View Full Version : Cooperstown Confidential--October 9, 2005 (Part 1)
10-09-2005, 11:24 PM
At least a few members of the Pirates’ organization breathed a sigh of relief when Jim Leyland decided to take the job as the new field manager of the Tigers. Despite his success in Pittsburgh during the early nineties, Leyland was not the most popular member of the franchise with fellow employees. According to a reliable Pittsburgh source, bringing Leyland back to the Pirates would have been a “huge mistake,” in large part because of his lack of patience—a real drawback during his days in Pittsburgh. Some members of the organization feel that he’ll quit on a team as soon as the stars leave town, based on his early departures from managerial positions in Pittsburgh and Florida. If the Tigers don’t show immediate improvement in 2006, don’t be surprised to see Leyland lose interest very quickly…
With Leyland out of the Pittsburgh picture, former A’s manager Ken Macha becomes the favorite to take the job in the Steel City. Macha has roots in Pittsburgh as a player and is well liked by those who know him from his days in at Three Rivers. While Macha has taken criticism for some of his strategic moves as manager of the A’s, his players have shown respect for him by playing hard and sustaining their work ethic throughout the season. And that’s more than a passing consideration in an age when the security of long-term contracts makes it difficult for some managers to keep players sufficiently motivated…
The most interesting managerial maneuver of the offseason will probably involve Lou Piniella, who has many jobs to choose from but few that have much glamour and appeal. The most desirable vacancies are in Florida and Los Angeles; the Marlins can offer a talented nucleus of players along with an ideal geographic location for the Florida-based Piniella, while the Dodgers can provide a major market and a franchise with storied tradition. Yet, there are obstacles with both teams. In Los Angeles, youthful and Sabermetrically minded GM Paul DePodesta is likely to be turned off by Piniella’s old school nature and strong will. In Florida, the underachieving Marlins are facing a possible exodus of free agent talent, including ace right-hander A.J. Burnett, closer Todd Jones, and right fielder Juan Encarnacion. Plus, there are also those incessant rain delays, which were never a factor under the domed roof at Tropicana Field, but would likely make Sweet Lou’s blood boil… Unless the Yankees part ways with Joe Torre or the Cubs do the same with Dusty Baker, Piniella might sit out the beginning of the 2006 season until a more ideal job becomes available to him. The Mets and Red Sox jobs could open up if those teams endure slow starts next spring.
10-09-2005, 11:26 PM
Lenny Randle looks angry as he takes a swing during this action shot from the 1975 Topps set. He would become much angrier two seasons later, when a loss of temper made him one of the worst baseball villains of a tumultuous decade.
In March of 1977, the Texas Rangers’ infielder reported to spring training—rather unhappily. The team’s starting second baseman the previous summer, Randle was upset by off-season speculation that had rookie Bump Wills taking his job. Manager Frank Lucchesi assured Randle that no decision had been made; he and Wills would both be allowed to compete for the second base job.
During the early weeks of spring training, Lucchesi played Wills about twice as often as Randle. The handwriting appeared clear to Randle, who thought Wills was receiving preferential treatment in the battle for playing time. Although Lucchesi praised Randle as the “hardest worker we have in camp,” the manager shortly thereafter announced that Wills had won the job. As the Rangers prepared to play a spring training game on March 24, Randle rushed into the Texas clubhouse and packed up two duffel bags worth of clothes. Randle explained to reporters that he had decided to leave the team.
Randle thought better of his threat to leave—but only after talking to two of his teammates. First baseman Mike Hargrove and star pitcher Gaylord Perry advised Randle to stay in camp and try to work out the problem. When Lucchesi learned that Randle had come close to leaving the Rangers, he expressed regrets that Hargrove and Perry had talked him out of the decision.
“I wish they’d have let him go,” said Lucchesi. “If he thinks I’m going to beg him to stay on this team, he’s wrong. I’m sick of punks [who are] making $80,000 a year moaning and groaning about their situation.”
In the context of 21st century baseball, a salary of $80,000 for a professional athlete might sound like a mere pittance. In 1977, however, it was good money, especially for a player coming off a .224 season at the plate. Yet, it really wasn’t the reference to Randle’s salary that created a stir. It was Lucchesi’s choice of the word “punks.”
The Texas media made big play out of Lucchesi’s characterization of Randle as a punk. A few writers believed the word “punks” carried certain racial implications, especially when coming from a white manager (or supervisor) in describing a black player (or underling). Although Lucchesi offered no apology to Randle, he reportedly confided to coaches and team officials that he regretted using the word “punks.” Randle, however, showed little immediate anger over the remark. In fact, he repeatedly joked with teammates about being a “punk.”
Three days later, Randle found himself chatting calmly with his manager on the field prior to an exhibition game in Orlando, Florida. Most of the players went about their usual pre-game business, their backs turned away from Randle and Lucchesi. Without warning, the 28-year-old Randle suddenly cocked his first and struck the 50-year-old Lucchesi in the side of the face. Lucchesi fell to the ground, landing on his backside. Randle hit him two more times, putting Lucchesi on his back. Randle then continued to throw punches at Lucchesi, who was left bleeding on the stadium grass.
By now, a number of Rangers players had noticed the altercation. Several Rangers ran toward Lucchesi and Randle, with veteran infielders Bert “Campy” Campaneris and Jim Fregosi leading the charge. Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive in time to prevent major damage to Lucchesi’s face, chest, and back.
Lucchesi suffered three fractures to his cheekbone, a concussion, two broken ribs, and an injured back. As plastic surgeons prepared to repair the bones in Lucchesi’s face, Rangers management dealt swiftly with Randle. General manager Dan O’Brien suspended the switch-hitting infielder for 30 days without pay.
Unlike some troublemaking athletes who repeatedly find themselves buried in controversy, Randle had accumulated a spotless record during his major league career with the Rangers and Washington Senators. Well-educated and well-liked, Randle had always played hard for his managers and enjoyed solid relationships with his teammates. So why had a good citizen like Randle suddenly turned bad, assaulting Lucchesi during a conversation that had seemed so amicable at the beginning?
There were other questions, too. Was Randle’s action premeditated? Randle said no, claiming that when he heard the word “punks,” it prompted a “spontaneous” response. The next day, the comments of teammate and pitcher Bert Blyleven called the matter into further question. Blyleven informed a reporter that Randle had asked him what the consequences might be if he physically hit someone. Blyleven claimed that Randle had asked him the question before his assault on Lucchesi.
After initially asking for a grievance hearing before an arbitration board, Randle called off the hearing, saying that he would accept the 30-day suspension—and the accompanying $23,000 loss in salary and fines. As a result, the Players’ Association did not become involved in the matter.
Randle then tried to apologize to Lucchesi, who had spent five days in the hospital because of his injuries, but the manager would have none of it. “Randle is on the hot seat,” Lucchesi said. “I’m not going to let him off. He could stand on the Golden Gate Bridge with the fog rolling in and I wouldn’t accept his apology.
Clearly, Randle’s violent attack against Lucchesi had sealed the infielder’s fate in Texas. On April 27, only days before Randle’s suspension was scheduled to end, the Rangers announced that they had traded the switch-hitter to the New York Mets, who were desperate for a third baseman.
The matter didn’t end there. Lucchesi claimed that the attack left him with pain that recurred for several months. Lucchesi filed a civil law suit against Randle.
Fortunately, the story came to a peaceful ending. Over a year later, the two men shook hands, having reached what they called an amicable out-of-court settlement. Randle later played in a celebrity softball game that was attended by Lucchesi. “I hit a triple, slid, and got up and gave Frank a hug,” said Randle.
In the years after his major league career came to an end, Randle has lived a seemingly exemplary life that contradicts his violent actions of the spring of 1977. He now conducts baseball clinics for children and serves as a motivational speaker. He seems to bear little resemblance to the man who was once considered a pariah to baseball.
10-09-2005, 11:29 PM
Mario Encarnacion (Died on October 3 in Taiwan; age 30; cause of death unknown): At one time a top prospect in the Oakland A’s’ organization, Encarnacion was playing for the Macoto Cobras of the Chinese Professional Baseball League at the time of his death. After failing to show for a team gathering outside of the Cobras’ dormitory, his teammates discovered his body in his dorm room. Encarnacion played briefly in the major leagues, appearing for the Colorado Rockies and the Chicago Cubs during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
Pat Kelly (Died on October 2 in Chambersburg Pennsylvania; age 61; heart attack): A veteran of 15 major league seasons as an outfielder, Kelly gained as much notoriety for his relationship to football star and NFL Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly—his brother—and for his post-playing career as an ordained minister. The speedy outfielder, who stole 250 bases over his career, made his major league debut in 1967 with the Minnesota Twins, the first of five big league stops. Later drafted by the expansion Kansas City Royals, Kelly played for the franchise’s inaugural team in 1969. A patient hitter and accomplished baserunner, he enjoyed his most productive seasons with the Chicago White Sox, a tenure that included his lone All-Star Game berth in 1973. After the 1976 season, the White Sox traded Kelly to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Dave Duncan. Three years later, he made his lone World Series appearance as a member of the pennant-winning Orioles. Kelly completed his major league career with the Cleveland Indians in 1981.
Commentary: After reading some of the comments from astute writers and posters at Baseball Primer, I’ve picked up a better appreciation for Pat Kelly. He was a better player than I originally thought—a patient hitter with speed and a role player capable of helping a pennant-contending ballclub.
Here are a few other thoughts about Kelly:
*He was voted the “best athlete in Philadelphia” in 1962. In addition to being a standout baseball player, he was an excellent scholastic football player.
*Kelly liked to choke up on the bat a few inches, as did many players from that era. Another White Sox outfielder of that era, Carlos May, also choked up on the bat. Not nearly as many players seem to choke up today. I wonder if that’s partially responsible for the high strikeout totals by some of today’s hitters. As for Kelly, he struck out over 100 times only once in his long career.
*In most of the photos and baseball card images I’ve seen of Kelly, he seemed to be smiling—and not the kind of forced smile you often see in staged photographs. Though I never met Kelly, the comments of those who played with and against him indicate that he was a thorough gentleman and a nice man who helped out lots of people in his “second” career as a minister.
Frank Smith (Died on September 24 in Malone, Florida; age 77): Primarily a relief pitcher, Smith pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals during the 1950s. The durable right-hander made at least 50 appearances in each of four seasons for the Reds, with his best season coming in 1952, when he won 12 games and posted seven saves. After the 1954 season, the Reds traded him to the Cardinals for third baseman Ray Jablonski and pitcher Gerry Staley. He played only one year for the Cards, returning to the Reds in a trade prior to the 1956 season. For his career, Smith forged a record of 35-33 and saved a total of 44 games.
Monty Basgall (Died on September 22 in Tucson, Arizona; age 83): A longtime coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Basgall was best known for his work as the team’s infield coach from 1973 to 1986. During that span, Basgall oversaw a Dodger infield that included mainstays Steve Garvey at first base, Davey Lopes at second, Bill Russell at shortstop, and Ron Cey at third base. Basgall previously played in the major leagues, appearing mostly as a second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates after originally signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Mike “Slugs” Ulisney (Died on September 22 in New Smyrna Beach, Florida; age 87):
Ulisney played only briefly in the major leagues, but made the most of his opportunity, batting .389 with one home run and four RBIs in 18 at-bats. After playing in 11 games for the Boston Braves in 1945, Ulisney never again appeared in a major league game.
Joe Bauman (Died on September 20 in Roswell, New Mexico; age 83; pneumonia): Although he never played a game in the major leagues, Bauman became a household name to diehard fans because of his legendary minor league exploits, which included a career total of 337 home runs. In 1954, Bauman set a professional baseball record by clubbing 72 home runs, a mark that stood until Barry Bonds’ historic season of 73 home runs in 2001. Bauman’s power display for the Roswell Rockets of the Class-C Longhorn League overshadowed another impressive statistic—a .400 batting average for the season. Despite his awe-inspiring numbers, most major league scouts did not consider the 32-year-old Bauman a legitimate prospect. The following season, Bauman again posted lofty numbers (including 46 home runs), but drew no interest from major league teams.
Commentary: Unfortunately, Bauman played in the wrong era—and under the wrong rules. In an age of only 16 major league teams but scores of minor league franchises, Bauman found himself buried in Class-C ball, all the while facing the obstacle of limited job opportunity; it’s a problem that no longer exists in the era of 30 ballclubs, the product of five rounds of expansion. Just as importantly, the designated hitter rule had not yet been adopted, coming nearly 20 years too late for Bauman. Instead of focusing on Bauman’s power and all-round hitting ability, scouts dwelled on his defensive shortcomings and lack of footspeed. If the DH had become an option for American League teams by the 1950s, Bauman’s appeal might have broadened for some major league scouts.
Marv Grissom (Died on September 19 in Red Bluff, California; age 87; lengthy illness): A one-time All-Star, Grissom was a journeyman pitcher who toiled for the New York and San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals during a career that bridged the 1940s and fifties and included a long stint in the Army during World War II. His best season occurred in 1954, when he notched a career-high 19 saves and won 10 of 17 decisions for the Giants, earning a berth in the All-Star Game. Grissom also appeared in the ’54 World Series, picking up a win in relief. After his playing days, Grissom made a smooth transition to the dugout, working as a coach for the Los Angel Angels, Minnesota Twins, and both Chicago franchises. Grissom was the first pitching coach in the history of the Angels’ franchise, serving under the direction of manager Bill Rigney.
Bruce Markusen serves as an advisor and consultant to museums that feature exhibits about baseball and other sports. To contact him about exhibit consultation, send an e-mail to email@example.com. He is also the author of Tales From The Mets Dugout, currently available from Sports Publishing.
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