When I first started this blog nearly eight years ago (seems like yesterday), one of the things I wanted to do was interview former Mets players. Well, I’ve done it once — but not for lack of trying. I would often email or send tweets, asking for interviews. Some would ignore me, some would agree but then not answer the questions after I sent them.
So I was pessimistic when I stumbled across Lenny Randle on Facebook one night last week. I sent him a message to do an email interview, and the next day he got back to me and agreed. I did about two minutes of research when suddenly I got a voice message on Facebook, which I didn’t even know was a thing. He said to call him right away. So I downloaded Messenger on my phone and called him, which again, I didn’t even know was possible.
For younger fans, Lenny was a Met in 1977 and 1978. Playing mostly third base, Lenny hit .304 in 1977, finishing 11th in the league, before tailing off the next year. Lenny is perhaps best known for blowing a slow roller foul while playing third for the Mariners after leaving the Mets.
I spoke with Lenny from his home in Italy, where in 1983 he became the first MLB player to play, and has lived since then. He is the nicest guy — I was trying to keep our talk short because I felt like I was keeping him, but he just kept on talking. He’s an interviewer’s dream! Here are the notes from our conversation. A few caveats — since I didn’t have time to do research, the interview is not as complete as I would have liked. I had to come up with questions on the fly. And since I was typing while we were talking, some of his quotes might not be exact. And I probably missed some good stuff because while I am a pretty fast typer, the animated Lenny Randle spoke faster than I could type.
Blogging Mets: What is your favorite Met memory?
Lenny Randle: Playing! Just playing. I keep it real simple. And the teammates! Eddie Kranepool, Jerry Grote breaking me in. Felix Millan had my back, John Stearns was great. Rusty Staub was like a big brother. Bud Harrelson was like Shecky Greene. I asked him, “Do you guys ever stop laughing around here?” He said, “Hey, that’s how we win.” I felt right at home.
How did you like playing in New York?
New York was phenomenal. I mean, how could it not be? Willie Mays (who was a coach) was there! And Joe Torre (who became manager in June of Randle’s first season). In my first Spring Training, “Cadillac” Kranepool comes up to me and he says “I’ve got six watches.” He has a trench coat on and opens it up like one of those guys on the street. He says, “Do you want the Timex or a Ralph Kiner watch?” I took a Kiner! Kranepool set up watch empire. Everybody had another side job, or a relative or some kind of hookup for anything — broadway tickets, anything.
And celebrities used to stop by. One time Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft were in the clubhouse. They took my glove and asked if I was playing that day! Eartha Kitt used to hang out with us. It was great. Being in New York was like being the Beatles every day.
You played with Tom Seaver for two months until he was traded.
I have known Tom Seaver since college. He went to USC and I was at Arizona State. We have a big rivalry. Seaver was like a big brother, a cousin, a family member. As soon as I got there he said, “Lenny, I’m still a Trojan.” And he handed me a cup and he said, “Wear this at third, because when I pitch everything is gonna be hit to you.” And he was right — everything was hit to me! And I still have that cup!
Despite your short Mets career, your place in team history was cemented because of your role in the blackout of 1977.
I was at bat when the lights went out. It was a mind-blowing, God, Moses, last day on earth moment. I swung and lights went out! I didn’t know what to do, so I just keep on running for second. (Cubs infielders) Manny Trillo and Ivan DeJesus tried to stop me. We grew up with no lights so I were used to it! I saw a white ball and I hit it. Like Yogi said, if you don’t see it, you can’t hit it. Afterwards, Bobby Valentine, Joel Youngblood, Ed Kranepool, Willie Montanez and I all came out and took infield practice with no ball. It was like an Abbott and Costello act. We got a standing ovation!
Did you often go back to Shea Stadium, and now Citi Field?
I’ve been in Italy for 31 years. I’m in a villa – much better than Shea Stadium or Citi Field! But I see some of the guys when I come back to the states. Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, I saw them. And Ron Darling, I ran into a while back at a Dodger Game. And I see a bunch of former Mets who also went to ASU — Gary Gentry, Craig Swan, Duffy Dyer. Sometimes our alumni games are better than the games at Citi Field!
I try to see as many former teammates as I can because so many of them are having health issues, so it could be the last time. If I have to go out to Napa and buy some wine to see Tom Seaver, I’ll do it. If I have to fly out to Texas and see Nolan Ryan, I’ll do that, too.
What are you up to these days?
Still involved in baseball here in Italy. We take Italian kids, as well as kids from Compton, where I went to high school, to meet former major leaguers. Just trying to grow the game.
I will also be hosting a tribute to the 1969-1989 Mets in San Diego later this month. Seaver, Ryan, Stearns, Grote, Ron Swoboda and Pat Zachry will be among former Mets teammates who will be there. We will also be showing the MLB documentary on me, called “The Most Interesting Man in Baseball.” It should be a lot of fun. Can’t wait to see the guys.
Here is a promo for the documentary: