‘They’re special kids’: The last great Red Sox outfield on the new great Red Sox outfield
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dwight Evans still loves being on the field for spring training at age 67. But the former Red Sox All-Star has some arthritis in his left thumb and prefers a glove he doesn’t have to squeeze too hard to close.
Jackie Bradley Jr., who is breaking in a new glove, loaned Evans his gamer from the last four seasons. Evans tried to refuse the offer, but Bradley insisted.
“If somebody is going to wear my glove, it should be Dewey,” Bradley said. “I know how good he was.”
Bradley and teammates Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi weren’t close to being born when Evans, Fred Lynn, and Jim Rice made up the best outfield in the game from 1975-80. But they have come to know and respect their accomplishments.
The reminders are everywhere. Rice, a Hall of Famer, had his No. 14 retired in 2009 and is around the team often in conjunction with his duties with NESN.
Evans is a spring training instructor, still graceful when he roams the outfield. Lynn is a regular visitor to Fenway Park during the season, coming in from his home in southern California.
“It’s great when they’re around,” Betts said. “They know what we’re experiencing now. They lived it.”
The two trios, though far apart in age, have formed some close connections.
When Bradley won his first Gold Glove last season, the 67-year-old Lynn flew in from California to present him with the award at a banquet in New York. Bradley also wears No. 19, the same number Lynn did in Boston.
“Fred has been so supportive,” Bradley said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know him. He’s been very cool.”
Said Lynn: “It’s good to see my old number on the proper back. Too many pitchers had it before.”
Evans, one of the best defensive outfielders of his generation, has talked to Betts at length about how to play expansive right field at Fenway Park. Betts used that information to further his development defensively and has won three Gold Gloves.
Rice, 66, has counseled Benintendi on playing the left field wall at Fenway.
“All three of us have gotten a kick out of getting to know these kids,” Rice said. “They remind us of us at that age. We had some good times.”
Evans first met Rice in 1970 when he was 18 and playing for Single A Greenville in South Carolina. Rice was a high school senior in Anderson, S.C., at the time and came to the park to take batting practice with Red Sox scout Mace Brown.
“I shook Dewey’s hand before they let me hit,” said Rice, who was the 15th overall pick of the draft that year. “It was my first time being around a pro team.”
Evans made it to the majors in 1972 when he was 20 and became a regular a year later.
Lynn and Rice each played a handful of games in 1974 but still had rookie status in 1975. They became the “Gold Dust Twins” in that memorable season, powering the Sox to the American League pennant.
Lynn, who hit .331 with a .967 OPS, was the first player to win both the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. He also made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove.
Rice was third in the MVP voting and second in Rookie of the Year. He hit .309 with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs.
Rice’s season ended on Sept. 22 when a fastball from Detroit’s Vern Ruhle broke his left wrist. The Sox then lost an epic seven-game World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Evans made a spectacular catch in the 11th inning of Game 6 to help extend the Series, robbing Joe Morgan with a leaping grab, then firing to first base for a double play.
“As good a catch as you’ll ever see,” Reds manager Sparky Anderson said at the time.
The trio was broken up before the 1981 season when Lynn was traded to the California Angels.
“I have to believe we would have won at least a few more division titles without that trade,” Rice said. “I loved playing with Freddy. We drove to the ballpark together and our wives were friends. He was like my brother.”
Rice remained with the Red Sox for his entire career, retiring after the 1989 season. Evans stayed with the Sox until 1990, then played a year with the Orioles.
“It’s great when we all get together,” Lynn said. “It’s like getting into a time machine. All the memories come back.”
In Benintendi, Bradley, and Betts, Lynn sees a similar chemistry on the field.
“They complement each other so well,” he said. “When I watch games, I watch the center fielder and how he moves. It’s really enjoyable to see how the two flank guys play off Jackie, too.
“Good defense travels through every level. Hitting comes and goes but you always contribute on defense. Those guys do that.”
Evans won eight Gold Gloves in his career and Lynn four. Both were thrilled last season when Betts and Bradley won the award and Benintendi was a finalist.
“I’d love to see the three of them get handfuls [of Gold Gloves]. They’re special kids,” Evans said. “They’re as good off the field as they are on. Keep an eye on Andrew. He made some plays last season that were great. That play he made in Houston last year [a diving catch with the bases loaded and a two-run lead to end Game 4 of the ALCS] was one of the best you’ll ever see in a situation like that.”
Evans doesn’t like to compare what he accomplished with Rice and Lynn to Benintendi, Bradley, and Betts.
“Our era was our era,” he said. “Some old players would say to me, ‘When I played, you couldn’t have played in our era.’ I never liked that. I hated it. These guys are special. They work hard; they train better and they eat better than we did. They’re special in their own right. It’s unfair to compare them to us.”
Said Lynn: “The outfield now, they have such talent. They’re young and personable and that’s so great for the organization. I hope they have as much fun as we did.”