The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Lenny Randle”

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fan’s Life

Mediocrity is nothing to brag about.  We don’t normally start out as kids seeking the truest, straightest path towards mediocrity.  We are proud and happy when, as my older son just experienced, we come home from school with straight A’s on a report card.  We enjoy it very much when our boss gives us a glowing annual review.  And when our spouse is happy, we understand that it’s a good idea to be happy, too.

Yet, if one was to measure one’s life in retrospect in any objective way, it might become all too apparent to many of us that we’ve lived thoroughly mediocre lives.  Surely, we’ve had our high points.  The birth of our first child.  The one time we dated that really hot girl at work.  (Note that the first example is not often a direct result of the second example.)  The moment when we received our high school, or college diploma.  The time when we didn’t forget our boss’s wife’s name at a dinner party.

The failures are there, too, ready to sabotage our happier moments with their dreadful memories.  Dropping what would have been the winning touchdown pass in a high school football game.  Nervously stuttering through a presentation among colleagues at work.  Drafting Bip Roberts instead of Robin Roberts in your all-time fantasy baseball draft.  Mistaking her harmless friendliness for something more personal and intimate.  I’ve got a truckload of those types of memories.

Which brings me to the Mets.

As far as I can tell, (and I wasted nearly fifteen minutes researching this on Baseball-Reference.com), I became a Mets fan on or about August 12, 1974.  Since that date, the Mets have won exactly 3,012 regular season games, and have lost 3,065.  That works out to a .496 win-loss percentage.  That’s just 53 more losses than wins, spread  over 38 seasons.  I will be rooting for the Mets to win their first 53 consecutive games this year just so I can say that they’ve been the most perfectly mediocre team in baseball since I’ve been following the Great Game.

Looking back over the nearly fifty years that I’ve been alive, I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for this extended mediocrity.  What I’ve decided to do is to take a look back at the last 38 years of my life, and compare them to that same year in Met’s history.  I hope you enjoy this casual biography of a man and his baseball team, in four excruciating installments.

Shea Stadium

Shea Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1974:  I am eleven years old, and make a baseball card of myself and my brother.  Apparently I hit .725 that year in sandlot ball.  I sit behind Joanne Beaudry in Math class.  She spends the entire year turning around flirting with me.  Her fingernails are often dirty.  I am terrified of Joanne, and of girls in general.   I’m also terrified of the snarling, frothing dog that is barely contained behind a short metal fence I pass on my way to and from school.  The Mets finish the year with a record of 71-91, in fifth place.  Tom Seaver has a rare off-year, posting a record of 11-11.  John Milner leads the team in runs scored with 70.

1975:  My friends Scott and Johnny have an argument over which member of the Rock band Kiss is the coolest.  Johnny, nearly four years younger than Scott, and a foot shorter, grabs Scott by the mid-section, wrestles him to the ground and pummels him.  Apparently, it turns out that Ace Frehley really was the coolest member of the band.  Tom Seaver rebounds to win his third and final Cy Young award.  The Mets tantalize on a daily basis, finishing the year 82-80, holding out tenuous promise for better things ahead.  Rusty Staub sets a Mets record with 105 RBI, and owns a restaurant in Manhattan.

1976:  My body begins to change in several different embarrassing ways.  I discuss this with no one.  My Catholicism convinces me that everything that I might do, think, or say about this topic would be a mortal sin.  Anna Corrales, three rows and several romantic light-years away from me, never looked so good.  My family and I vacation in Quebec, and I witness an elderly woman getting hit by a car.  Also on that vacation, a small boy at a table next to ours in a restaurant falls and hits his head on the table’s edge, blood all over the place.  Meanwhile, the Mets perform unexpectedly well, posting a record of 86-76.  They wouldn’t have a season that successful again for seven years.  Waive goodbye to Rusty Staub, and hello to 35-year old pitcher Mickey Lolich, who manages to win eight games.

Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1977:  I graduate second in my class from junior high school, winning numerous academic awards, then receive the first “D” and the first “F” of my life in my first semester of my first year in a Catholic high school.  I tryout for the school baseball team.  My job is to run a mile or two in the cold March mud, then drag a huge duffel bag full of bats down several flights of stairs to the supply room after each practice.  I decide I hate organized baseball, and quit the lousy team after three weeks.  David Johnson, a kid who sits and draws comics almost all day throughout all of his classes, becomes my best friend through high school.  The bottom absolutely drops out at Shea Stadium.  The Mets trade Tom Seaver for a clutch of Romanian strippers, four Mars Bars, and a case of orange Fanta.  The Fanta is flat.  The Mets fall to last place, posting a 64-98 record.  Lenny Randle, who hits .304 and steals 33 bases, is the sole reason to watch this miserable team.

1978:  Almost every kid in my high school is hooked on disco (except for one girl who dresses like David Bowie.)  My mom gets a job downtown as a secretary, and I visit her sometimes on my way home from school, just four blocks away. We have two major snowstorms that year, and miss around two weeks of school, which is fine with me because I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholic school sucks.  Unfortunately, the public high schools in my town are more famous for their crime reports than their academic records, so I keep my mouth shut and tolerate the experience as one would tolerate a novocaine-free root-canal.  The Mets are completely hopeless as well, finishing 30 games under .500 under manager Joe (It’s All About the Eyebrows) Torre.  23-year old center-fielder Lee Mazzilli becomes the heart throb of Queens.

Remington Arms

Remington Arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1979:  My dad comes home early one summer day from his job at Remington Arms.  He surprises me by not saying anything at all, going into his room, pulling the shades down, and going to sleep.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that a friend of his had accidentally blown himself in half at Remington Arms where they both worked.  Apparently, some gunpowder had ignited in the heat.  They had given dad a tranquilizer and sent him on his way, half a day off with pay.  See you bright and early tomorrow morning.  I got my first, considerably safer job slinging ice cream at Carvel’s on Park Ave.  At $2.25 an hour, I would now be able to hang out with my friends in style.  The Mets slog through a 63-99-1 season (yes, an official tie, like in hockey.)  Craig Swan is by far and away their best pitcher, going 14-13.  Their roster is littered with the sorry remains of Elliot Maddox, Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner, Kevin Kobel and Dock Ellis.

1980:  I am now straddling the line between my junior and senior years of high school.  A kid named Mike, apparently a refugee from Central High School, introduces me to marijuana in the school bathroom.  Well, it was either that or Ms. Ligouri’s English class.  I also attend my first high school dance, and spend most of the evening discovering that while I like slow-dancing, and the physical sensations it creates,  I generally dislike my dance partner, creating an awkward, alternating series of dance-couplings followed by strict and severe avoidance of said date.  Her dad picks us up from the dance at 10:30, and neither she nor I ever speak of this event again.  The Mets successfully avoid 70 wins for the fourth straight season.  Their starting rotation of Ray Burris, Pat Zachry, Mark Bomback, Pete Falcone and Craig Swan might just be the worst in the history of the franchise.  And with youngsters, Roy Lee Jackson, Juan Berenguer and John Pacella in the ‘pen, help is decidedly not on the way.

And that’s all for this installment.  Join me next time, if you can stand it, when I survive the 1980’s with my dignity mostly intact.

The Best Players I Have Ever Seen (Live)

Tomorrow I will be purchasing a dozen tickets to a baseball game for a group of people I work with.  We will be going to a Greenville Drive (Single A Red Sox) minor league baseball game in early May.  I don’t get to as many games as I used to, and I haven’t been to a Major League baseball game in an embarrassingly long time.

Greenville Drive marquee sign

Greenville Drive marquee sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, baseball is baseball, and Fluor Field here in Greenville is a nice facsimile of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster of its own in left field.

This got me to thinking of all the players I’ve seen live over the years, in both minor league and major league baseball parks.  So, inevitably, I decided to make a list of the best players I’ve seen in person at each position since my first game at Shea Stadium in 1974.  I’ve included the year and the city in which I witnessed them play.

First Base:  Steve Garvey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Willie McCovey (Shea Stadium, 1977), Willie Stargell (Shea Stadium, 1979), John Olerud (Seattle Kingdome, 1993), Mo Vaughn (Fenway Park, 1998.)

I was lucky to have seen a pair of first baseman, Garvey in ’74 and Stargell in ’79, who would each win their league’s MVP award that season.

Second Base:  Dave Lopes (Shea Stadium, 1974),  Rennie Stennett (Shea Stadium, 1976), Dave Cash (Shea Stadium, 1976), Roberto Alomar (Kingdome, 1993).

Not a lot to offer here.  Alomar was just beginning to reveal his greatness in ’93.

Sorry, fellow Mets fan, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to add Felix Millan to this list.

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008

Fenway Park on June 21, 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Third Base:  Ron Cey (Shea Stadium, 1974), Mike Schmidt (Shea Stadium, 1976, ’77), Lenny Randle (Shea Stadium, 1977), Richie Hebner (Shea Stadium, 1979),  Butch Hobson (Fenway Park, 1979), Robin Ventura (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

One Hall of Famer and…Lenny Randle.  Hebner supplemented his income in the off-season by digging graves.  Ventura’s career WAR of 55.5 is right there with several HOF’ers, including Boudreau, Medwick, Herman, Kelley, Terry and Gordon.

Shortstop: Bud Harrelson (Shea, 1974), Larry Bowa (Shea, 1976, ’77), Nomar Garciappara (New Britain, CT, Double-A Minor League park, while playing for the Trenton Thunder, 1995), Nomar Garciappara (Fenway Park, 1998), Edgar Renteria (Portland, ME, Double-A Minor League park, Portland SeaDogs, 1995), A-Rod (Fenway Park,  1999).

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo...

Hadlock Field, Portland ME. May 12, 2007 Photo by me, alcinoe 06:36, 25 September 2007 . . Alcinoe . . 1,100×768 (256 KB) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s some real talent to choose from there.  Renteria was just 18-years old when he had a breakout season playing up north for the Portland SeaDogs.  I watched him play there several times in ’95.  I also watched a very skinny Nomar lash a triple and make an outstanding defensive play in Double-A for the BoSox minor league team that same year. He was clearly the star of the show that day.

Catcher:  This is where mediocrity rules the day.  Jerry Grote or Steve Yeager in ’74?  (both fine defensive catchers), John Stearns (at Shea in ’78?)  Stearns set the N.L. record for steals in a season by a catcher (25).  How about Ed Ott (Shea, 1979) of the Pirates?

Charles Johnson of the Sea Dogs was a fine defensive catcher who could hit with some power.  He became the very first draft pick ever for the Florida Marlins in 1992.  I saw him play in Portland a few times in ’94 and ’95.

But I suppose I’ll have to take Jason Kendall who turned in a fine performance for the Pirates back in 2000 (Three Rivers Stadium.)  Ironically, Kendall broke John Stearns N.L. single-season stolen base record for catchers a couple of years earlier.

Three Rivers Stadium

Three Rivers Stadium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I wanted to cheat, I would add Pudge Rodriguez and Mickey Tettleton, both with the Rangers, each of whom I saw play in Spring Training in 1996 down in Florida.

Outfield:  Jimmy Wynn (Toy Cannon came to Shea in ’74), Rusty Staub (Shea, several times throughout the mid-70’s), Dave Kingman (Shea, ’75 and ’76), Del Unser (Shea, 1975), Greg Luzinski (Shea, ’76, ’77), Lee Mazzilli (Shea, 1977-’81), Dave Parker (Shea, ’79), Freddy Lynn (Fenway, ’79)  Jim Rice (Fenway, ’79), Dwight Evans (Fenway, ’79), Bobby Bonds (Fenway, ’79), Ken Griffey, Jr. (Kingdome, 1993, Fenway Park, 1998), Jay Buhner (Kingdome, 1993), Joe Carter (Kingdome, 1993), Brian Giles (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000).

But Vladimir Guerrerro (Harrisburg Senators, Expos AA team, playing at Portland, ME, 1996) is responsible for my favorite jaw-dropping performance.  I watched Vlad take apart the Sea Dogs in a game in the summer of ’96 where he hit a ball so hard to straight away center field, that it was still rising slightly on a line over the raised, distant scoreboard, and it just kept going like a missile until it hit a clump of trees at the base of the railroad track up on an embankment beyond the stadium.

I’d never heard a ball hit that hard in my life.  Neither had anyone else in the park, for as young Vlad rounded the bases, the stadium was just stunned into silence.  It was as if a shotgun blast had just echoed around the park.  I remember turning to my brother after this homer and saying, “Looks like this kid’s got a pretty good future ahead of him, huh?”

Designated Hitter:  I think I’ve seen only about a half a dozen games in American League ballparks, but I have seen three of the best.

Carl Yastrzemski (Fenway Park, 1979), Paul Molitor (Kingdome, 1993), Edgar Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998).  Edgar did not play in the game I went to at the Kingdome in ’93.

Shea

Shea (Photo credit: Kethera)

Pitchers:  Don Sutton (Shea, 1974), Tom Seaver (Shea, 1975), Jerry Koosman (Shea, 1976), Randy Jones (Shea, 1976), Jerry Reuss (Shea, 1980), Dwight Gooden (on Rehab., pitching for Tidewater vs. Maine Guides, Triple-A, Old Orchard Beach, ME, 1987), Al Leiter (Kingdome, 1993), Roger Clemens (Fenway Park, 1996), Tom Gordon (Fenway Park, 1996), Pedro Martinez (Fenway Park, 1998), Al Leiter (Three Rivers Stadium, 2000), Josh Beckett (Hadlock Field, Portland, ME, pitching for the Double-A Sea Dogs, 2001).

So I got to see Al Leiter twice, seven year apart, pitching for two different teams (Blue Jays and Mets.)  I’ve seen five pitchers who have won Cy Young awards.

That’s it.  By my count, I’ve seen nine players who are already in the Hall of Fame.  I’ve also seen several others (A-Rod, Griffey, Jr., Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens) who certainly have a case for future HOF induction.  Also, players like Evans, Staub, Nomar and Edgar Martinez were all among the very best players of their respective eras.

But an entire generation of new, young players has emerged in the last few years, few of whom I’ve had a chance to go out and see perform live.

Guess it’s time to buy those tickets.

Baseball’s Best of the Worst: Lenny Randle

I am excited to kick off a new series today, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst.”  This is Part I of a twelve-part series analyzing those unfortunate players who performed well on otherwise terrible teams.  Almost every last-place team seems to have one of them, and their efforts are usually forgotten by all but that team’s biggest fans.

My colleague, Graham Womack of the baseball blog, “Baseball Past and Present,”  will be co-authoring this series with me, on a weekly, alternating basis.

The six players I will focus on in this series have all played since 1961.  Graham’s focus, then, will be on half a dozen players from pre-1961 baseball.  We have decided not to concern ourselves with splitting up the A.L. and the N.L., so ultimately, it is possible that one league or the other will end up being featured more prominently than the other.  So be it.

Graham and I have been in contact with each other regarding co-writing a series together since before Christmas.  This is the topic we have come up with.  We decided to keep the entire series here on my blog to avoid possible confusion for our readers, and, speaking for myself, the writers.  Graham’s first post will be featured next Friday, January 21st.

We hope you enjoy this series.  If you have any suggestions about players you would like to see featured, please drop us a line.

Now, without further adieu, here is our initial offering.

The 1977 New York Mets are underrated as one of the worst teams in Mets history.  Almost everyone knows that the pre-1969 Mets were God-awful, but the decade of the ’70’s also featured some of the worst efforts, or non-efforts, that New York’s National League franchise ever produced.

There are actually several reasons, though, why the ’77 team stands out as a tragic example of how a Major League baseball team is quite capable of kicking its fans in their collective teeth, and appearing not to notice.  Specifically, given that the Mets had played better than .500 baseball in three of their previous four seasons, including a trip to the ’73 World Series and a couple of respectable third-place finishes, it seemed reasonable to assume that the ’77 Mets would be a competitive ball club.

For one thing, the Mets were returning with one of baseball’s best rotations:  Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack, as well as promising young starters Nino Espinosa and Craig SwanBob Apodaca and Skip Lockwood provided above-average relief help in the bullpen.

The Mets defense also appeared solid, with the exception of Dave Kingman in left-field.  Young catcher John Stearns provided above-average speed behind the plate, and 22-year old outfielder Lee Mazzilli appeared to be a future star.

Very quickly, however, things began to unravel in Gotham.  The Mets, under manager Joe Frazier, stumbled out of the gate with a 15-30 record.  Then, on June 15, 1977, the unthinkable happened.  The Mets traded their 32-year old franchise player, Tom Seaver, for four young prospects, none of whom were to make much of a mark on Major League history.  Then they also traded their only legitimate power-hitter, Dave Kingman, to the San Diego Padres.

Thirty-six year old Joe Torre, now a player-manager, took over the helm in his very first shot at managing.  He didn’t have much left to work with.

In the previous off-season, however, the Mets did manage to pry a young third baseman named Lenny Randle from the Texas Rangers for a player-to-be-named later.

Lenny Randle was no prospect.  He was going to be 28-years old in ’77, and few Mets fans had any idea what to expect.

But, as it turned out, Lenny Randle provided spark on a team whose guts had just been ripped out by upper-management.  He gave Mets fan a reason to keep watching their team long after it was obvious that ’77 was a lost season.

Randle’s statistics for the 1977 were not spectacular, but he was the best the Mets had to offer that year.

Randle led the team with a .304 batting average.  He led them in stolen bases with 33.  He also led the Mets in on-base percentage (.383, tenth best in the league), and in hits (156), triples (5) and runs scored (78).  His 4.2 WAR was the highest on the team.

Defensively, he played the position more like a middle-infielder.  His Range Factor per nine innings was a solid 3.06, 4th best in the N.L.

Although Randle’s  power numbers were terrible, accumulating just five home runs and 27 RBI,  Mets fans understood that Randle’s job was to get on base and make things happen.

But Randle turned out to be little more than a flash-in-the pan.  He performed poorly in Flushing in ’78, then bounced around between the Yankees, Cubs, and Mariners for the next several seasons, until his retirement in 1982 at the age of 33.

In 1983, Randle became the first American major league player to play in Italy, where he won a batting title by hitting .477.

On a really good Major League baseball team, Lenny Randle would have been a nice complementary ballplayer.  On the 1977 Mets, however, he was the star attraction on an abysmal team.

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