By Mark Miller
Long-time baseball fans may remember Lenny Randle doing things a bit unconventionally when he played the game. On the field and in the clubhouse, his demeanor and antics prompted former Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine to call him “A Fabric of Weirdness.”
Somehow, Randle always seemed to find himself as a part of history, perhaps the major reason Jim Breuer said he was the “Forrest Gump of Baseball” in a documentary that aired last December on Major League Baseball Network. For proof, consider the following:
- As a rookie with the Washington Senators, he played in the franchise’s final game in the Nation’s Capital in 1971 before moving to Texas.
- He played in the infamous Ten Cent Beer Night game on June 4, 1974 in old Cleveland Stadium.
- On March 28, 1977, he punched then manager Texas manager Frank Lucchessi after learning he had lost his starting second-base job to rookie Bump Wills.
- Later that year, he was at home plate when the lights went out at New York’s Shea Stadium.
- While playing third base for the Seattle Mariners on May 27, 1981, he blew a slow roller hit by Kansas City’s Amos Otis foul but was charged with interference and Otis was credited with an infield hit.
Off the field, he gave the standup comedy routine in Chicago a go, and dabbled in music while with the Seattle Mariners. So it should be no surprise that he has continued to follow his own drummer since retiring from Major League Baseball. His life since then even prompted Rolling Stone magazine to call him the Most Interesting Man in Baseball in an article last year.
One reason why is the 67-year-old Randle has lived in Italy since 1983 since becoming the first U.S. player to compete there. He was persuaded to try the Italian Baseball League by legendary Ted Williams and some military members.
“I love it here. You can go to Paris, Belgium, Spain or Norway within two hours,” said Randle, who speaks five languages and has a Master’s degree in adapted physical education. “I still have great contacts with people I played with and others and live in the most beautiful place in the world.”
He won the Italian Baseball League batting title his first year with Nettuno and loved the experience so much he and seven family members, including his wife, mother and sister, remain there today.
Just like during his playing days, he’s still continuously in motion so much so he long ago earned the nickname “Cappuccino” in Italy.
“Bill Cosby once told me ‘sports is a vehicle to do something else,’ ” he said.
He’s followed such advice through numerous vehicles to help others. He’s spent much of his time promoting the game in his adopted home country while also serving as a manager, general manager, and co-owner.
Randle travels the globe conducting baseball and educational clinics including opening an academy in Italy. He uses what he learned under managers like Williams, Joe Torre, and Billy Martin, and players including Maury Willis, Lou Brock, and Joe Morgan how to teach baseball fundamentals while acting like a professional at all times.
He’s also serving as global scouting director for the new Empire Professional Baseball League that launches later this year and will include bringing 15 players over from Italy to play in an international all-star game.
On top of that, he conducts college expos with his family, mentors youth on life away from sports and owns a line of clothing. Plus, he follows the career of son Bradley, who played running back on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad in 2013, with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League in 2014 and CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers last year but is a free agent this coming year.
He also keeps up with nephew Tyus Edney and cousin Marcus Johnson, both former UCLA and National Basketball Association stars.
The Long Beach, California, native originally was drafted in 1967 by the St. Louis Cardinals but opted to attend Arizona State University instead. He was a two-sport star, playing football and baseball, including second base on the Sun Devils’ 1969 College World Series title team.
Selected in the 1970 draft by the Senators, he played parts of five seasons with the Rangers, a stint that ended after punching Lucchessi, who was hospitalized for one week following plastic surgery to repair his fractured cheekbone which was broken in three places. He also received bruises to his kidney and back.
The Rangers suspended Randle for 30 days without pay and fined him $10,000. On April 26, before the suspension was complete, Texas traded him to the New York Mets for a player to be named later. Randle was charged with assault, and pleaded no contest to battery charges in a Florida court while paying a $1,050 fine. Lucchessi was fired on June 21 following a 9-5 loss to the Twins, blamed Randle for the firing, and sued him for $200,000.
Randle played the rest of that year plus 1978 with the Mets. In 1977, he batted .304, stole 33 bases and scored 78 runs for the last-place Mets. His best season with the Rangers was in 1974 when he had a .302 average with 26 stolen bases and 65 runs scored splitting time at second base, third base and in the outfield. He split time in all three positions in 1975 as well before being returned to second base in 1976.
After the Mets let him go during spring training 1979, he spent time in the minor league systems of the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates before returning to the majors with the New York Yankees.
He signed with the Seattle Mariners in 1980 but was quickly traded to the Chicago Cubs with whom he batted .276 and tied his career high five home runs as the Cubs’ regular third baseman. He re-signed with Seattle where he played the final two years of his career in 1981 and 1982 finishing with a .257 average with 27 home runs and 322 runs batted in.
He still holds the record for the longest home run in the Italian Serie-A1 league, most home runs and singles hit in a three-game series and the most hits in a three-game series. He won a batting title in Italy with a .477 batting average. Later, he played with the St. Petersburg Pelicans in the Senior Professional Baseball Association after signing a minor league contract with the California Angels during spring training in 1995, but was unsuccessful in his comeback bid.
While with the Cubs, Randle met John and Jim Belushi and performed some stand-up comedy routines at area clubs. In the early 1980s, he even recorded an electro-funk album Just a Chance with his band Lenny Randle and Ballplayers including lead vocals on one song called “Kingdome” in honor of the Mariners’ original home and “I’m a Ballplayer.” He donated proceeds from the songs to help David Finnegan, a young Mariners’ fan who suffered from cerebral palsy, purchase a voice synthesizer. Randle remains involved in music with Battle of the Bands promotions and Baseball and Boogie tours. Besides hosting sessions of the Lenny Randle Sports Academy, he’s also pushing for Martin’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
At a time when most people are winding down toward retirement, Lenny Randle is so busy, he sleeps just a few hours each day.
“I don’t really need to sleep. I’ll sleep when I die,” he said. “I get maybe 4-5 hours. Here in Italy and in Europe they take power naps. You work four hours and take a four-hour nap.
“I don’t stress out over here. There’s no stress. You work, then walk the beach or have an ice cream.”