2001) have accomplished.

If the Angels outfielder pulls off the rare double, though, it could raise a potentially vexing question:

What does he do for an encore?

"To do what I did as a rookie, playing in Boston on such a big stage, everybody thought, 'Gee, what's he going to do next year, run for president?'" Lynn, 60, recalled of 1975, a year he hit .331 with 21 home runs, 47 doubles and 105 runs batted in to help the Red Sox reach the World Series.

"I had high expectations of myself, but what expectations other people put on you, those can be difficult to live up to."

The smooth-swinging, acrobatic-fielding Lynn had a fine 16-year career, hitting .283 with 306 homers and 1,111 RBIs, making nine All-Star teams and winning the Gold Glove Award four times.

But the former USC star and Angels center fielder from 1981 to '84 had only one other MVP-caliber season, when he hit .333 with 39 homers and 122 RBIs for Boston in 1979 and placed fourth in American League voting. A series of injuries, many from crashing into walls, limited Lynn to an average of 123 games per season.

"I don't know what happened after 1975, whether they pitched him tougher or what," said TBS broadcaster Dick Stockton, a rookie play-by-play man in Boston in 1975. "But I think it puts the bull's-eye on your head when you win the MVP as a rookie."

The problem with winning the MVP so soon is it creates an expectation to win it multiple times or finish among top vote-getters every season.

Trout, who entered Friday with an AL-leading .340 batting average, 93 runs and 38 stolen bases to go with 22 homers and 66 RBIs, has the tools — as well as a level-headedness — to be a star for years.

But if he hits .310 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs next year and doesn't crack the top five in MVP voting, would he be considered a failure?

"There's an age-old adage that you don't want to hit .300," said Lynn, who shares a spacious home in the hills above the La Costa Resort & Spa with his wife, Natalie. "You want to hit .299, because then they won't expect you to hit .300."

Lynn hopes to meet Trout, 21, this week in Fenway Park, where the Angels begin a three-game series Tuesday. Lynn, who is hosting guests in a luxury suite, has seen highlights of Trout but does not receive Angels telecasts at home and has not seen him on national TV.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play — I've heard a lot about his speed and power," Lynn said. "I'd like to talk to him to see what he's thinking. It's so different from when I played because he's under the microscope already.

"I don't remember ever, during the 1975 season, anyone saying, 'Hey, you could be rookie of the year or MVP.' It wasn't even a blip on my radar screen. It was all about the team. This was the Red Sox. We hadn't won anything forever."

Lynn was 23 when he won the center-field job in 1975, and he teamed with fellow rookie Jim Rice and veteran Carl Yastrzemski in the middle of a potent lineup.

He had a monster first half, hitting .342 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs, the highlight a June 18 game in Tiger Stadium. He went five for six with three homers and 10 RBIs, his first homer hitting the roof and his last, in the ninth inning, reaching the upper deck.

"We won, 15-1, and Darrell Johnson took most of the veterans out," Lynn said, referring to the Boston manager. "They were in a bar across the street watching on TV when I hit my last homer. I came into the locker room and there was no one there, just a couple of beat writers and me. Those days are gone."

The Red Sox pulled away from the Yankees in August, won the AL East and swept Oakland in the AL championship series. Next was the World Series against Cincinnati and a Game 6 many consider the greatest game ever played.

Lynn hit a three-run homer in the first inning, he was on second when Bernie Carbo hit his pinch-hit, game-tying three-run homer in the eighth and in the on-deck circle when Carlton Fisk hit his famous 12th-inning homer off Fenway's left-field foul pole.

"I had a ringside seat for some incredible things," Lynn said.

But the Reds won Game 7, preventing Lynn from savoring his awards. His other two postseason forays ended in heartbreak, the "Bucky Dent-game" loss to the Yankees in 1978 and the Angels' 1982 ALCS loss to Milwaukee.

"I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the 1975 World Series, the 1978 playoff game and 1982," Lynn said. "I'm 60 years old, out of the game for 20 years, and those things still haunt me. When you don't win a ring, I don't care if you're in the Hall of Fame, it just doesn't feel good."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/MikeDiGiovanna

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