ANAHEIM – There were fires that day.
Oct. 9, 1982. The California Angels were in Milwaukee, about to play the Brewers in the American League Championship Series.
The Angels needed one more win to reach the World Series.
Just before the game, the Angels clubhouse got unsettling news: Fire was spreading through Anaheim Hills, where several players had homes and families.
“The fire was near my house,” Angel centerfielder Fred Lynn said Saturday, while signing autographs at the OC Dugout. “The game started but it was hard to focus.”
By the fifth inning, word came that their families were safe.
“I led off with a double,” Lynn said, “but it was too late. We couldn’t catch them.”
The Brewers eventually won the playoff series, 3-2.
“Everyone thought we were the better team that year,” Lynn said. “That’s hard to swallow. I still think about it today.”
Lynn played for the Angels from 1981-84 – slugging 71 home runs, making countless diving catches and going to three All-Star games in that span.
For that, and a sterling 16-year career, fans lined out the door Saturday to meet him.
“The guy’s a legend and a class guy,” said Paul Lorelli, 54, of Garden Grove. “While he was with the Angels, he hit the first grand slam ever in All-Star history. And through his whole career, he never was in trouble. He just represented baseball right.”
Lynn came on like gangbusters in 1975, when he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year and MVP with the Boston Red Sox. He and fellow rookie Jim Rice were dubbed the Gold Dust Twins for their accomplishments.
In 2009, his buddy Rice was named to the Hall of Fame. Lynn still waits.
“If enough of my friends get in, I’ll have a chance,” he said laughing. “I’d have to be voted in by the veterans’ committee.”
Fans remember the excitement he generated when he arrived in Anaheim in 1981.
“He had so much promise,” said Rick Zellman, 56, of Fullerton, who held in a baseball and Lynn’s rookie card to be autographed. “He was a really aggressive fielder. Just fun to watch.”
One of Lynn’s more spectacular catches still plays on the Angels’ Jumbotron during each game.
1983 pennant race. End of the season. Royals’ Amos Otis pulls one to deep left center. Lynn and Brian Downing converge at the wall.
“My philosophy when it came to walls was, you might as well catch it because you’re going to take a hit anyway,” said Lynn, who learned this as a football receiver.
Lynn’s glove goes up. Over the fence. They collide. Lynn snags the ball.
This same philosophy nearly broke Lynn’s back in Boston when he crashed into the “Green Monster” during the 1975 World Series as a Red Sox. Walls weren’t padded then.
“Everyone thought I was dead,” he said. ‘I’m the reason they have padding on outfield walls today. That’s my legacy!”
His three most lasting memories of a 16-year career?
•Game 5 of the 1982 American League Championship Series. Angels and Brewers.
•Game 7 of the 1975 World Series. Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds.
•Playoff game of the 1978 season. Red Sox and New York Yankees.
All losses, he said. All by one run.
“These are things that haunt me,” he said. “As an athlete, I want to win. I was used to winning my entire childhood, at school, at USC. But when I got to the bigs, I never was on a winning team. That bothers me.”
Yet he played like a winner, fans said.
“He’s one of the greatest outfielders of our time,’ said Jeff McLain, 28, of Fountain Valley, who was the first in line. “He was universal out there. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”