an excerpt from
Compton to Beyond the Big Leagues
by Steve Fader with Lenny Randle
The following excerpt is from the New York Mets section of Lenny Randle's biography, and is reprinted here with permission of author Steve Fader.
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When I came to the Mets and New York City, I was relieved and very happy. But just like when I was a rookie, with Ted Williams and Nellie Fox mentoring me on life during and after baseball, I now had Willie Mays as my coach. What I experienced in my friendship with Willie did form my serious attitude about life beyond the Big Leagues.
Here I was, having a premier season in my new hometown New York City, when the organization I was playing for basically chewed up Willie Mays in front of me and spit him out of baseball.
The Mets always told Willie that he had a lifelong job with the Club at $50,000 a year. When Willie was almost through coaching for the Mets, the front office called him in to dishonor the oral agreement after the rumor had already surfaced at a banquet we attended. We thought that if it were true, the man at the top would reverse this unholy decision. I went with him when they broke the news to Willie. He cried. I saw Willie Mays cry, as the game drove a dagger into the heart of the "Say Hey Kid." I cried too.
In my mind, I thought if Willie Mays gets this kind of treatment, what in the hell is in store for me when I hang up my spikes?
Well, I was in New York, so I started meeting a lot of people outside of baseball. People like the famous artist, Leroy Neiman. He was so impressed with my MVP season and our friendship, he painted me, just like he did Joe DiMaggio in the "DiMaggio Cut," and other sports greats.
The whole Met experience was the pinnacle of bittersweet. Willie's treatment was bitter, MVP was sweet. I was laughing and crying. It was real life, even though it was the Big Show, Big Apple and Big People. My phone was ringing off the hook and I was returning everyone's calls.
Reggie Jackson, even though he was playing for the Yanks, was happy to see me in New York. He offered me one of his two Rolls Royces to drive around in, but really nice and expensive cards have never meant that much to me. As long as I could get from A to B, and in New York, it isn't that easy in a car, I was happy to go around like the locals--subways, taxis, bikes, scooters and the occasional horse-drawn carriage late at night in Greenwich Village.
Occasionally, I'd even arrange for someone to pick me up in a horse carriage and take me to the park.
I learned a lot from manager Joe Torre and attribute a lot of my Met success to him being the ultimate "player's manager." He was patient, articulate and not a jerk at all. After Lucchesi, he was like an oasis in the desert and a breath of fresh air.
There lies a base,
Lying alone, with nothing to do,
The ump, making his call in haste,
Now, everyone is on it,
The stands erupt, the fans yell out,
--published by SABR (Society of American
Joe had "Billy Martin Disease." He, like Billy, would do anything to fire you up or to make you relax. With Billy back in Texas, we'd hunt for frogs and fry them up in the clubhouse. With Joe, he'd just pass gas at the perfect moment to ease tense game situations. As I said, he was articulate and a breath of "fresh air." It was usually during the game in visits to the mound. I was at third and always came to the mound to give psychological counseling to the pitchers, since I had a degree.
Joe would just walk out of the dugout, usually up to Craig Swan on the hill and say, "Okay, Swan, what did you eat today?"
Swan would always answer, "What does that have to do with taking me in or out of the game, Joe?"
Joe would always come back with, "Well, I went to Pante Leone's," and then at the very instant Torre said "Pante Leon's" Joe would let loose with a blast in confirmation of the volatile cuisine at Pante Leone's and the game situation. Everyone would not only crack up laughing, but the whole infield from Harrelson to myself would add to the "gas ensemble." Joe would go back to the dugout smiling to the crowd and leave Swan in.
When Torre would come in to yank Tom Seaver, which wasn't often, Joe would always say to Tom, his roommate, "It's really hard to come out here, roomie, and take you out of the game."
Seaver responded, "It's okay, roomie, just bring in Lockwood, will ya?"
Harrelson, playing short, added, "Yeah, Lockwood is good, Joe. He throws high heat in the 90's and the batters will hit it away from me."
We'd all chuckle and Joe would signal for Lockwood in the bullpen. That's Joe Torre, the ultimate "player's manager."
My relationship with Met fans was instant bonding with their ovation on my first at-bat and my 3-for-4 debut in Met colors. Met MVP and the streak at third with 45 consecutive games without an error was inspired by Met fans and playing for Joe Torre. Willie's treatment soured me toward the organization and I was interested in playing for the San Francisco Giants the following year. Actually, when the Mets opened up in '78, I was "off Broadway," so to speak. I was in the Giant Cactus League Camp in Arizona. That soured them toward me, but I returned and played one more year as a Met. It was a totally different year and my numbers reflected my discontent.
My dissatisfaction with the Met organization was shared by most of the players and I referred to the front office as the "Plantation." Everyone was on sale on the New York docks, especially those so bold as to ask for a raise. As soon as you or your agent suggested a raise was in order, even if you were Tom Seaver or had an MVP year, you were meat for the trading block.
Actually, Lenny was right, as the Mets shocked the baseball world on June 15, 1977 by trading Tom Seaver, their ace hurler, to the Reds for Steve Henderson, Zachry, Flynn, and Norman. Dave Kingman, the team's home run hitter, was traded to the Padres for Paul Siebert and Bobby Valentine. Kingman went on to play and hit home runs in four different divisions that year. Jerry Grote was shipped to the Dodgers for Dan Smith and Randy Rogers. And then John Milner and Matlack were sent south to the Rangers for Montanez, K. Henderson, and Grieve. The "fire sale" didn't stop. Mike Phillips was traded to St. Louis for Joel Youngblood. Roy Staiger crossed town to the Yankees for Sergio Ferrer. Met owner at the time, M. Donald Grant, a relative of Ulysses S. Grant, was obviously out of control in terms of helping the players win on the field. The Mets finished last in the National League East Division, 37 games back. In '78, they were last again, 24 back.
As it turned out, Willie Mays was just the first to get the treatment. All the other players were just sold or traded! The Mets were a mess until Doubleday took over ownership in 1979. When the transition was finally made, the Shea fans finally had owners who were in for the long haul and cared about the team.
When Lenny's time was finally up, he crossed town to wear the Yankee pinstripes.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book
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