Classic Yankees: Willie Randolph

The Yankees have two HOF second basemen in previous Classic Yankees profiles Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon, and have an All-Star right now in Robbie Cano.

If you had to fill out the top five second basemen in Yankees history, one of the five would be Willie Randolph.

Randolph, born in SC but a Brooklyn native (Tilden High in Brooklyn), started his career with the Pirates in 1975. He went 10 for 61 with 3 RBI that year at the age of 21. He went 0 for 2 in the NLCS vs. the Reds.  The Pirates were entrenched at 2B however with Rennie Stennett (who would hit .336 for them in 1977), so Randolph was available.

In a great trade (you never know with youngsters), the Yanks picked up Randolph, along with Ken Brett and Dock Ellis, in December 1975 for Doc Medich. Medich had won 19 games in 1974 for the Yankees, and was 49-40 from 1973-1975 for the Yankees. He lasted just one year for the Pirates before being traded away.

Ellis won 17 for the A.L. Champion 1976 Yankees before being traded away in early 1977. Ken Brett didn’t do much for the Yankees (although his brother George did plenty TO the Yankees).

Randolph, meanwhile, became a Yankees fixture. In those Bronx Zoo years, not everyone was loud, brash and controversial (see previous Classic Yankees profile Chris Chambliss, for instance). Randolph was just steady—providing good range and defense, plate patience and some speed to the Yankees.

In his first full year as a major leaguer, Randolph helped the Yankees to their first WS appearance in twelve years.  Just 22, and in his first full year in the bigs, Randolph was named an All-Star. He hit .267 with 1 HR and 40 RBI, OPS+ 102, but joined Mickey Rivers and Roy White in giving this “new-look” Yankees team three players with 30 or more SB. Amazingly, Randolph didn’t get any ROY consideration. 22 of the 24 votes went to Mark “the Bird” Fidyrich, and the other two went to future Yankee C and Randolph teammate Butch Wynegar. No votes went to Randolph.

It’s funny how things work out and who lasts (Randolph, regular Yankees 2B from 1976-1988), and who doesn’t (Fidyrich, Wynegar, Stennett).

Randolph had a tough 1976 postseason, going just 2 for 17 in the ALCS vs. KC and just 1 for 14 in the WS vs. the Reds.

Randolph was named an All-Star again in 1977 when the Yanks won their first WS in fifteen years. His SB total dropped to 13, but he hit .274-4-40 with an OPS+ of 101. He was 5 for 18 with 2 RBI in the ALCS, but that second RBI was a big one. It was a SF that was the GW RBI in Game 5—when the Yanks, down 3-2 entering the top of the 9th, rallied for 3 runs to win the pennant.

Randolph was just 4 for 25 in the WS, 1RBI. The RBI was on a Game 1 HR. Down 2-1 in the sixth, Randolph’s HR tied the game. In the bottom of the 12th, he led off the inning with a double and later scored the winning run on a single by Paul Blair.

Randolph finished 29th in the voting for the 1978 MVP (won by Jim Rice with Guidry 2nd). He missed the postseason however, after injuring his hamstring in the final week of the season (thus opening the door to Brian Doyle’s WS heroics).  He had hit .279-3-42 for the season, an OPS+ of 112, and 36 SB.

1979 saw a lot of Yankees falter. Gossage missed half the season with an injury, and that, along with the death of Thurman Munson, made 1979 a lost year for the Yanks. Randolph was one of the few bright spots in that season, hitting .270 with 5 HR, 61 RBI and 33 SB. OPS+ 104.

In 1980, Randolph had one of the best seasons of his career. Rivers was gone, and Willie was elevated into the leadoff spot. He responded by hitting .294-7-46 with 30 SB. He walked a MLB leading 119 times, finished 15th in the MVP balloting, was an All-Star, and won the Silver Slugger. His OPS+ was 133. He had a good ALCS against the Royals, going 5 for 13 with an RBI, but he figured in a play that probably turned the series in KC’s favor. In Game Two, he was on first base with two out in the top of the 8th. The Yanks were trailing 3-2 and had already lost Game One. Randolph tried to score on Bob Watson’s double down the left field line. The Royals nailed Randolph at the plate, 7-5-2, and prevented the tying run from scoring. The Royals held on to win the game, and eventually got the sweep in Game Three when George Brett took Gossage deep.

Willie had a poor 1981. Maybe the strike and the interruption made Willie lose his groove. He hit just .232-2-24 with 14 SB. His OPS+ dropped to 88. He did make the All-Star team. He then had a postseason in which he showed uncharacteristic power. Unlike his predecessors Lazzeri and Gordon, Randolph didn’t have the power that they had. He was just 4 for 20 with an RBI in the 1981 strike mandated ALDS, but hit a HR in the ALCS. He was 4 for 12 in that ALCS, the HR, 2 RBI. The HR broke up a scoreless duel in the 6th inning of Game 3. The Yanks went on to a 4-0 win and a sweep of the A’s. Randolph was just 4 for 18 in the WS loss to the Dodgers but had a double, triple, 2 HR and 3 RBI.

Randolph’s numbers stayed pretty much consistent throughout the 1980’s. You knew he’d hit around .275, be steady, and play good defense. His SB total dropped into the 15 range however, as he wasn’t stealing 30 anymore.

1982 saw .280-3-36 with 16 SB, OPS+ 101.

1983: .279-2-38, 12 SB, OPS+ 100. He missed 50 games with an injury

1984: .287-2-31, 10 SB,  OPS+ 107.

1985: .276-5-40, 16 SB, OPS+ 106

1986: .276-5-50, 15 SB, OPS+ 105.

I don’t know how you can be more consistent than that. His average for those years was .280-3-39 and 14 SB, OPS+ 104.

In 1987, Randolph had one of his best seasons, along with 1980. He hit .305-7-67, OPS+ 121 and made it back to the All-Star team. He had 11 SB.

1988, however, saw Willie slump, and it was the end of his time with the Yankees. He hit just .230, with 2 HR and 34 RBI. He had 8 SB and his OPS+ was a miserable 77. After the season, the Yanks signed Steve Sax as a free agent. In what just about amounted to a “trade,” Randolph, a free agent in his own right, signed with the Dodgers.

Willie rebounded to his normal self in 1989, hitting .282-2-36, OPS+ 101, and he made his sixth and final All-Star Team.

Early in 1990’s season, Willie was dealt from the Dodgers to the A’s. He hit a combined .260-2-30 with 7 SB in 1990, and made it back to the postseason with Oakland. His OPS+ was just an 89, and Willie was 36. It was starting to be evident that he was slowing down.

He was 3 for 8 in the ALCS vs. Boston, and drove in 3 runs. In the WS, Randolph was 4 for 15.

He ended his postseason career .222-4-14 in 47 games. He played for five pennant winners, played in four WS (missing 1978 with the injury) and played on two world championship teams.

He had one final great season in 1991 for the Brewers, hitting .327, third in the league. His OPS+ was 126 as he had 0 HR, 54 RBI.

Randolph came “home” to NY with the Mets for his final season of 1992, in which he hit .252-2-15, OPS+ 93.

He then retired at the age of 38. He hit a solid .276 in his career, OPS+ 104. He racked up over 2200 hits.

His 162 g. average was .272-4-51 with 20 SB.

The second baseman played only one game elsewhere in his career: one game at 3B for the 1975 Pirates.

It’s just as well. Willie made three errors in that game. 9-28-75. The Pirates made seven errors in that game (Willie 3, Candelaria 2, Stennett 2).

Randolph was on one HOF ballot. He got 1.1% of the vote in 1998 then was dropped.

After retirement, Willie rejoined the Yanks as a coach.

In 2005, Randolph became the first black manager of a NY based team, and he led the Mets to an 83-79 record, good for 3rd in the NL East.

He just missed getting to the WS in 2006, as the Mets won 97 regular season games, took the NL East, then lost Game Seven of the NLCS.

In 2007, Randolph’s Mets collapsed. Up 7 with 17 to go, they went 5-12 and finished second in the NL East. They didn’t even get the WC, going 88-74.

In 2008, the Mets fired Randolph after a 34-35 start. He spent 2009 and 2010 as a coach for the Brewers, and 2011 as a coach for the Orioles, where he is today.

Randolph’s managerial record was 302-253, .544.

For three years, Randolph was co-captain of the Yankees with Ron Guidry. It’s not out of the question that Randolph, 58 next July, may manage again, and who knows, maybe he one day he may be Joe Girardi’s successor for the Yankees.

Along with Mel Stottlemyre and Eddie Lopat, Willie is best remembered for wearing #30, although he did wear #25 very briefly when first coming to the Yanks.

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