Wild Baseball 2: When the Red Sox Let Their Best Players Walk


No, this is not about Mookie Betts. Yes, Red Sox management is terrible.

Early Free Agency

Many baseball fans know the story of Curt Flood, the so-called father of free agency. Flood protested his contract, went to court, and eventually was blackballed by the league, ending his career. However, his struggles resulted in the creation of a very early form of free agency. Players still had little freedom, however, and as long as teams offered them a contract, it was near impossible for them to leave. That brings us to the 1980 Boston Red Sox.

The Players Involved

Just five years removed from a thrilling World Series appearance against the Cincinnati Reds, regarded as one of the best series of all time, the Red Sox posted a mediocre record of 83-77 in 1980.

Their two best players that season according to bWAR were Fred Lynn (4.7) and Carlton Fisk (3.9). Both were selected to the All-Star team. Fisk and Lynn had also been in Boston for years, achieving two Rookie of the Year Awards, one MVP, and 13 All-Star appearances between them. Fisk was also a local legend having grown up in New England and hitting one of the most famous home runs of all time in Game Six of the 1975 World Series. Both players’ contracts expired at the end of the 1980 season. At ages 33 and 28, Fisk and Lynn still had plenty of talent to offer and seemed like a sure bet to be in Boston for the rest of their careers.

What the Hell Happened

Red Sox GM Haywood Sullivan was known to be against paying players (seems like a trend in Boston…), but all he had to do to keep his two best players was offer them a contract before December 20. Of course with Red Sox management being Red Sox management, Sullivan missed the deadline, mailing the contracts one day late and giving both players the opportunity to become unrestricted free agents.

Red Sox trade Fred Lynn to the Angels.

The Fallout

Fred Lynn was traded to the Angels in the middle of his arbitration hearing when Boston realized there would be no way to prevent him from becoming a free agent. He made the All-Star Game in his next three seasons, but declined after that due to injury, retiring in 1990 after a 16-year career.

Carlton Fisk had much more success. The star catcher became an unrestricted free agent and signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox. Fisk remained elite, playing quality baseball until 1993 when he retired at age 45. During his time with Chicago, Fisk recorded four All-Star appearances and a third-place MVP finish. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, second to only Johnny Bench in all-time catcher WAR.

As for Boston, they managed another World Series appearance in 1986 but lost to the Mets in a series that Sox fans have erased from their memories. Had Fisk and Lynn still been on that ’86 team, the Red Sox may have ended the curse right then and there, but due to a late contract, Boston would have to wait 18 years for another chance at a title.

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