Fred Lynn might've been a Hall of Famer if he'd stayed healthy — or in Boston

To some extent, Fred Lynn's career is one of the great what-ifs in baseball history.

In January 1981, the Boston Red Sox traded Fred Lynn to the California Angels.

Lynn, who went to high school near Los Angeles and played college baseball for the University of Southern California, should seemingly have had cause to celebrate coming home. He did not.

“I was really not happy about it, to be honest with you,” Lynn told Sporting News this week.

And for good reason. In the friendly confines of Fenway Park, long known to favor hitters, Lynn had a slash of .308/.383/.520, averaging 24 home runs and 102 RBIs per 162 games. His 141 OPS+ means he likely would have thrived anywhere in those years, though his raw stats would probably have been lower in another ballpark.

He could have found few worse new homes than Anaheim Stadium, though. In fact, along with injury problems in the second half of his career, it might have helped kill his Hall of Fame chances.

Lynn is a somewhat-forgotten Hall of Fame candidate, receiving 5.5 percent of the vote his first year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot in 1996. He dipped below 5 percent the next year, which disqualified him from future consideration with the writers. He’s yet to appear on a Veterans Committee ballot.

Lynn’s sabermetric numbers — 50 WAR, 44.1 JAWS and 94 Hall Rating — all paint him as a very good, though not great player who fell just short of Cooperstown.

But if he’d played a full career in Boston, Lynn might have long since been in the Hall of Fame. To some extent, his career is one of the great what-ifs in baseball history.

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Cooperstown chances: 15 percent

Why: After those initial bright years in Boston, including 1975 when he won the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, Lynn had a vastly different second half of his career.

Through his years in Anaheim, followed by stops in Baltimore, Detroit and San Diego, Lynn had a slash of .263/.343/.456. Some of his problems were health-related, with Lynn averaging just 114 games a season from 1981 through his final season, 1990.

“Every year where I (got) to 140 games, I had really good years. I just needed to play more games. That’s all. I’ve never in my life done poorly if I played a lot, just never have.”

He recounted a whole host of injury issues, including a broken toe, cracked ribs, a bad back, hamstring issues and three knee operations. One can only wonder what it did to Lynn’s numbers, with him winding up with 306 home runs and 1,960 hits, both totals that would seemingly doom a modern era outfielder not known for speed with Hall of Fame voters.

“If you could throw in another 30 games, you’d be getting me to high 140s,” Lynn said, “I’m going to hit 30 homers a year instead of 20.”

Throw in those games and Lynn would surely have more than 2,000 hits and might have cracked 400 home runs, perhaps just enough to get him in.

Asked whether he considered himself a Hall of Famer, Lynn said “Talent-wise, yes. Numbers-wise, no.”

He noted, “If you want to make the Hall, you’ve got to play games and get numbers,” Lynn said.

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There were also other, more subtle factors possibly affecting Lynn’s play, including one that would have seemed like a benefit: the chance to play close to home in Anaheim.

“I can’t see any advantages other than that you’re in the same house you live in all year long,” Lynn said.

He continued, “But the demands (on) your time are off the charts because everybody wants tickets, they want to see you because you’re around. I didn’t have to deal with that kind of stuff back east. When I came out here, sometimes I couldn’t wait to get on the road just to relax a little bit.”

A lot of his problems were park-related, though. There’s a reason why Fenway Park has long been known as an offensive mecca, why Ted Williams hit .428 there in 1941 but just .380 on the road that year.

“One of the reasons it is is that there’s no foul territory,” Lynn said. “Down the right field line or left field line, if it doesn’t go fair, it’s in the stands. That’s an advantage for the hitter. You don’t foul out much. Plus the background is really good.”

Anaheim, on the other hand, had plenty of foul space. In addition, one of Lynn’s Angels teammates, Bobby Grich told Sporting News in 2016 about how balls wouldn’t carry much at night there because of the coastal air. Told of this, Lynn agreed.

“I had gotten used to Fenway Park as a hitter, so I had to change my philosophy a little bit when I got to Anaheim,” he said. “It’s like Bobby Grich said, that air is much heavier there, with that marine layer moving in. You had to hit home runs early, ‘cause that marine layer moved in on night games and it was hard to hit ‘em out.”

There were some bright moments in the second half of Lynn’s career, such as when he hit a grand slam in the 1983 All Star Game, helping the American League break a long losing streak to the National League.

Mostly, though, the second half of his career only hints at what might have been. That he had a 120 OPS+ for those years suggests he might have stayed close to .300 lifetime in Boston.

Lynn hasn’t been on the Hall of Fame radar for years, but it doesn’t bother him much. A father of two and grandfather of three, he lives near San Diego, where he and his wife do work for a charity, the Face Foundation, that helps families that can’t afford operations for their pets. He said the foundation has saved 1,600 pets in five years.

He might not have much chance at Cooperstown, though his career produced much for which he can be proud.

“If you look at what I did per game, it matches up with a lot of guys,” Lynn said. “There’s just not enough games.”

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