Summer of ’74 Project #4 – Larry Lintz

Photo Feb 28, 1 56 14 PM.jpg

1974 Topps #121, signed via TTM

Larry Lintz could fly. His speed was always his most prominent virtue as a ballplayer, from growing up in Oakland to his debut season in the Expos chain as a marginal prospect, it was his wheels that got him noticed. Before the 1972 season, his second as a pro, the Expos put him a week-long “thievery school” in spring training, an elite camp for the team’s fastest men. Lintz proved a most apt pupil and, with Quebec of the Eastern League, swiped a record-setting 96 bags in just 107 attempts in 1973.

A year later, Lintz debuted in Monteal. While he never really developed his bat, he was patient at the plate and proved himself as a versatile and steady middle infielder. By the time this card was in circulation in early 1974, it seems unlikely that many kids got too excited over the diminutive (5′ 9″) speedster’s cardboard debut. He was a marginal player on a .500 club. Nor did it seem Gene Maunch and his Expos knew quite what to do with Lintz. He didn’t see regular playing time until mid-May. He got sporadic starts at 2B and SS, filling in for the just-as-youthful Jim Cox and Tim Foli, and was Montreal’s most often-used pinch runner. By season’s end, Lintz had stolen 50 bases, the fifth most in NL, while only being caught seven times. His 88% success rate was the highest in the league.

Lintz was, by this point, an interesting statistical study. While he drew a decent number of walks, his batting average was low. Despite his great speed, he had a startlingly spare number of extra base hits. He was steady in the field, but not flashy – meaning he was probably underappreciated without the benefit of advanced stats. Take away the jets and Lintz was no one’s idea of anything but a bush-leaguer… but no one could stop thinking about that speed.

In that same summer of ’74, back in Lintz’s hometown, Charlie O. Finley was in the midst of one of his most talked-about experiments. Herb Washington, a world-class sprinter, appeared in 92 games for the A’s, despite having no background in baseball. He appeared exclusively as a pinch-runner, scoring 29 runs and swiping 29 bags. He was, however, caught stealing 16 times, essentially negating any value his speed provided. But that off-season, the Montreal brass began to think of Lintz as their very own Herb Washington – one that knew the game and knew the science of the stolen base. Despite the big ideas they got from the ’74 season, they never put the grand plan into use. Lintz’s 1975 with the Expos was nothing all that different from his ’74, and a mid-season trade to the Cardinals didn’t result in him being used in any revolutionary ways. But after the ’75 season, the A’s traded for Lintz and turned him into their Washington 2.0. In 1976, Lintz  batted just 4 times, but scored 21 runs and stole 31 bases – a stat line that undoubtedly had its roots in that weird summer of 1974. Lintz played another year with the A’s and appeared in three games as a pinch runner with Cleveland in 1978 before retiring. He finished with 128 career steals and a stolen base success rate of 77.11% – a higher career mark than Bert Campenaris, Jackie Robinson, or Lou Brock.

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