It is the numbers that are beautiful on the balloons surrounding Fred Lynn (right) and Jim Rice (page 44). As Boston rookies last season, they took off early—by May 1 they had a combined .311 average, six home runs and 22 RBIs—and did not come down until Lynn had swept every individual award in sight, prizes that in a Lynn-less year probably would have been won by Rice. And lest you think their reputations are somehow inflated, turn the page for comparisons between their rookie performances and those of a random sample of Hall of Famers—or Hall of Famers-to-be. The latter-day Babes of Boston outdid stars of every era, a good indication that for them in '76 the baseball bromide about sophomore slumps is likely to turn out to be a lot of hot air.
PAIR WITHOUT PARALLEL
Baseball is still reeling from the legendary 1976 feats of Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. Never before have mere rookies had such impact on the game. It was not just that Lynn was the first rookie to be named Most Valuable Player, but also that Rice finished third in the MVP voting and that the two led the surprising Red Sox to the American League pennant. And they reached back and smote history a lick, too. Statistically, Lynn and Rice were the finest rookie teammates in major league history, and Lynn was one of the very best first-year players of the century. He was the finest rookie hitter in more than two decades, and if his fielding is duly considered, he was the best all-round rookie since Ted Williams in 1939. Unfortunately for his teammate, Lynn's achievements were just good enough to outstrip the performance of the less acclaimed, but hardly less talented, Rice.
To compare Lynn and Rice with their predecessors, it is necessary to establish a single qualifying standard for all rookies. For the sake of argument, assume a rookie is any player who has had no more than 130 at bats in previous major league seasons. This is the most significant clause of the rule that has been used since 1957 to determine which hitters qualify as rookies.
Under this standard, Lynn and Rice were the first rookie teammates both to hit more than .300 and drive in more than 100 runs apiece. Quite a few pairs have topped .300, but the members of only two other twosomes—Al Rosen (116) and Luke Easter (107) of the 1950 Indians and Ken Keltner (113) and Jeff Heath (112) of the 1938 Indians-knocked in more than 100 runs each. Of the four, only Heath had an average above .300.
How does Lynn, who beat out Rice for 1975 American League Rookie of the Year, compare with past individuals? Again, a standard is in order that takes into consideration four categories: average, home runs, runs batted in and hits. In cases in which a comparison between Lynn and some earlier rookie results in each player winning two categories, the one with the higher average is given a slight edge.
By this criterion, Lynn's rookie performance outdistanced the first-year accomplishments of such players as Easter, Rosen, Minnie Minoso, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Tony Oliva and Dick Allen. You would have to go back a quarter-century to Walt Dropo, the mediocre-fielding, power-hitting first baseman of the 1950 Red Sox, to find a rookie who batted better than Lynn. Before Dropo, Lynn out-hit every rookie back to Williams in 1939. Here is how the Boston three match up.
Lynn's statistics had a purity of line to match his level swing at the plate and smooth gait afield. In hitting for average over anything approaching a full season, he outdid every rookie back to Richie Ashburn of the 1948 Phillies, who batted .333 in 117 games. In doubles, those classic marriages of sock and speed, Lynn set a league rookie record of 47. Power? He was the only rookie ever to lead baseball in slugging percentage (.566). In one game he set a league rookie record of 10 RBIs while hitting three homers and a triple.
Rice's year could also be described as prodigious. Henry Aaron watched him swing and pronounced all home-run records in jeopardy. Rice hit a 500-foot shot to the right of the flagpole in Fenway Park, a feat matched by only five others, including Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx. In a 56-game streak he had 45 RBIs and five four-hit games. And Rice's talents were more varied than reputed. Because he was used as a designated hitter for most of the first half of the season, he is widely thought to have been so-so on defense. In fact, Rice made no errors in 90 games as a leftfielder and saved one of those games, a 4-2 win over Minnesota, by robbing Glenn Borgmann of two homers. With a flair for the dramatic, Rice celebrated his permanent installation in left field on July 2 with a 450-foot homer.
Another rookie who generated excitement to compare with Lynn and Rice was Pete Reiser of the 1940 Dodgers, a .293 first-year hitter whose career was subsequently shortened by one war and 13 fences. There were many others before Reiser who were little noted but should have been long remembered. At one time or another rookies have led both major leagues in all important offensive categories. What should be known as the Golden Age of Rookies came between the two World Wars, when strapping farm hands and ex-doughboys fresh from saving the world for democracy began taking swats at the juiced-up ball that revolutionized the game during the '20s. And there was no Depression for young hitters, including players such as Dale Alexander of the 1929 Tigers, Johnny Frederick of the 1929 Dodgers, George Watkins of the 1930 Cardinals and Hal Trosky of the 1934 Indians who are rarely remembered today. Their accomplishments rank them right up there with the '30s' two most famous rookies, Joe DiMaggio, who came to the Yankees in 1936, and Williams.
WATKINS( 119 games)
Even as rookies, DiMaggio and Williams could be described as one-man gangs. But neither turned a third-place team into a pennant winner, which is exactly what Lynn and Rice did. Last year's Boston stars proved that in rebuilding an outfield, as in other endeavors, two good heads invariably are better than one.
JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN
BEST ROOKIE SINCE TED WILLIAMS
ONLY ROOKIE MVP EVER
.331 AVERAGE BEST BY A ROOKIE SINCE '48
105 RBIs MOST BY A ROOKIE SINCE '50
3 HOMERS AND 10 RBIs IN ONE GAME
GOLD GLOVE FIELDER A RECORD 47 DOUBLES
FIRST ROOKIE SLUGGGING CHAMP .566
NEVER HITLESS IN 4 STRAIGHT GAMES
SECOND IN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR VOTE THIRD IN MVP
OUTHOMERED LYNN 22-21
IN JULY-AUGUST HIT IN 43 OF 58 GAMES
NO ERRORS IN 90 GAMES AS LEFT FIELDER
28 RBIs IN A 31 GAME STRETCH
4 FOUR-HIT GAMES IN A 12 GAME STRETCH
174 HITS .309 AVERAGE 102 RBIs
HIT .332 AFTER ALL-STAR GAME