Saturday, June 20, 2015
Today, in addition to it being Old Timers Day at the Stadium, there will be a dedication ceremony in Monument Park for one of my all-time favorite Yankees – Willie Randolph.
(In Photo: Horace Clarke)
Ironically, the Yankees of my “formative years” were the ones that marked the beginning of the Steinbrenner era. The earliest teams I remember rooting for had players like Ron Blomberg, Horace Clarke, Celerino Sanchez, and Jim Mason littering the lineup. While the 1972 through 1975 teams only had a losing record once, they never reached the post-season, and I can remember my frustration as I witnessed them limping through season after season.
At the time, I most identified with the second basemen. It was the position I played in Little League, and then High School / Babe Ruth. I’d watch their positioning in the field and how they handled double-play turns, and then attempt to duplicate it in the fields where I played. Unfortunately for me, even though I was a good “glove man” like the players I watched, I also hit like they did. Clarke (.257 with 27 HR in 10 seasons with Yankees) and Sandy Alomar (.248 in 3 seasons in the Bronx) were mediocre batsmen at best, and they both manned second in the “lean years” of the early 70’s.
It’s no coincidence that when Willie Randolph came along, the organization’s fortunes changed. From the moment I saw him play for my favorite team, I knew he was a ball player I could identify with.
Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin thrived in. From 1976 through 1988 Willie was the Yankees’ rock at second base, hitting .275, stealing 251 bases (75% success rate), and scoring 1027 runs while playing solidly in the field (.980 fld pct).
During that time, the team had a losing record just once, and from ’76 through ’81 appeared in three World Series (winning 2 – in 1977 and ’78). As a 5-time All-star with the Yankees, he projected class on a team known then as “The Bronx Zoo”.
He would go on to try his hand at managing with the New York Mets, and in a little less than 4 seasons compiled 302 wins and a .544 winning percentage (winning the NL East and losing the NLCS to the Cardinals 4 – 3 in 2006). Simply put, Willie Randolph is a winner and someone kids everywhere should emulate.
Some may question why he is getting a plaque on Saturday, but those of us who rooted for the Yankees and watched them play in the mid-1970’s know what Randolph meant to the team. With the turmoil generated by, and the volatility of Reggie, Billy, Goose, Cliff Johnson, and George Steinbrenner, Willie Randolph provided the calming balance and steady play the team needed to survive.
He never drove in – or scored - 100 runs, never hit more than 7 home runs, and only once led the league in a category (119 walks in 1980), but Willie represented the best of the Yankees team that won back-to-back World Championships in 1977 and ’78. He deserves his spot with other teammates from that era (Munson, Jackson) on the cherished wall in Monument Park.
Congrats Willie, you have earned all that you receive on Saturday.
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--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
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