Tuesday, October 16, 2012

#446 - Len Randle



This card used to amuse me as a kid. I know – and knew – that Lenny Randle was in a posed shot but what’s he doing with the ball? Maybe he’s playing pepper. Also this shot appears to be from the same group as that of his ’73 card, which would make it from spring training of ’72. Back then Lenny was deemed heir apparent at second base but an injury and a sub-.200 average that year put that on hold for a bit. He did get the gig in his break-out ’74 season under Billy Martin. Lenny was Billy’s type of player: smart and scrappy. But he had trouble with transitions. So in a couple years when it was someone else’s turn to take the starting role, Lenny didn’t handle it too well. Sometimes I guess he was a little too scrappy.

Lenny Randle grew up in the Compton area of southern California and at Centennial High there was a big three sports star as a running back, point guard, and catcher/infielder. After he graduated in ’67 he was drafted by the Cards but he instead opted to go to Arizona State and do the Reggie thing, namely football and baseball. In the prior sport he was a return specialist and his six TD’s in that role is still a school record. In baseball he was an all-conference second baseman and shortstop, winning a CWS title in ’69 and leading the Sun Devils in hitting with a .335 average in ’70. That year he was drafted in the first round by the Senators and that summer went straight to Triple A where he didn't hit too well but did a nice job in the field at second. ’71 was much better and his average, .390 OBA, and excellent defense got him up to DC by mid-June where he again did pretty well in the field but not at the plate. His average tumbled further in ’72 when the Rangers traded incumbents Bernie Allen and Tim Cullen to give Lenny more playing time but by the end of the season he was back in Triple A. He posted nice numbers at that level in ’73, adding 39 steals and a .373 OBA to his stats as well as a bunch of games in the outfield.

At the end of 1973 Billy Martin became the Texas manager and he became a big fan of Randle, inserting him into the starting role at third base while moving Dave Nelson to second. Lenny also started a bunch at second and a couple games in the outfield as he became one of the reasons the Rangers challenged for the division with his .302 average and 26 stolen bases. In ’75 he split starting roles pretty evenly between third, second, and center field as his average fell a bit but he posted better OBA numbers. In ’76 he settled in at second and stole 30 bases but his average settled also, to .224. In spring training of ’77 Texas manager Frank Lucchesi announced that rookie Bump Wills – Maury’s son and ironically another ASU product – would take over the second base job. Lenny wasn’t too happy with the move and during a discussion with the manager popped Lucchesi in the face, breaking his cheekbone, and putting him in the hospital. Lenny was fined $10,000, suspended for 30 days, and was shortly thereafter traded to the Mets. Until then Lenny had a very good reputation: he was well- but soft-spoken, was well-read, and had returned to ASU to finish his undergrad degree in political science and a masters in special education and had already started working with kids in off-seasons. To many the incident was out of character for him so when he moved on he wasn’t totally demonized.

Randle went to NY for Rich Auerbach and the team he joined was a pretty hot mess. That year Lenny was one of the few bright spots on the Mets as he basically reprised his ’74 season for them, hitting .304 with 33 steals and a .383 OBA while playing third base. Unfortunately he followed it up by channeling his ’76 year as his average dropped over 70 points. The following spring he was released and caught on with the Giants, for whom he played about a month of Triple A ball , before going to Pittsburgh with Bill Madlock and Dave Roberts for Al Holland and Ed Whitson. It should have been great timing for Lenny but with Madlock, Rennie Stennett, and Phil Garner ahead of him at his best positions, he remained in the minors. He was sold to the Yankees that August and for NY he appeared in a few games in the outfield the rest of the way, hitting .179. Prior to the ’80 season he was signed as a free agent by the Mariners and then sold to the Cubs. In Chicago he hit .276 while again moving back to third as the team’s starter there. In ’81 he returned to the Mariners as a free agent where he split time at third with Dan Meyer and had his big YouTube moment by trying to blow an Amos Otis dribbler down the third base line foul. He finished up his career in the States with Seattle in ’82, compiling a .257 average with 27 homers, 322 RBI’s, 156 stolen bases, and a .321 OBA.

Randle continued to play ball after his career stateside ended, becoming the first US player to play in Italy’s league. He played there for seven seasons and eventually relocated there. Ball-wise he also played back here in the Senior League and in a few games for the Angels in ’95 – he was 46 – when MLB was tossing around the idea of playing replacement games. Earlier that decade he returned to Compton to coach his old high school baseball team. Professionally he has returned to Arizona, where he was inducted into ASU’s hall of fame in the Eighties. That is the home base of his baseball school, which actually moves around a bit. He also runs an agency that sets up tours of spring training sites and engages athletes to speak to kids. His website is linked to here.


Lenny’s star bullets are pretty pedestrian, but he was only hitting .205 by the time his card came out. Plus, like the photo, they’re delayed a year.

By the way, there’s a fat gap between this post and the last one because the scanner was down. I’ll try to catch up.

These guys both played college ball:

1. Randle and Jim Mason ’72 to ’73 Rangers;
2. Mason and Doc Medich ’74 to ’75 Yankees and ’78 Rangers.

4 comments:

  1. I remember 60 minutes doing a segment on Randle's time in Italy. So popular that he recorded records. So head and shoulders better than the rest of league in that he hit softball style numbers.

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  2. I think there's a great baseball card shot of Lenny, a few years later, sliding into a base. Much more than pedestrian. Shows his scrappy side.

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