Few major leaguers impacted an All-Star Game like Fred Lynn did at Chicago's Comiskey Park in 1983. His grand slam — the only one in the event's 77-year history — highlighted the AL's 13-3 victory at the All-Star Game's 50th anniversary. Not only did his contribution help break an 11-year winning streak for the NL, it started the AL on a 20-6-1 run at the Midsummer Classic.
It's been 20 years since Lynn retired from a remarkable athletic career that included a freshman stint on USC's varsity football team, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP with the Boston Red Sox in 1975 and an unfortunate string of injuries that keep him out of Cooperstown.
During a promotional tour on behalf of a famous sandwich maker, Lynn participated in a long-distance Answer Man phone call to reminisce about that famous day on Chicago's South Side.
David Brown: Do you hold your breath every time somebody comes up in an All-Star Game with the bases loaded?
Fred Lynn: [Laughs]. Well, I have this hex that I put on the players. It's a voodoo chant. I've looked at All-Star Games since I've hit that home run. Very few times do bases get loaded. But when they do, it has my full attention. Never as much as when Mark McGwire came up with the bases loaded in Colorado. He hits a fly ball, it's a home run. I was thinking, "Well, if McGwire does it, at least it'll be two [U]SC guys." But he didn't do it, so I guess the hex is still working.
(Editor's note: Roger Clemens struck out McGwire swinging)
DB: That must mean you're still proud to be the only guy to have one in an All-Star Game.
FL: When it happened, it was a big moment just because the American League had finally won. Prior to 1983, the National League owned us. At the time, I had no idea it was the only grand slam. All I knew is, we were going to win that game. I was pretty excited about that. Afterward, I found out and I was, like, "Jeez, 50 years of All-Star competition and nobody's hit a grand slam." Now, it's been another 25 years.
That's a long time, but when you get down to it, it's not like the bases get loaded and they bring in some guy from the bully. It's a closer out there. You're facing the best of the best all the time. I think, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen early in a game against a starter who's not quite into the game just yet. That's when you can get to some of these big starters. I don't think it's going to happen against a reliever.
DB: Hammaker was a left-hander pitcher and, like lots of left-handed batters, your power tended to be neutralized against lefties. So, you couldn't have been thinking "home run" there, right?
FL: The [NL] manager [Whitey Herzog] had walked Robin Yount to load the bases to get to me, so that was a little bit more incentive. It was a good strategy, as far as lefty vs. lefty and he [Hammaker] was tough on lefties. I never really had problems, especially when I was with the Angels, hitting lefties because I got a lot of strikes to hit. We had a lot of big right-handed hitters on our club.
The lefties would rather pitch to me than some of the righties (Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Doug DeCinces, Brian Downing). So I got better pitches to hit; I didn't care if they were left-handed or not — if you throw it over the plate, I'm gonna hit it. Even against Atlee, I got a 2-2 slider that he got out over the plate, and that's what I was looking for. Had he thrown a fastball in, he'd have gotten me.
DB: I actually was in the park for the All-Star Game. I was 11 years old; It's one of my happiest childhood memories. Of all the things you've done, is that the thing people come up to you and want to talk about the most?
FL: If it's not No. 1, it's close to it. Especially at this time of year, when the Midsummer Classic happens, people remember that. You can't watch the All-Star Game without 'em bringing it up. You said you were there — along with the other 250,000 at Comiskey Park. And most of those people, I left tickets for [laughs].
DB: For the rest of the interview, is it OK if I call you Uncle Fred?
FL: [Laughs]. I'm glad I could provide that for a hometown kid, because the White Sox weren't that good yet, but I was kind of a North Side guy, kind of rooting for the Cubs. But doing that in Chicago was very special.
DB: Was beating the National League, which had dominated in the 1960s and 1970s, enough motivation for you guys?
FL: It was very gratifying. We basically feel like we got the collective monkey off our back. If you look at the results of games post-1983, yeah, the National League has won a couple — but the American League has dominated. That was the turning point.
DB: Would you guys have "wanted it more" if there was home-field advantage for the World Series on the line?
FL: Meh, I'm not a big fan of home-field advantage during the World Series being granted during the All-Star Game. I think it should be decided by your standing through 162 games. The team that gets the best record is the one that should have the advantage.
I think there should be incentive enough for the players to compete at the highest level against the best players — potentially, Hall of Fame guys. If that's not incentive enough for you then, maybe, let someone else play.
DB: So is the All-Star Game an exhibition? It supposed to stand for something? What is its place?
FL: I know that in other sports, it's basically an exhibition. You watch a basketball game, they score 150 points [apiece] and there's no defense played. In football, it's after the season's over and the guys don't want to get hurt. Baseball's in the middle. I don't consider it an exhibition at all. The Home Run Derby and all of the other things that go on during the three days — those are exhibitions to have some fun. But any time you put your uniform on, and you're representing your city and team in that game, that should be incentive enough. It's not an exhibition. This is a game to be won.
DB: This interview has been brought to us by Subway; What is your involvement with them?
FL: I'm here in L.A. to help kick off Subway's Baseball DeSIGNS Tour. These are baseballs that are designed by Little Leaguers. Little, miniature works of art that are signed by celebrities, including me [laughs]. These baseballs will be auctioned off after the Little League World Series ends with all of the proceeds going to the Little League Urban Initiative. If fans don't get to see the baseballs on tour, they can go to Subwaykids.com or to Subway's Facebook page.
DB: Can you describe one?
FL: Imagine, now, these are baseballs designed by kids who are between 10 and 12. What goes through a little kids head? All I can say is, they don't depict anything so much as thoughts and collages of colors and other abstract things that go through kids minds. They're little Rembrandts; They're little works of art.
DB: Let's pretend me and you, Uncle Fred, are going to Subway for lunch. What kind of sandwich do you want?
FL: Oh, a $5 Footlong; Get the oven-roasted chicken, it's the best. My favorite. Whole wheat, everything on the shot, and make sure you put jalapeños on there. Here on the West Coast, jalapeños. Get those on there. And when I say "everything," there's a big counter there. Load it up. I want the bang for the five bucks.
DB: Have you met that Jared guy?
FL: Jared's here; I've met him and I rode on the Subway float during the Rose Parade and then went to a Subway shop afterward and then he made me a sandwich! He got back there and went to work.
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DB: Did you actually graduate from college before you played pro baseball? That's pretty rare.
FL: Actually, I signed professionally after my junior season — I was 21 and that's when I became eligible — but had I stayed with football, because I went to Southern Cal to play football, then I would have probably graduated on time. So I went there for three years, played and then my life went kind of haywire.
FL: There's two schools of thought. One, the money now is so lucrative, it's hard to pass it up. I understand that, when he was in high school, no one would pitch to him and he definitely wanted to compete at a higher level because he could. But you trade that for memories of high school. Your first dates, your first proms and all of these things that I don't know if he was able to have in his life. These things are not replaceable. Money only buys you so much. It doesn't buy you memories.
DB: Why was it so important for you to go to college and ultimately finish?
FL: When I was younger, the money wasn't so big, it was always indicated to kids, "Get your education first." Because, if this doesn't work out, you have something to fall back on. A Plan B. But these days, the money is so good that you can always go back to school, if it doesn't work out. Plus, you've got a couple million dollars in the bank. That's hard to say "no" to. I wouldn't trade away my three national [baseball] titles and all of my memories at USC for anything.
DB: How would you describe your football career at USC? The phrase "never came off the field" came up a couple of times in researching it. How good were you?
FL: I got a scholarship there, I played offense and defense — I was a wide receiver and a corner on defense. Had I stayed with football, I would have moved to free safety. But I returned punts and kicks and I even punted. I didn't come off the field much. When I was in high school, I never came off the field for a second. One of the things I was not able to use in professional baseball was my endurance. It's not an aerobic sport, baseball, and one of the things I could do is run guys into the ground.
DB: You had lots of good times in the majors with the Red Sox and Angels — but what was it like being on the 1988 "0-21" Orioles?
FL: The pressure to win one game was insurmountable. The media was meeting us at the airport. Nobody wanted to be the team that lost to us. Intense pressure — the worst I had ever experienced in any sport I had played.
DB: You had a great career but suffered injuries that prevented greater things, probably. How do you look back on it all?
FL: My talent was always the same, but I got hurt. I was injured and couldn't be on the field. Could I have been a Hall of Famer or done more things had I played? Yeah, probably so. If you look at what I did per game, it ranks up there with guys who are in the Hall of Fame.
Do I have any regrets? No, because I'd have to sacrifice my style of play, and I wasn't going to do that. I was a football guy who played baseball.
Follow Dave on Twitter — @AnswerDave.
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