Wednesday, February 29, 2012
A baseball card mystery: Finding Lenny RandlePosted by Bruce Markusen
I can’t remember anyone calling him “Len Randle.” Yet, his 1978 Topps card lists him in just such a way, even though Topps had featured him as “Lenny” on some of his earlier cards. To me, that’s who’ll always be, Lenny.
Whatever the case, I always liked Randle as a player. He was a fun, dynamic and game-breaking speedster who played the game all out. Billy Martin, who managed him with the Rangers and Yankees, regarded Randle as one of his favorites. Martin loved Lenny Randle’s scrappiness, speed, and versatility.
That’s why the brutal incident that happened during the spring of 1977, in which he viciously attacked his own manager, remains so out of character for the veteran infielder/outfielder.
After learning that he had lost the starting second-base job to rookie Bump Wills and then being called a “punk” by manager Frank Lucchesi, Randle lost control of his temper and pummeled Lucchesi senselessly.
The assault left Lucchesi with a fractured cheekbone, among other injuries, not to mention a stay in the hospital.
Luckily, Lucchesi recovered from his serious injuries, and the two men settled their differences, with Randle apologizing for his inexcusable attack. But the reconciliation didn’t happen until after the Rangers suspended Randle and then traded him to the Mets for a mediocre shortstop named Rick Auerbach.
That explains how Randle ended up wearing a Mets uniform for his 1978 Topps card. But it doesn’t answer a few other questions we have about the card, which shows Randle sliding back into first base on a pickoff attempt, as Padres first baseman Gene Richards (who was normally an outfielder) attempts to apply a tag, which in turn causes Randle to let out a discernible yell.
At first glance, the photograph appears to have been taken at Shea Stadium, since the Mets are wearing their home pinstripes. Upon further review, the seats behind the third base line don’t look like those at Shea. So I thought that perhaps this photo was snapped during a spring training game, but then I quickly realized that couldn’t be the case. Randle wasn’t even with the Mets in spring training; he was still with Texas. So the photo must have been taken at Shea during the regular season.
So that leaves me with two questions about the card. In which game of the 1977 season did this play occur? And was Randle safe or out on the attempted pickoff?
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.