Fred Lynn may yet be remembered as one of baseball's most exciting and most talented performers ever, one of its best defensive center fielders and a feared hitter with a flair for the dramatic.

He has a .407 postseason batting average, has hit home runs four times in nine all-star games (second to Stan Musial's six) and hit six ninth-inning homers for the Baltimore Orioles in 1985.

But it is doubtful he'll be remembered for that.

Lynn's body breaks down. Often. He runs into fences and hurts his back. He slides into second base and twists an ankle. He dives for a ball and jams a wrist.

The results are: He never has played more than 150 games in a season, and he has played more than 138 only once in the last six seasons.

When the history of the game is written, his exploits may get a paragraph or two, but so will his injuries -- his sprained ankles (1977 and 1985), his broken toe (1980), his broken ribs (1982) and his wrecked knee (1981), none of which tell you about his worst problem, a chronically sore back that seemingly goes bad each time he collides with an outfield wall.

The oddest part of his story is that few Orioles work harder in the offseason. He hits, plays tennis and lifts weights, so by the time spring training starts, physically he's in midseason condition. But by midseason, he has broken down again.

This season he already has been battered with an assortment of injuries -- a bad wrist, a badly sprained ankle and a flu bug that together have forced him to miss several games, including the last 17 in a row. He is expected to be activated today and play tonight against the Red Sox.

"I'm sorry people haven't been able to see me at my best more often," he said. "It's tough in times like these when you can't contribute anything, but you have to fight coming back too soon.

"That's one thing I've learned. You have to resist the temptation to make a season out of one or two games. That's the way you get seriously messed up."

These are tough times for Lynn because he had seldom played better than in his first two months with the Orioles. He was the American League's sixth-leading hitter at .327, had a .403 on-base percentage and was hitting .377 at Memorial Stadium.

When he stopped playing, the Orioles stopped winning. They were 33-20 and three games out when he got hurt, spraining his left ankle against New York. They have lost 12 of 17 since.

When the Orioles lured him off the free-agent market in December 1984 with a five-year, $6.8-million contract, they heard horror stories about him. That he was injury prone. That he no longer cared. That his skills were diminishing.

What they found was that he, indeed, was injury prone -- he missed 31 games after the all-star break and played only 124 in his first season with Baltimore.

What they also found was that, when he was healthy, he still was one of the game's best. So does he need to change his style of play, to stay away from fences?

"It's the rub of the green, so to speak," he said, between taking treatments on his ankle. "If I changed the way I played, I wouldn't have obtained the things I've obtained."

He has had arthroscopic procedures done twice on his knees and an ankle operation, and he has had casts on both wrists and ankles at various times. He has had a bad back since he was 18 and aggravates it each time he runs into another wall, which is often.

His first serious injury was 1977, when he accompanied the Boston Red Sox on a trip to Bradenton, Fla., and returned with torn ligaments in his ankle. Lynn remembers the day as if it were yesterday.

"I made the trip to take batting practice and wound up pinch-hitting," he said. "I got a hit, somehow got to second, and someone hit a soft liner to left. The left fielder made a shoestring catch, and when I slid back into second base, the ground didn't give. It was hard as a rock, my spikes caught in the ground and over I went. I was in a cast two months."

Then there was the broken rib -- Detroit, 1982.

"A guy hit a long fly ball, and I ran back to the wall and leaped to make the catch," he said. "I'd always thought the wall was padded. It is -- except for a piece of pipe around the top. I broke two ribs, and the pain felt like someone twisting a knife in my side."

He said the only time someone from a team has questioned whether he wanted to play was in 1979 with the Red Sox, when he missed the week before the all-star break with a groin pull.

He did, however, start the all-star game, play one inning and hit a home run off Steve Carlton. Don Zimmer, the Red Sox manager then, was furious, telling reporters that if Lynn could play in the all-star game he should have been playing for Boston.

"It was one inning," Lynn said, "and since the fans elected me, I thought I ought to show up."

He said Zimmer's criticisms bothered him for a while, but now, in his 12th season, he knows only one person can take care of his body.

"I'm frustrated right now," he said. "My ankle looks okay on the outside, but it isn't. The thing is, if I come back now, it won't do anyone any good."