Forgotten Player of the Moment – LENNY RANDLE
(by PHIL RIPPA)
If you are anything like me you are pasty and gangly while aging quickly with thinning hair that, thankfully, most people can’t see due to being freakishly tall. You hold on to those few fleeting precious moments of athletic glory as long as you can and you delude yourself with the notion that you are still in the same shape you were in as a high school senior by playing co-ed sports, where in actuality the small satisfaction comes from the college aged ladies in sports bras. You are a sad, sad, creepy middle aged man.
Umm… what was my point? If you are like me you will remember certain ball players for a specific weird reason. To me: John Lowenstein will always be the guy born on my birthday. Rick Monday will always be the guy who saved the American flag. Flint Rhem will always be the guy who was “abducted” by gangsters. Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich will always be the guys who wife swapped. Rusty Kuntz will always be the guy with the greatest name in baseball history. Steve Garvey will always have lots of kids and Ken Phelps will always be the horrific result of the Jay Buhner trade.
Lenny Randle was special enough to be goofy multiple times: well if you call goofy sucker punching his manager and getting on his hands and knees in an attempt to blow a bunt foul.
In 1970, Randle was a first round pick of the Washington Senators (the version that was soon to become the Texas Rangers… hmmm… a malcontent middle infielder who played for the Washington and Texas teams. Where have I heard this story before?). Coming from Arizona State, Randle promptly stunk. (Aww… I’m sorry Marc). I mean he couldn’t beat out Tim Cullen for the starting second baseman gig and Cullen hit .191/.252/.258 in 1971. Though one could argue that once given full playing time, Randle was… league avearge (His OPS+ in 74 and 75, his first 2 full time years, were 102 and 100 respectively) Lenny was about to reach his peak years. READY TO GET PAID!!! (Well relative to what getting paid was in the late 70s fiasco of an economy Jimmy Carter days was). So in 1976, Randle went out and put up… .224/.286/.273… oh, that’s not good. Well at least he had those 30 steals.
It’s Spring Training 1977, and Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi is thinking “Christ, I could be playing Bump Wills and can get no-hitting freak boy out of the line up. BRILLIANT!” Of course, Lucchesi says as much to the media which probably brought a tear to Peter Gammons eye. Randle, clearly thinks he deserves to be playing and one day during ST decides to talk to his manager. Oh, I’m sorry, did I say talk to his manager. I meant, walk up to him and pummel him. Lucchesi ends up with a shattered cheekbone. (For the record, Lucchesi claimed he had his hands in his pockets when Randle attacked. Randle claimed Lucchesi called him a punk and that’s why he went all Kung Fu). Randle gets charged with aggravated battery (which he could have served 15 years for). But since he is a baseball player, he plea bargins down to simple battery which gets him a $1000 fine and having to pay Lucchesi’s medical bills. JUSTICE!
The Rangers also fine Randle and suspend him for a month. They then traded him to the New York Mets. Aww… that’s cute. Anyway – the Mets moved him to third and Randle proceeded to have his career year. (Setting career highs in almost every category – heck he even got some MVP votes.) Well that’s an interesting way to motivate oneself. See… maybe Latrell Sprewell was misunderstood all this time. HIS FAMILY DIDN’T EAT ALL THIS YEAR!!!
Anyway – the Mets quickly found out whatever one else found out. Randle – not so good. In fact the only good thing you could say about Randle’s 1978 season was that he managed to have more walks than strikeouts for the first and only time. ’79 was an even more interesting year for Randle, as he is one of the last players cut by the Mets before the season began. He floats around in the ether for a few months before the San Francisco Giants sign him. He proceeds to play no game for the Giants and is thrown in as part of the Bill Madlock to Pittsburgh deal. (ED WHITSON!). Randle also never plays a game for the Pirates. And it what I can only assume was a grave mistake due to grieving, the Yankees sign Randle for the remainder of the season the day after Thurman Munson died. That was not a… replacement of equal value.
Eventually our Lenny Randle story takes us to, where else, Seattle (since we can just skip the year with the Cubs. Hey, signing random black utility players was the Cubs MO all the way back in 1980. I guess we need to lay off Dusty). It is with the Mariners, where Lenny has his moment that got him, well at least remembered at the end of the decade. (Ahh… Warner Wolf Plays of the Decades… how I love thee so.)
With Kansas City visiting, Randle pulled off a defensive play that I don’t think is calculated into Range Factor. Amos Otis hits a slow roller down the third base line. Since this is Amos Otis we are talking about, he is basically at first base already. Randle charges and decides that his best play is to get down on his hands and knees and blow on the ball until it rolls foul. The umps decided “Yeah… can’t do that” and still award Otis a hit. Randle, idiot that he his, claims that he was just trying to persuade the ball foul and wasn’t really blowing. Rene Lachemann (aww… a Forgotten Coach of the Moment candidate if there ever was one) blames the ball rolling foul on Randle’s bad breath.
So right there – those are the things Randle can tell his grandkids about. If I were him, I would probably go with the MVP votes. Or that Jerry Royster is one of his similars. Though, thinking about it – Lenny is probably going with his Italian baseball accomplishments. (I WAS A BATTING CHAMP DAMMIT!!!). Yeah, I am thinking he got at least one phone call before the World Baseball Classic. Out of everything though – I am fairly certain the one thing he omitted was his failed attempt at a comeback with the Angels at age 45. Oh yeah – this could go on forever.
Make sure you click on the “About Lenny” part. ITALIAN BASEBALL GOD!!!