As long as the World Series lingers (thank you, Phillies), I’ll continue to give myself permission to post about baseball.
In 1977, the All-Star game was played at Yankee Stadium. My brother Sam and I, along with my friend Kurt Nunez, decided to get bleacher tickets. So we hiked up to the Bronx in the middle of the night to be one of the first people on line. To make sure we got seats for what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.
The plan worked.
I don’t remember much of the game (though I do remember those long droopy mustaches, like the pitcher is sporting in the poster to the right). But I do recall batting practice. We got to the stadium early enough to watch the players hit moon shots into the stands.
I remember in particular Fred Lynn, the often-injured but perennial all-star center fielder for the hated Boston Red Sox. During his batting practice hacks, Lynn lofted a ball that seemed to be coming right at me. It landed a few rows in front of where I was sitting, close enough for me to rush to the spot, close enough to spot the ball on the cement floor, close enough to see someone’s hands wrap around the ball, then hold it aloft like a trophy.
Lynn was a defensive standout and had an amazing rookie year in 1975 for the Red Sox, winning both the Most Valuable Player award and Rookie of the Year. What I remember most about Lynn, though, is not his grace or his power, but the formidable outfield he was part of, an outfield that included Jim Rice, one of the great and consistent power hitters of our generation.
They were an interesting combination, Lynn and Rice – who both came up in 1975 as rookies. One white (Lynn), the other black (Rice). In Boston, players have said, being black was not always conducive to kind treatment. Boston, after all, was the last team to integrate, and that came about in 1959, a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
That was the narrative I knew as a kid – that Lynn somehow received favorable treatment compared to Rice because he was white.
Rice later claimed none of this was true. So maybe the New York media got it wrong, played a racism angle to stoke our hatred of Boston, which Mayor Ed Koch once derided as “that town.”
All that was forgotten, though, in the moment that Fred Lynn’s ball arced into the sky and then grew larger as it – much to my amazement – headed right towards me.