July 6 – Happy Birthday Willie Randolph
I have been a huge Willie Randolph fan since 1976, his rookie season with the New York Yankees. When I first heard about the trade with the Pirates that brought Willie to the Bronx I wasn’t thrilled because the Yankees had sent a pretty good starting pitcher named Doc Medich to Pittsburgh, in the deal. It only took me a few games into the 1976 season, however, to realize Randolph was a winner. Though he was only 21 years old at the time, he played like a polished veteran, especially in the field. I loved the way he fluidly brought ground balls hit to him into his body before making the throw. At the plate, Willie was adept at getting on base, stealing important bases, and moving runners into scoring position. The best way I can describe Willie’s impact on the Yankees was that you really noticed how good he was when he wasn’t in the lineup.
Willie was also a great teammate. On a Yankee team that was notorious for clubhouse cliques and animosity, Willie got along with and was respected by everyone and was eventually named Yankee Captain.
I remember the disappointment I felt when Randolph signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after the 1988 season. The Yankees were in the midst of a fifteen-season-long postseason drought and with Randolph leaving, they were losing one of their last links to their glory teams of the seventies. He ended up playing until 1992 and retired with 2,210 lifetime hits (1,731 as a Yankee) 1,239 runs (1,027 with NY) and a .276 lifetime batting average (.275 with NY) over eighteen seasons.
When Willie was named manager of the Mets, I knew he would be a very calm and controlled field boss who treated his players like professionals, respected the skills and opinions of his coaches, and let his team play. He did just that and deserved a much better fate than he received from the team’s front-office.
Willie was born on this date in 1954, in Holly Hills, SC. His family moved to Brooklyn where Willie was raised and played high school baseball. He shares his July 6th birthday with this World War II era Yankee backup catcher.