Feb 11, 2016

Former Late Seventies Mets Infielder: Lenny Randle (1977-1978)


Leonard Shenoff Randle was born February 12, 1949 in Long Beach, California. The five foot ten switch hitter, was a two-sport star at Arizona State University. He was the second baseman on the 1969 NCAA championship baseball team and a football return specialist whose five punt returns for touchdowns stood as a WCA record for 35 years.

Randle was originally drafted in 1967 by the St. Louis Cardinals but did not sign. He was later a first-round pick (tenth pick overall) of the Washington Senators in the 1970 draft. 
 The soft spoken Randle is fluent in three languages, he never drank alcohol, and has a master’s degree in education. He came up right away in 1971, for the Senators playing under manager Ted Williams but struggled at the plate batting .219 in 215 at bats. The Senators franchise moved to Texas and became the Texas Rangers the following season. But in Texas in 1972, he hit even worse batting just .193 in 74 games. He had his best minor league season in 1973 at AAA Spokane batting .283 stealing 39 bases. 

He came back to the big league Texas team under manager Billy Martins leadership and developed into a fine hitter. Martin would end up being be a huge influence on Randle’s life. 

In 1974 he hit .302 (seventh in the league) stealing 26 bases, scoring 65 runs with 1 HR, 17 doubles & 4 triples for the second place Rangers team. Randle would be the Rangers main second baseman as well as play third base & outfield field for the next three seasons. In 1975 he batted .276 while having career highs in doubles (24) RBIs (57) runs (85) games (156) & at bats (601). 
 In the 1976 bicentennial season his average fell off to .224 with just 11 doubles, although he did steal 30 bases & hit seven triples. But the following Spring, Texas was making changes, Frank Lucchesi was now the manager, and the club was ready to go with highly touted rookie second baseman Bump Wills. Bump is the son of legendary Los Angeles Dodgers base stealer from the sixties; Maury Wills. 

Randle was furious at the teams decision: "How do you just flat give a rookie who never has been to bat in the major leagues a starting job? If he comes down here and earns it, that's one thing, but if they are just going to give it to him, I want to be traded as soon as possible. I'm not going to caddy for a rookie."
 He threatened to walk out of camp, which aggravated the normally easygoing manager Frank Lucchesi. "It's just too bad somebody stopped him from leaving," Lucchesi told a group of reporters. "I'm tired of these punks saying play me or trade me. Anyone who makes $80,000 a year and gripes and moans all spring is not going to get a tear out of me."

Randle flipped and it all blew up on March 28, 1977, which ironically was the same day that Sports Illustrated featured Bump Wills on it’s the cover. Texas was playing the Minnesota Twins in a Spring Training contest. 
 Before the game Randle walked up to Lucchesi during Rangers batting practice and said he wanted to talk. Words were exchanged, and then out of nowhere Randle punched Lucchesi in the face, hitting him again as the manager fell to the ground. Some teammates rushed to Lucchesi's aid, others restrained Randle. Outfielder Ken Henderson was angry, and went after Randle, who calmly jogged out to center field.

Randle broke Lucchesi's cheek and he was hospitalized for a week, needing plastic surgery. The manager was back with the team in time for Opening Day but eventually lost his job. Lucchesi blamed Randle and sued him for $200,000. Randle would settle out of court for $25,000. 

The Rangers won 94 games that year, but Randle wasn’t around for much of it either. He was suspended for 30 days without pay and fined $10,000 by the team. On April 26th, before the suspension was complete, Texas traded him to the New York Mets for a player to be named later (which turned out to be Rick Auerabach) and cash. 
 Four days later on April 30th, 1977, he made his Mets debut as a defensive replacement in left field. The next day, he started at second base in San Diego, getting a triple in his first Mets at bat. He scored on the next play, as Joe Torre hit a sac fly to centerfield. On the day, Randle had two singles, the triple and a stolen base in the Mets 8-2 win over the Padres.

On May 7th he had a three hit day & was batting .400 in his first six Mets games. On May 13th he had a pair of hits, including a HR against the NL Champion Dodgers, helping Jon Matlack in the three hit shutout.

He went on to hit safely in 15 of the next 18 games, with a four hit day on May 14th, in a 5-4 loss to the Dodgers. On June 5th, he tied up a game against the Philadelphia Phillies with a hone 7th inning triple, scoring Lee Mazzilli & Bud Harrelson. The Mets went on to an extra inning 6-5 victory. 
 That summer Randle settled in as the Mets regular third baseman. He kept his average over .300 & hit safely in 33 of 38 games for a dismal team that didn't have too many highlights. On July 9th, he hit a walk off two run HR against Will McEnaney & the Montreal Expos, giving the Mets a dramatic 7-5 win at Shea Stadium.

On August 5th he came to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning, against the Giants Gary Lavalle. The score was tied 2-2 as Randle doubled, to drive home Doug Flynn with what would be the winning run. Two days later he hit a solo HR in a 7-4 loss to the Giants. 

On August 23rd he won another game with a walk off single off Joe Sambito & the Houston Astros, scoring Leo Foster. Randle also stole 13 bases through July & August. During a mid September six game hit streak, Randle drove in two runs with a two run double off Jackie Brown in a 4-2 Mets win over the Expos in Montreal. He ended the year with an RBI triple in the last game of the year.

Randle had his best season that year, setting career highs in batting average (.304), on-base percentage (.383) which was also tenth best in the league. His career highs also included; stolen bases (33) and HRs (5) leading the Mets in almost all offensive categories. He only struck out 70 times in 513 at bats, as the team’s primary leadoff man, scoring 78 runs in with 156 hits and 65 walks. 

Trivia: Randle was at bat for the Mets when the power went out at Shea Stadium during the New York City blackout of 1977. He said he thought it was all over for him and God had come to get him. 

In 1978 he began the year as the teams Opening Day third baseman, going 0-4. On April 14th in Montreal, Randle's 10th inning double off Rudy May scored Joel Youngblood with the game winning run. In the first two weeks of May he hit three triples, but struggled to get his average over .200 until the middle of the month. His first HR of the year, was a three run shot off "the Count" John Montefusco, in a loss against the San Francisco Giants at Shea on June 11th. 

 Two days later on a West Coast road trip, he helped the Mets to a 3-2 win by driving in a pair of runs in San Diego. On June 30th he tied the game, sending it to extra innings, when Tim Foli singled with a walk off win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had four hits that day & then went on to have an eight game hit streak. 

Things never didn't go as well as the previous year, as Randle never got his average up over .250 all season. After batting over .300 the prior year his average plummeted to .233 for the last place 1978 Mets. He had eight triples (10th in the NL) with two HRs, 16 doubles, 35 RBIs, 14 stolen bases & .330 on base %. Defensively his .967 fielding % was third best in the league. By the end of Spring Training 1979 he had lost his third base job to the newly acquired veteran, Richie Hebner (who lasted just one season)& was soon released. 
  Later in the season Randle was given a chance with the AL New York club under his old manager Billy Martin. He signed the day after Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash, filling the roster spot.

He only played 20 games there & signed with the Chicago Cubs for 1980 batting .276 in 130 games. He then went to the Seattle Mariners for two seasons before finishing his MLB career at the end of 1982. 

He made all the highlight films & blooper videos in a 1981 game at the Kingdome when at third base he got down on all fours trying to blow a slow-roller into foul territory.
 In his 12 year career, Randle batted .257 with 1016 hits, 145 doubles 40 triples 27 HRs 322 RBIs 156 stolen bases & a .321 on base % in 1138 games played. 

Retirement: After retiring from MLB, Randle became the first American major league player to play in Italy in the Italian Serie-A1 league. There he became one of their biggest stars, leading the league in hitting, batting .477 one season. He holds a record for one of the longest HRs in Italy as well as most HRs and singles hit in a three game series. 

Lenny is fluent in both Italian & Spanish. He also played two seasons in the short lived Florida Senior League in the 1980’s. 
 Lenny opened the Pro Baseball Academy, where he teaches kids quality baseball instruction & gives private lessons. Lenny also organizes professional athletes and other celebrities to speak at school assemblies across the country. He organizes weekend trips for young people to the spring training camps of the Arizona Diamondbacks, California Angels, Seattle Mariners San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lenny is friends with former Mets manager Willie Randolph and was often spotted around Shea Stadium in his Mets uniform on & off the field. I got a chance to meet him at a game in 2006.

We spoke both before & after the game about his career, and his baseball camp. He was a great conversation and a real good guy. 
 Lenny said he took the number 11 for two reasons. One was because he said God was number 1 in his life and second to honor Billy Martin his manager in Texas. He also said Ted Williams; his manager in Washington was a big influence in his life and taught him a lot about baseball. He was honored to have played for both men. 

Randle attempting to blow ball foul with Seattle

Honors: Lenny Randle was inducted into the Arizona State University Athletic Hall of Fame as both a football and a baseball player.

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