At this very moment, I’m not watching baseball. The Red Sox are hosting the Angels at Fenway Park and apparently Mike Napoli has already hit a home run, but I don’t think watching a game is in the cards for tonight.
Instead, I’m sitting here, reading about other experiences loosely tied to the game and listening to Elvis in my newly rearranged living room, realizing that I’m not quite writing about the game, or anything else, with the kind of frequency I’d like. I still write enough, in whatever that sense may be, and I’m still following along, watching as Hanley Ramirez tries to hit through a bad shoulder and the Sox continue to let great performances by a suddenly rejuvenated starting rotation fall by the wayside. They’re struggling. It’s reality and it’s not ideal but I’m comfortable with that.
But it’s in this moment that I wanted to write about baseball, even if the urge to watch a game they may or may not be winning is, at the moment, nonexistent. Just something to reflect on this thing that’s here for half of the year, just about always when it’s needed, always present regardless of whether or not I’m paying attention.
So, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out my baseball card binder, by now bursting with Sox past and present. Thanks to the diminishing quality of cards, my days of buying packs are basically numbered and I settle for occasionally tracking down the latest Boston additions and new variations on my favorite players. But I wanted to flip through and find someone to write about, someone from the past, probably, maybe a faintly remembered star or outright forgotten bit performer.
And I landed on Fred Lynn, a certified legend who fell just short of whatever the Hall of Fame bar is supposed to be, and who I’m certain I never saw play. Funny that within the pages and pages of former Red Sox, this catches him in one of his mostly forgotten moments, playing out the end of the string with the Padres in what would be his last season. Funny enough, on this page, the card is positioned just under one from his true glory days with the Red Sox in 1978, but he doesn’t look much different save for the weird shade of brown tinting his uniform. He has the same half-squint, seemingly looking right into the sun to size up the situation.
Lynn’s been back on the radar lately. The Red Sox are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1975 pennant winners, and Lynn famously won Rookie of the Year and MVP honors while the Sox stormed to the American League pennant. His entire Red Sox tenure was star-level, arguably the most popular player on the team. And in the way his story is so often retold here, he was traded to the Angels before the 1981 season where he was left to whither on the vine.
But that’s not really the case. A career that seemed destined for the Hall of Fame in the late 1970s may not have become that, but Lynn was still a star for a number of years and played for more than a decade after leaving Fenway’s home clubhouse. He played in three more All-Star games and 1,141 games, period. He had a game the next day for a long time.
I was certain I’d never seen him play, definitely not in person and probably not even on TV, but the stats show that he appeared in 117 games with the Tigers in 1989, and I have vague memories of watching games that summer on TV 38 in my first real attempt to understand a game I’d only appreciated for its base aesthetics before. I started to understand things like RBIs and batting orders, bullpens and starters, wins and losses and how there are just so many wins and losses.
It all blends in. Going deeper into his Baseball Reference page, his splits say he played seven games against Boston that year. There’s seven possibilities of some bored summer night where my seven-year-old self could have seen him.
Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t, already loving the game but also loving the idea of running around the yard playing a made-up game, or holing up in my room to create another bizarre lego contraption that only I understood. Or maybe I just wanted to take the handful of baseball cards in my collection at that point and flip through them, reorganize and rearrange them before putting them back in their specified tupperware container for the next day.
Maybe I’m missing someone else right now that I’ll only half-discover years from today, scanning through a string of stats in a effort to fight off the malaise. I didn’t have Elvis then, and probably not Fred Lynn, but it’s not much different than today. Everything changes, but the game will still be there tomorrow.