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Monday, September 15, 2003
Updated: September 16, 12:16 PM ET
Lynn's magical 1975 ranks No. 1

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

It has been a rich year for baseball rookies. Who will win Rookie of the Year? Hard to know -- in the AL, it could be Hideki Matsui or Rocco Baldelli or Angel Berroa. In the NL, it could be one of the pitching phenoms -- Brandon Webb or Dontrelle Willis -- or maybe even Scott Podsednik. Who knows? But as good as all these guys are, none are among those who've had the greatest rookie seasons of all time.

Fred Lynn
Fred Lynn nearly led the Red Sox to the World Series title in 1975.

1. Fred Lynn (Red Sox, 1975)
With Fred Lynn in center and Jim Rice in left, the 1975 Red Sox boasted a pair of the best rookies of all time on the same field. Lynn, 23, became the first rookie to win the MVP award, and also won a Gold Glove. In 145 games, Lynn hit .331 with 21 HR and 105 RBI. He led the league in slugging percentage (.566), OPS (.967), doubles (47), and runs scored (103). He was also excellent in the postseason, batting .306 with one homer and 8 RBIs while making a bunch of spectacular plays in the field.

2. Joe Jackson (Indians, 1911)
Jackson had cups of coffee in three previous seasons, but only had 115 at-bats, so would be considered a rookie by current standards. It was a different ballgame back then, so simply saying that Joe Jackson hit .408 isn't enough. But this is: Jackson was among the top three in most major batting categories, and among the top 10 in all of them. He topped the AL in on-base percentage, his .408 average was second, and he finished second in slugging (.590), OPS (1.058), runs scored, hits, doubles, total bases, and extra-base hits. He was also third in walks and triples and fourth in homers, with seven. He also stole 41 bases (sixth) and drove in 83 runs (ninth). Wow.

Mark McGwire
A young Big Mac led the AL in home runs and slugging percentage in 1987.

3. Mark McGwire (A's, 1987)
It took years of major-league all before Mark McGwire would evolve into a 70-homer monster. In his first season, for example, before he figured out the pitchers, he only managed 49 jacks. Fortunately, that was enough to lead the AL. He also topped all batters in slugging, drove in 118 runs, and hit .289. His 49 homers was easily a rookie record, shattering the previous mark of 38 shared by Wally Berger (1930) and Frank Robinson (1956). Along the way, he also tied a record by hitting five homers in two games, against Cleveland on June 27 and 28.

McGwire also broke the A's single-season home run record, no shabby achievement -- the mark had been held by Reggie Jackson. Mr. October held no grudges. "People talked about the lively ball this year, but that's bull," Jackson said. "Give him credit. He had a great, great season and he's probably going to have a lot more."

True.

4. Mike Piazza (Dodgers, 1993)
It took five years for Piazza, the 1,389th pick in the 1988 draft, to make it to the majors, but of course, nobody thought he'd make it at all. The best-hitting catcher ever played 146 games, hitting .318 with 35 homers (an L.A. Dodgers record at the time) and 112 RBI while playing half his games in a park not at all friendly to batters. And to top off a sweet season, he hit two home runs and drove in four while leading the Dodgers to a final-game win over the Giants, knocking their rivals out of the playoffs.

"What you have to realize is this man is self-made," said his manager, Tommy Lasorda, after Piazza became a unanimous pick for ROY. "He worked endlessly. When he went to the Dominican Republic after we converted him to catcher, he stayed for three months, stayed in the barracks there with about 40 other guys and didn't speak a word of Spanish. It was then and there I knew he was willing to pay the price."

ROOKIE RECORDS
Home runs
Mark McGwire, 1987: 49
Frank Robinson, 1956: 38
Wally Berger, 1930: 38

RBI
Ted Williams, 1939: 145
Walt Dropo, 1950: 144
Hal Trosky, 1934: 142

Batting average
Joe Jackson, 1911: .408
Lloyd Waner, 1927: .355
Kiki Cuyler, 1924: .354

Hits
Ichiro Suzuki, 2001: 242
Joe Jackson, 1911: 233
Lloyd Waner, 1927: 223

Runs
Lloyd Waner, 1927: 133
Joe DiMaggio, 1936: 132
Ted Williams, 1931: 131
Vada Pinson, 1959: 131

On-base percentage
Joe Jackson, 1911: .468
Charlie Keller, 1939: .447
Fred Snodgrass, 1910: .440

Slugging percentage
Mark McGwire, 1987: .618
Wally Berger, 1930: .614
Albert Pujols, 2001: .610

On-base + Slugging (OPS)
Joe Jackson, 1911: 1.058
Ted Williams, 1939: 1.045
Albert Pujols, 2001: 1.013

Total bases
Tony Oliva, 1964: 374
Hal Trosky, 1934: 374
Joe DiMaggio, 1936: 367

Stolen bases
Vince Coleman, 1985: 110
Juan Samuel, 1984: 72
Tim Raines, 1981: 71

5. Mark Fidrych (Tigers, 1976)
The Bird was baseball's ultimate one-man show in 1976, and perhaps the most entertaining player of all time. He looked like Big Bird, talked to the ball, and gave great quotes, once telling a reporter that he wasn't a great housekeeper. "Sometimes I get lazy and let the dishes stack up," he explained. "But they don't stack too high. I've only got four dishes."

Entertainment value aside, Fidrych was the AL's best pitcher as a rookie (he finished second in the Cy Young voting, but he should have won it). He didn't start his first game until May 1, but went 19-9 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA. He led the league in complete games with 24, and had four shutouts. Just a couple of months into his short career, he started the All-Star game. All this for a Tigers team that finished fifth in the AL East with a 74-87 record.

6. Ted Williams (Red Sox, 1939)
He was only 20, but Teddy Ballgame ripped apart AL pitchers, leading the league with 145 RBI while hitting .327 (one of the lowest averages of his career) and blasting 31 HR. For good measure, he added 44 doubles and 11 triples to lead the league with 86 extra-base hits. No small achievement, considering his competition included the likes of Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, and teammate Jimmie Foxx.

Arthur Daley of the New York Times noted, in December of 1939, that the Sox were reconfiguring right field in Fenway in order to assist Williams' power numbers. He pointed out that Williams, in both his estimation and that of others, really didn't need too much help.

"That distinguished scholar and linguist Professor Moe Berg of the Red Sox coaching staff was asked early last season what he thought of the clouting abilities of his team-mate," wrote Daley. "The professor paused only long enough to decide what language he would use for his reply and answered in the most understandable language of them all, straight baseballese.

"'He sure can lean on that apple,' he said."

7. Richie Allen (Phillies, 1964)
The 1964 Phillies are famous for their inglorious fold at the end of the season. Allen, 22, led the Phils to their almost-pennant, immediately becoming one of the best sluggers in the majors and leading the NL in extra-base hits with 38 doubles, 13 triples, and 29 home runs. The third baseman also batted .318 playing in Shibe Park, a stadium not terribly kind to hitters in 1964.

Allen, the "bad boy" of 1960s baseball, had an up-and-down 15-year career, playing for six teams. "He could handle a high fastball," said Gene Mauch, his manager in 1964. "It was the fast highball that gave him trouble."

8. Frank Robinson (Reds, 1956)
The Reds came close to winning the NL pennant in 1956, finishing two games back in third place in one of the closest races ever. Robinson, 20, wasn't on the Reds' spring roster, but by July was on the All-Star roster, and by the end of the year he'd become a unanimous choice for rookie of the year.

Robinson hit .290 with 38 home runs (finishing second in the NL HR race) and 83 RBI. He led the NL in runs with 122, and had the second-highest OPS.

During that 1956 season, the Reds were one of the best teams ever to finish in third place, compiling a 91-63 record and finishing two games behind the first-place Dodgers in a terrific pennant race.

9. Jackie Robinson (Dodgers, 1947)
Putting sentiment aside for a moment, Jackie Robinson's 1947 numbers weren't off-the-board great: He batted .297 with 12 HR and 48 RBI and led the league in only one major category -- stolen bases, with 29. But that's not even half the story, is it? Robinson finished fifth in the MVP voting for so many other reasons: 1) He missed only three games, despite the tremendous pressure he was under; 2) He was among the league leaders in many categories, including runs (125, 2nd), hits (175, 9th), total bases (252, 10th), doubles (31, 6th), and sacrifice hits (28, 1st); 3) He helped bring Brooklyn the NL flag (the Dodgers eventually lost a seven-game World Series to the Yankees).

Most of all, he changed everything in baseball. Said Dodgers captain Pee Wee Reese, "To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I've ever seen in sports."

10. Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners, 2001)
Forget the arguments about who should be considered a true rookie: Ichiro electrified baseball during his first MLB season, leading the All-Star voting, joining Fred Lynn as the only rookie MVPs, taking the batting title, and astonishing everyone with his speed and Gold Glove defense.

Also receiving votes:
Tony Oliva (Twins, 1964): Oliva led the AL in batting his rookie year, hitting .323, and also lead the league in runs (109), hits (217), doubles (43), and total bases (374). He hit for power (32 homers, 94 RBI), and was fast, with 19 stolen bases and nine triples.

Albert Pujols (Cardinals, 2001)
Pete Alexander (Phillies, 1911)
Nomar Garciaparra (Red Sox, 1997)
Joe DiMaggio (Yankees, 1936)
Hal Trosky (Indians, 1934)
Walt Dropo (Red Sox, 1950)
Dwight Gooden (Mets, 1984)
Orlando Cepeda (Giants, 1958)