MLB Network to showcase Randle's wild path
Former big leaguer has worn many hats in his adventurous life
Lenny Randle played baseball. Lenny Randle loves baseball. And in a lot of ways, Lenny Randle is baseball.
But any time the subject of this former Major Leaguer and current man of international intrigue is brought up, there's a lot more to the story than baseball. In fact, it's hard to know where to even start.
Randle is a funk musician. He's a comedian. He's a fashion designer. He's a European tour guide. He's straight out of Compton. He's a resident of Italy who speaks five languages. He's "The Most Interesting Man in Baseball," as coined in a recent article in Rolling Stone and now the title of a one-hour documentary that will premiere Friday at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network. And even a five-minute conversation with the man will show you that he's profoundly happy in all his uniqueness.
"I don't drink, but if I did, it would be [the Italian wine] Lambrusco," Randle said with a laugh on the phone from Nettuno, where he has found himself for more than 30 years, first as a batting-title winner on the Italian Baseball League club called the Nettunesi and now as the team's manager, general manager and co-owner.
"Wine keeps you from aging, and I'm pretty sure the Fountain of Youth is in Italy."
Randle, who has a home in Anzio, near Rome, might have a point there. He's 66 but looks much younger. And in the course of those 66 years, 12 were spent in the Major Leagues after Randle emerged from Centennial High in his hometown of Compton, Calif., and went on to star at Arizona State before zooming from the Minor Leagues to the Majors.
And that's when the living, breathing adventure novel of a career began to unfold. What did Randle experience while in the big leagues? How about what didn't he experience?
• Randle was on the bench for the Washington Senators' last game in 1971 when fans stormed the field and started tearing up the field and the scoreboard and ripping the bases out of the ground.
• Randle was playing second base for the Texas Rangers against the Indians at the ill-fated and immediately discontinued-for-eternity Ten-Cent Beer Night at Cleveland Stadium on June 4, 1974, when increasingly inebriated behavior by fans led to unruliness on and off the field.
• Randle was suspended in 1977 following a physical altercation with Frank Lucchesi, his Texas manager, during Spring Training.
• Randle was in the batter's box for the Mets at Shea Stadium and said he was in the process of swinging at a Ray Burris pitch on July 13, 1977, when the lights went out on the Mets and Cubs and all of New York City in the famous Gotham blackout.
"I swung and hit the ball, and I started running," Randle said. "Now, you've got to understand. I grew up when we played by car lights and candles in Compton. If you can see that little white dot, you can play. That part wasn't a big deal. But when [Cubs infielders] Manny Trillo and Ivan DeJesus tackled me at second base, that's when I was like, 'Whoa. Dude. What's going on?'"
Author Dan Epstein, who profiled Randle in the Rolling Stone piece and has written two books about baseball, had no choice but to mention Randle in his definitive best-seller "Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s."
"The guy just has this uncanny ability to be the center of attention, whether he wants it or not," Epstein said. "If you're throwing at the dartboard that is baseball in the 1970s, you're eventually going to hit Lenny Randle."
To wit, further:
• Randle replaced Thurman Munson on the Yankees' roster in August 1979 after New York's beloved catcher passed away in a plane crash.
• Randle made eternal highlight reels on May 27, 1981, at Seattle's Kingdome, when he was playing third base for the Mariners and Royals outfielder Amos Otis was at the plate. Otis tapped a slow roller down the line and Randle got on his hands and knees and blew the ball foul. The incident drew an argument from Kansas City skipper Jim Frey and an illegal ruling from home-plate umpire Larry McCoy, but it also made blooper history. Even today, Randle uses the slogan "Don't blow it, stay in school" on his website for youth baseball camps.
"I had no clue what I was doing," Randle said. "I was in the zone. I'm just trying to win a game. Then Julio Cruz and Larry Andersen are shouting at me, 'Dude, don't you know what you did?' And I'm like, 'Oh, I did that?' All of a sudden Jim Frey's running out, George Brett's running. What did I do? It's just another version of small ball to me. I'll do anything I can to win, so let's go."
• Also while with the Mariners, Randle put his musical chops to use with a band called Ballplayers on a few baseball-themed funk songs. One of those tracks made it onto the "Wheedle's Groove Volume II" compilation that was put out by prominent reissue label Light in the Attic.
• Randle became the first former big leaguer to play professionally in Italy when he joined the Nettuno club in 1983, and since then, he has vowed to bring the "next great Italian player … the next Mike Piazza, the next Joe DiMaggio, the next Chris Colabello" to the Majors.
But there's more. So much more.
• As a Cub, Randle dabbled in stand-up comedy and met John Belushi and his brother, Jim.
• Randle played for Ted Williams, Billy Martin, Joe Torre and Willie Mays. He hobnobbed with Bill Gates and Jesse Jackson and a long list of other celebrities he's met through his Screen Actors Guild membership and at various charity and social events in his hometown of Los Angeles.
• Randle said he's marketing his own line of clothing, shoes and handbags.
• Randle has been involved with the Urban Youth Academy in Los Angeles, he has his own sports academy for youth, and he serves as a travel guide on European tours that he arranges.
That's a lot, to be sure, but there's a lot more than that to Randle, which is evident in the documentary, which is narrated by comedian Jim Breuer. He said he's nowhere near finished in expanding his horizons. Randle admits that he doesn't sleep much, but he's OK with that. There's a lot more to be accomplished.
"You don't have to do one thing in life," Randle said with a laugh. "You've got four bases, so you might as well cover all of them."