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From Lynn, a healthy respect

Fred Lynn and Cal Ripken had a lot in common. They won the American League's Rookie of the Year and MVP awards more quickly than anybody else. They experienced World Series play early in their careers. They hit home runs and played hard in the field.

But Ripken always did something that Lynn never could -- stay healthy.

In his 17-year career, Lynn played in 150 games once and in 140 three other times. His pre-Orioles medical history with the Boston Red Sox and California Angels included knee surgery, a cracked rib, a broken toe and numerous pulls, strains and sprains.

They called him Fragile Freddy.

From 1985 to 1988, he played with the Iron Man.

"I played in every game that I could play," Lynn said.

Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams ignored Lynn's handle-with-care label. Stricken with cancer and desperate to restore his franchise to its former glory, Williams signed free agents Lynn, Dan Aase and Lee Lacy to multimillion-dollar deals. He also fired manager Joe Altobelli in the middle of the 1985 season and lured Earl Weaver out of retirement.

Lynn was part of Williams' quick fix. The team's new center fielder was neither the problem (the Orioles had no pitching) nor the solution -- he hit 23 home runs for the second of four straight seasons and the Orioles finished fourth with an 83-78 record.

He wasn't injury-free, either, playing in 124 games.

Ripken, on the other hand, played well -- .282, 26 homers, 110 RBIs -- and played every day. He extended his consecutive games streak to 603, taking over first place on the Orioles' all-time list from Brooks Robinson (463) and Eddie Murray (444). His innings streak grew to 5,457, which, over a span of 599 games, was believed to be the longest in major-league history.

The basic difference between Ripken's endurance and Lynn's fragility, Lynn said, was physical. The sight of Ripken playfully wrestling Larry Sheets, Jim Traber or his brother, Bill, in the spring-training clubhouse was a scary one. "The smarter guys like me would just sit around and watch," said Lynn, currently an ESPN broadcaster.

Ripken had gained 5 pounds every year since he started playing professional ball, in 1978. The media guide listed him at 6 feet 4, 215 pounds, but Ripken stood closer to 6-5 and weighed closer to 220. He dwarfed Lynn, 6-1, 180 pounds. "He's as strong as a mule," Lynn said. "He's got huge legs."

Lynn's legs had given him problems since his youth. He attributed his annual breakdowns not to his frequent meetings with outfield fences, but to the numerous ankle sprains he suffered while growing up as a basketball and football star in Southern California.

"I was like a horse," Lynn said. "They probably should have shot me."

Ripken suffered a leg injury early in 1985 that proved he was not only physically stronger but also, according to Lynn, mentally tougher. "It's a mental thing as well as physical," Lynn said. "No question he is blessed physically, but he's got a high mental constitution as well."

Ripken's first close call tested both.

On April 10 against the Texas Rangers, he took a pickoff throw from Mike Boddicker and severely sprained his left ankle. The fourth-year shortstop cried out in pain. He finished the inning, taped up his ankle on the bench and completed the game.

Luck helped the streak survive because the next day the Orioles played an exhibition game. Ripken spent the day on crutches and receiving treatment. He was back in the lineup for the next official game and has not missed one since. "He just kind of played through it and kept on going," Lynn said. "That's great. "

Lynn tried to be tough that season -- he played for a month after tearing ligaments in his ankle July 22. But he begged out of the lineup after reinjuring it Aug. 23, did not play for more than three weeks and then missed five days with a sore back. Lynn said that as long as he could walk, he played. But former general managers, teammates and members of the media criticized him for refusing to play when he wasn't fully healthy.

"I want to play the way I can play," Lynn said. "If a player that's injured is better than the players that are on the bench, get somebody else to sit on the bench."

No one appreciates Ripken's steak more than Fragile Freddy. In his four seasons with the Orioles, Lynn missed 26 percent of his games (161 out of 617), nearly a season's worth. Ripken never missed one.

"When I ran into things and did some things, sometimes I just broke down," Lynn said. "The guy, he's made of iron."

Season Highlights

  • Drives in a then-career-high 110 runs in his fourth full major-league season.
  • Leads major-league shortstops in runs, home runs, RBIs and slugging average.
  • Becomes the first Oriole to score 100 runs or more in three seasons.
  • Leads or ranks second on the Orioles in 12 offensive categories.
  • Sets club record by grounding into 32 double plays.
  • Extends his consecutive-games streak to 603, an Orioles record.
  • His streak is currently the second longest to that of Atlanta's Dale Murphy (657).
  • Has a 17-game hitting streak, Aug. 23-Sept. 10, and hits safely in 31 of 34 games, Aug. 14-Sept. 18.
  • Drives in six and hits two homers on Sept. 2 against Oakland.
  • Bats .321 with runners in scoring position.
  • Is only the fourth major-leaguer to play three seasons without missing a game.
  • Collects his first hit in an All-Star Game, singling off Nolan Ryan at Minnesota.
  • Is the top American League vote-getter, edging out Kansas City third baseman George Brett by 4,567 votes.
  • Homers on April 20 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, the last current stadium in which he had not homered.
  • Leads the majors in double plays converted (123) for a third straight year and leads the AL in putouts (286) for a second straight season.

Stats Line

Avg. G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB E
Year .282 161 642 116 181 32 5 26 110 67 68 2 26
Career .290 668 2583 431 750 148 19 108 391 243 357 7 92

The year in baseball . . .

  • The players stage a two-day, midseason walkout.
  • Pete Rose passes Ty Cobb to become baseball's all-time hits leader.
  • The league championship series are extended to a best-of-seven format.
  • Nolan Ryan strikes out his 4,000th batter; Rod Carew collects his 3,000th hit; and Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro win their 300th games.
  • Kansas City defeats St. Louis to win the "I-70" World Series.
. . . and the world
  • Coke changes its flavor in May, but the old formula returns three months later.
  • At the age of 17, Boris Becker becomes the youngest man to win Wimbledon.
  • The readers of People magazine declare Linda Evans of "Dynasty" and Tom Selleck to be the U.S.'s best lookers.
  • "The Cosby Show" becomes TV's No.1 series.
  • Christa McAuliffe of Concord, N.H., is picked to be the first teacher in space.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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