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Baseball history unpacked, March 28

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Randle’s greatest hits, Sidd Finch, returning the All-Star Game to the fans, and more

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Christie's To Auction Memorabilia From Golden Age Of Baseball
The Golden Age
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Fields in the stream. Last issue we noted that and concentrated on 1984, when Dallas Green began building a Division Champion by trading for Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier, who were both Top 20 MVP candidates that year.

Today we examine the story of Lenny Randle snapping in spring training, look at the curious case of Sidd Finch, remember the 27-man roster, and return the All-Star Game to the fans.

Today in baseball history:

  • 1970 - Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announces the return of the All-Star selection to the fans. The over-exposure of the Mid-summer Classic, two games each season between 1959-1962, and the lack of fan input prompt the MLB Promotion Corporation to modernize the marketing of the game by restoring fan balloting for the starting eight position players. (1)
  • 1977 - Upset about losing his second base job to Bump Wills, Ranger Lenny Randle attacks and fractures the cheekbone of his manager Frank Lucchesi. The Ranger skipper may have triggered the episode, which occurred just before the team’s exhibition game against Minnesota, by once-again calling the usually even-tempered infielder a punk. (1)

There are some differing interpretations of this. It looks like Randle brooded over some comments by Frank Lucchesi for a couple of days, and then let him have it. And I mean have it.

The backstory is like this: Randle felt that he wasn’t getting equal playing time in a battle for the Rangers’ second base job, and that Lucchesi was favoring phenom Bump Wills, Maury’s son, to the degree that Randle went around calling himself “The Phantom Ranger,” and packed his bags on one occasion. Toby Harrah being at third sent Randle to the bench. Though Lucchesi called him “the hardest-working player in camp,” he also said “I’m sick of punks making $80,000 a year moaning and groaning about their situation.”

The situation seemed to blow over when Randle made no outward negative comments. Or at least comments that were understood to be negative. He did ‘make jokes’ about being called a ‘punk.’

A few days later, during or shortly after a conversation with Lucchesi, Randle attacked the manager, leaving him with fractures to his cheekbone, a concussion, two broken ribs, and an injured back.

Teammates had to rescue Lucchesi. Ken Henderson wanted to fight Randle. “No way I’m going to play on the same field with him again,” said Henderson.

Bert Blyleven reported that Randle had asked him what the consequences might be if he physically hit someone, before the assault took place. That made things seem premeditated.

Apologies weren’t accepted. “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.”

Randle ended up with the Mets, for whom he had one good year and one mediocre one, leading to a few years of shuttling between cities and leagues until Randle ended up with the Cubs, where he played decently but without the power expected of a third baseman.

He signed as a free agent with Seattle, leading to his apotheosis:

“While Randle is still remembered for the controversy of 1977, his conflict with Lucchesi did come to a peaceful ending. A little more than a year after the attack, the two men shook hands, having reached what they called an amicable out-of-court settlement. Randle later participated in a clinic with Lucchesi. “We did a clinic around that [the incident] and I talked about it and channeling your anger,” Randle told USA Today Baseball Weekly in 1997. “I played a softball game and [Lucchesi] was there. I hit a triple, slid, and got up and gave Frank a hug.” Lucchesi, for his part, has never completely forgiven Randle, but has resisted the temptation to publicly dwell on the conflict.” (4)

Thomas Boswell had a nice article about the incident {$}, and his account has additional information, for instance saying that Randle’s teammates nicknamed him “punk,” and that Randle had once said “I may have to start throwing punches,” about his playing time issues.

It all has a whiff of some kind of impropriety beyond what’s been reported, but nothing like that has surfaced. Randle runs baseball camps and manages the Italian team he ended up playing for, and doesn’t talk much about that incident. Can’t imagine why.

  • 1978 - By releasing the aging superstar, the A’s end the 15-year career of Dick Allen. The Wampum, Pennsylvania native finishes his stormy relationship with major league baseball with 351 HRs, 1,192 RBIs, and a .292 batting average. (1)
  • 1981 - The White Sox trade southpaw Ken Kravec to the Cubs for Dennis Lamp, who will post a 25-21 (.543) record during his three seasons with the South Side club.

Ugh. Lamp ended up becoming a serviceable starter for the White Sox and the Blue Jays and Ken Kravec ended up being released after two years with the Cubs, where he attracted little notice and fewer innings. I remember him as giving up strings of base hits. Can’t say whether or not that’s apochryphal.

  • 1985 - Sports Illustrated’s April 1st edition tricks the nation when author George Plimpton weaves a fictitious tale of Sidd Finch, a Mets rookie phenom who throws a 168 mph fastball. Staged photographs and quotes from Mets in real life help to give the story a realistic edge. (1)

The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch,” by George Plimpton.

Thanks for reading. Where to get my books.