From the stewardesses in the Back Bay dating bars to the tourists thronging the historic Freedom Trail, the whole town of Boston is talking about that Lynn kid and that Rice kid. Fred Lynn is a fleet, 23-year-old left-handed rookie centerfielder with the Red Sox. Jim Rice is a powerful, 22-year-old right-handed rookie left fielder on the same club. This season, the two new boys of summer have struck like a line drive off the “Green Monster” wall of Boston’s Fenway Park. They have socked the Sox to the highest hitting average in the majors and are personally crowding the American League leaders in doubles, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in and batting. Strong candidates for the Most Valuable Player award—no rookie in either league has ever won it—Lynn and Rice may be the most talented pair of newcomers to play on a single club in the postwar era.
Though they are prime catalysts behind the Sox surge from third place last year to the top of the American League East nearly all this season, neither Fred Lynn nor Jim Rice is at all awed—or even surprised—by success in the majors. “It’s just another step up the ladder,” says the cocky Lynn, a clean-cut, former USC All-America. “After winning the Triple Crown [runs batted in, homers, batting average] last year at Pawtucket and being named Minor League Player of the Year,” says the 6’2″, 200-pound Rice, “I knew I’d make it.”
Lynn and Rice, who each earn about $20,000 a season, exhibit the quiet confidence that bodes well for the Sox, a team with a reputation for “choking” down the stretch. “To hit, you just gotta swing the bat,” says Rice matter-of-factly. “Both will have no trouble handling stardom,” predicts old Boston star and coach Johnny Pesky, one of the league’s prime batting teachers. “They know how to take the ups and downs in stride.”
Rice, Boston’s first choice in the draft of amateurs in June 1971, has known little but ups since his childhood in Anderson, S.C. (pop. 27,600), where he was the fourth of nine children of a fishing-rod plant supervisor. He was a 10-letterman in high school, where he met wife Corine, now 22, when both were basketball players. “Rice,” as his wry doll-sized wife refers to him, “is still better than I am.” Boston for the Rices has meant two revelations: Chinese food and the local expressway roulette. “To survive you gotta drive just like them,” says Jim ruefully. Both enjoy bowling, and Corine also got Rice into the craft of rug-hooking, “to stop his grumbling in the off-season.”
The 6’1″, 185-pound Lynn, an only child, grew up in El Monte, Calif., where he also starred at football and basketball and met Diane (“Dee Dee”) Minkle, the blond archetypical California cheerleader and homecoming queen he married last year. He also has found Boston’s urban pace a bit frenetic, and the Lynns’ acclimatization to the East was not eased when, shortly after being called up to the Red Sox, their fully equipped live-in van was stolen, and with it, Fred’s elaborate camera equipment. But he has at least discovered ponds within commuting distance where the bass bite. “I catch ’em, and eat ’em too,” he smiles. He also golfs, shooting in the 70s, and when he gets nostalgic for California, Lynn hunkers down with his collection of Beach Boys records.
“If I stay healthy, I’ll be here a long time,” says Rice confidently.
“Right now I’m thinking only about this season” says Lynn, but he adds with similar rookies’ bravado, “I plan to stay right here in Boston until mid-October.” That, of course, coincides with World Series time.