April 2007

Swapping Stories: The Lenny Randle Trade of 1977

April 26, 1977: Texas trades second baseman Lenny Randle to the New York Mets for a player to be named later (Rick Auerbach) and cash.

He was described as an exceedingly intelligent ballplayer, soft-spoken, introspective, and popular with his teammates. He was fluent in three languages, didn’t drink alcohol, and was working toward a master’s degree in special education.

But none of those bullet points survived what was unquestionably the ugliest ten seconds in Rangers franchise history, a vicious instant on March 28, 1977 that defined Lenny Randle’s legacy as a Texas Ranger and a professional athlete, and led to a trade for an inferior player who would never wear a Rangers uniform.

Randle was a two-sport star at Arizona State, the second baseman on the 1969 NCAA championship baseball team and a return specialist whose five punt returns for touchdowns stood as a Western Athletic Conference record for 35 years. He was the first-round pick of the Washington Senators in the secondary phase of the June 1970 draft, 10th overall, and was in the big leagues the following year.

With a game predicated on speed, the ability to handle the bat, and solid glovework all over the field, Randle had settled in as the Rangers’ starting second baseman in 1976 after splitting the 1975 season between second base, center field, and third base. But he hit only .224/.286/.273 in 1976, a significant dropoff from the season before.

Meanwhile, in those two seasons, a second baseman named Elliott “Bump” Wills, the son of the legendary Maury Wills, had hit .307 for Class AA Pittsfield and .324 for Class AAA Sacramento, after the Rangers had drafted him in the first round in 1975 — also out of Arizona State. Texas was ready to usher in the Bump Wills era in 1977, essentially anointing him as the starter going into camp.

Randle threatened to walk out of camp. Generally easygoing manager Frank Lucchesi was incensed. “It’s just too **** bad somebody stopped him from leaving,” he told a group of reporters. “I’m tired of these punks saying play me or trade me. Anyone who makes $80,000 a year and gripes and moans all spring is not going to get a tear out of me.”

Lucchesi insisted that the writers print what he said. They complied.

Randle was already upset about losing his job to an unproven rookie. Being called out like that by his skipper was more than he could take.

On March 28, 1977 — the day that the new issue of Sports Illustrated featured Wills on the cover — Texas had traveled to Orlando for a spring training game against the Twins. An hour before the first pitch, Randle walked up to Lucchesi during Rangers batting practice and said he wanted to talk to the 49-year-old, who was still in street clothes. After a few words were exchanged, Randle punched Lucchesi in the face, landing several more blows as the manager fell to the ground.

Randle broke Lucchesi’s cheekbone in three places. Some teammates rushed to Lucchesi’s aid. Others had to restrain outfielder Ken Henderson from going after Randle, who calmly jogged out to center field to run wind sprints and shag flies.

Teammates knew Randle to be hard-nosed on the field, but this was completely out of character for the well-liked infielder. Longtime Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jim Reeves, covering his first spring training on the Rangers beat, agreed. “Randle wasn’t a bad guy. He was quiet, composed, literate, and well spoken. He just flipped for some reason, ruining his career and probably Lucchesi’s, too.”

Lucchesi was hospitalized for a week, needing plastic surgery to repair his fractured cheekbone and recovering from bruises to his kidney and back. He was back with the team just in time for the season opener.

But Randle wasn’t. The Rangers suspended him for 30 days without pay and fined him $10,000. On April 26, before the suspension was complete, Texas traded him to the New York Mets for a player to be named later and cash. Four days after that, he appeared for the Mets as a defensive replacement in left field. The next day he started at second base, contributing two singles, a triple, and a stolen base. He was on his way to his best season, setting career marks in batting average (.304), on-base percentage (.383), slugging percentage (.404), home runs (five), and stolen bases (33).

On May 20, the Mets sent Texas 27-year-old infielder Rick Auerbach, a lifetime .219 hitter in parts of six big league seasons, to complete the trade. He never suited up for the Rangers. Less than four weeks later, Texas sold Auerbach to Cincinnati, his fourth organization in just over four months.

Texas put together a 94-win season in 1977, setting a franchise mark for wins that would stand until 1999. But neither Randle nor Lucchesi would be around for it. Randle started the season on suspension and was traded before ever suiting up. Lucchesi was fired on June 22, 1977, with the Rangers sitting at 31-31.

Randle would plead no contest to battery charges in a Florida court, getting slapped with a $1,050 fine. Lucchesi filed a civil suit against Randle, seeking a reported $200,000 in damages but settling out of court for $25,000 — which was probably less than his hospital bill, based on published reports.

The Mets got three seasons out of Randle, who then spent a few months in the minor leagues with San Francisco and Pittsburgh, one season with the Yankees, one with the Cubs, and two with Seattle before starring in Italy.

Lucchesi, who says he does not remember the attack, told a reporter from his hospital bed that same day, “My only wish is that I was ten years younger so I could have handled the situation myself.”

But if Lucchesi were in fact young enough to have escalated the fight, or even put a quick end to it, it would not have prevented it from being among the worst episodes in Rangers history, days before the club would embark on one of its greatest seasons ever, a season that would end with neither Lucchesi nor Randle around to enjoy it.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 25, 2007

I don’t know how this one’s going to end, and at 7-5 it’s a lot more interesting than it was at 6-0, but I just witnessed what might have been the most exciting 10 minutes of the season. Frankie Francisco was one poorly executed 0-2 pitch away from getting out of an inherited bases-loaded, no-outs situation with pure, electric, unadulterated filth. Even with a fastball (sorry, Victor and Josh: a “fast-piece”) that nasty, he’ll learn not to groove it on 0-2 and instead bury one in the dirt, and next time he gets out of that same situation unscathed.

You can teach situational technique. You can’t teach what Frankie just brought with him to the hill.

Thirteen pitches, twelve strikes, some comically pathetic Cleveland swings.

That wasn’t fair.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 24, 2007

As much as Texas has benefited from injuries to Felix Hernandez, Rich Harden, and Bartolo Colon and the scheduling that allowed them to sidestep Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Dan Haren, the overthinker in me wonders if some Rangers hitters have put added pressure on themselves to capitalize on what is arguably good fortune and get off to an extra-good start, seeking the equivalent of a bunch of five-run homers.

Actually, it’s not just the overthinker in me. It’s the part of me that craves answers. The Rangers are hitting .230/.302/.385, and while the lineup has issues, it’s simply not as bad as that line.

On top of that, it’s April, the month of the season — along with September but with far less justification — in which I let every win and every loss and every development seem so much more important. (If my April emotional swings irritate you, you might as well unsubscribe the day we next clinch a playoff spot.)

And maybe that’s the answer right there. Maybe I’m not the only one building April up more than I should. Maybe half a dozen guys in the Texas lineup, along with Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield and Paul Konerko and Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado and Lance Berkman and Andruw Jones and Frank Thomas and Mike Cameron and Jermaine Dye and Adam LaRoche, who seemingly have produced less collectively than Alex Rodriguez so far, have been trying too hard to get out of the gate quickly and win for a new manager and capitalize on what would seem to be a run of really good pitching matchups, and the result has been an epidemic slump.

Or not. I’m just grasping at this point.

By the way, Michael Young busts out today. The lifetime .306/.327/.551 hitter against Jarrod Washburn (three homers in 49 at-bats) detonates the floodgates this afternoon.

Update on Cha Seung Clemens’s career: The righthander fell to 3-0, 2.08 in four starts against Texas with last night’s no-decision. Against everyone else: 3-5, 6.39 in eight starts and two relief appearances.

Scott Lucas points out that Gerald Laird is hitless in seven at-bats against lefthanders this year, after tuning southpaws up at a rate of .355/.384/.520 in 2006.

Of course, if you were to give Laird four hits in those trips against lefties to square up with last year’s production, he’s still just a .176 hitter.

Ichiro Suzuki is a lifetime .358/.399/.468 hitter against lefthanders. C.J. Wilson is the only one of five southpaws he’s faced this year against whom he doesn’t have a hit. That was some nastiness Wilson dished up last night.

Seattle rookie reliever Brandon Morrow is impressive.

Brad Wilkerson will evidently return to the lineup today, after missing the last five games with soreness in his left knee.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Ron Washington uses Frankie Francisco in the early going. As freaky-dominant as he’s been this month in AAA — 14 strikeouts in six hitless innings — he not only has yet to pitch on consecutive days, but hasn’t even taken the ball yet on one day of rest.

Expect lefthander Bruce Chen to be traded in the next few days, probably for a prospect. But don’t expect a blue-chipper.

The Yankees would seem to be a candidate for a conversation there. Starters Jeff Karstens, Chase Wright, and Kei Igawa got spanked the last three games, and phehom Philip Hughes is about to be rushed, slated to get his big league debut on Thursday. Maybe New York would consider giving Chen an 11th big league address.

Chen has reportedly agreed to accept an outright assignment to Oklahoma, but Texas wouldn’t have that opportunity unless Chen clears waivers, which is unlikely.

According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, when Texas signed Sammy Sosa, the decision had come down to Sosa or Craig Wilson, who has done nothing in 37 trips for Atlanta. I’m a Wilson fan and under different circumstances would have applauded that addition, but he’s pretty much limited to first base defensively. If the club was going to add a player this winter that would be counted on only to DH from the right side, then unless that player was going be Thomas or Mike Piazza — both of whom Texas reportedly pursued — then that’s a job Jason Botts deserved a shot at. As it stands, one of the pleasant surprises this month has been Sosa’s agility in right field in the limited opportunities he’s had defensively.

This is not good news. Bakersfield catcher Taylor Teagarden has been placed on the disabled list after experiencing soreness in his right elbow, which he had Tommy John surgery on a year and a half ago. Teagarden, a defensively advanced catcher, was off to a spectacular .324/.511/.588 start at the plate.

Blaze righthander Edinson Volquez was exponentially better in his third start (six shutout innings, two hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) than he was in his first two (14 runs on 10 hits and eight walks in eight frames, eight strikeouts), and somewhere in between last night, allowing just one hit in five-plus innings and coaxing eight groundouts with just three flyouts, but permitting three runs as he issued five walks and uncorked two wild pitches while fanning four.

And he was ejected. According to the Modesto Bee, Volquez began arguing with the home plate umpire about the strike zone in the second inning and finally got tossed on his way back to the dugout after a scoreless fifth in which he issued his walk number five sandwiched between a groundout, a foul pop, and another groundout.

If there was any wiggle room in the organization’s plan to promote Volquez out of Class A after one more start, you’ve got to think he didn’t do himself any favors with how he handled himself last night.

The Rangers released Bakersfield lefthander Keith Ramsey, whom they’d signed in March out of the independent leagues. Blaze lefthander Patrick Donovan, last June’s 50th-round pick, retired.

Frisco outfielder Todd Donovan was knocked unconscious when he ran into the wall chasing a fly ball on Sunday, requiring helicopter transport to Baylor University Medical Center. He was discharged yesterday, diagnosed with a concussion but no broken bones. Donovan has swelling in an eye and it’s unknown for now whether there will be any long-term effects on his vision. Scary stuff.

Kansas City third baseman Esteban German — whom Texas turned into Fabio Castro and then Daniel Haigwood and then Scott Shoemaker — busted up Mark Buehrle’s bid for a second straight no-hitter last night when he doubled with two outs in the second inning.

I don’t know who came up with this new fad of calling a slider a “slide-piece,” but I’ve had all I can take.

Remember when Baseball America accurately pegged the first 18 picks of the 2005 draft, only to have Texas ruin BA’s mock first round by taking Stanford’s John Mayberry Jr. at number 19? The publication had predicted that the Rangers would select Arizona State outfielder Travis Buck, who instead fell to Oakland at number 36. While I’m still optimistic that Mayberry is going to turn out to be a solid pick, the fact is he’s hitting .208/.260/.389 in High A right now, while Buck sits at .244/.414/.489 in the major leagues. Granted, Buck is not a very good defender and Mayberry has the chance to be an above-average right fielder, but that’s not why the Rangers made Mayberry their pick.

Good stuff from Clinton righthander Omar Poveda last night. Check Scott Lucas’s farm report this morning.

I want Ben Shpigel or Kat O’Brien to ask Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz if A-Rod was this dominant when the two were teammates at Miami Westminster Christian High. Bet not.

Kansas City designated righthander Jason Standridge for assignment. Cincinnati did the same with infielder Enrique Cruz, whom the club had brought up for a few days while shortstop Alex Gonzalez was on bereavement leave.

Milwaukee signed outfielder Ruben Mateo to a Class AA contract.

Links to my Jumbotron prospect features can be found on the left-side menu of my MLBlog.

Don’t forget that if you click the Amazon.com link at the bottom of Eleanor Czajka’s “Minor Details” page, then any Amazon purchases you make will generate small referral fees for the Newberg Report, which we use to upgrade our chat software and other website features.

Visit the Newberg Report e-Store if you’re interested in copies of any of the Bound Editions. I have copies of all years of the book, from 1999 to 2007. There are several specials going on, all of which are detailed on the e-Store page.

On page 260 of the 2007 Bound Edition, you’ll see a .314 next to Michael Young’s name and a .282 by Mark Teixeira and a .296 by Gerald Laird and a handful of other numbers that look a lot more appropriate than the numbers the players are sporting now.

The good news is that if those guys are going to get their numbers back in the neighborhood that they were in last year, the Rangers are going to win a heck of a lot of games in the process.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — APRIL 23, 2007

Rangers GM Jon Daniels just said on his weekly radio segment on the Ticket that Eric Gagné will be placed on the disabled list before tonight’s game and that Frankie Francisco is being recalled. It sounds like Gagné wouldn’t need a full 15 days off if the rules didn’t require that minimum, and the move is being made out of an abundance of caution.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 23, 2007

Two Bay Area teams flew to the Metroplex for the weekend.

One was a baseball team holding down first place in the division, coming in to visit the division’s last-place club.

The other was the bottom playoff seed in the NBA Western Conference playoffs, coming in to visit the top seed, which posted one of the best records in the history of the league.

Guess which one came in and took care of business?

Spooooorts.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 22, 2007

Now that’s a grit win, in a season without many of them so far. Feels like someone ran Disk Defragmenter on the Rangers lineup in the eighth.

You can take a snapshot of some of Michael Young’s swing-and-misses and tell that he is slumping, without looking at any numbers. There was a pitch early on from Grover Cleveland Gaudin (who dealt today in the fine tradition of Bartolo Buchholz and Cha Seung Clemens) and another on the first Justin Duchscherer delivery to Young in the eighth that, seven times out of ten, Young rifles to right field. Both times he swung through fastballs on the outside black and was clearly positioned to pull the ball, exactly not what Young does when he is going well, which is to say the vast majority of the time.

That’s poised to change. In a big way. Any time now.

Sure hope Eric Gagné is OK. Wouldn’t be shocked if the next episode of the Frankie Francisco Show is in Arlington, but if it’s all the same to Big Frank (who was not used today in Round Rock but threw 43 pitches yesterday), I’d just assume it’s not a Gagné injury that ushers in his return to Texas.

Bravo, Hank Joe Blalock, Willie Mays Eyre, and Mr. Lofton. And Robinson Tejeda was one pitch up in Shannon Stewart’s eyes away from a gem.

Nice pair of wins.

Yosshaa.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — APRIL 21, 2007

Yeah, the 5.1 scoreless innings and the three hits (a check-swing, broken bat flare, a soft single to left center, and a sinking liner that Nelson Cruz couldn’t hold onto) and the one walk and the five strikeouts and the 67 percent strikes are big numbers for Kameron Loe. But here’s the biggest, as far as I’m concerned.

Left-handed hitters went 2 for 10 off of Loe.

Dude’s a starting pitcher. Max and Erica and I just gave him a standing ovation. In our living room.

And I’m pretty sure the gun just read 96 on C.J. Wilson’s punchout of Eric Chavez and 94 on the inning-ending, fist-pumping whiff of Milton Bradley. Gyro or not, those were two filthy pitches.

The upside of having those two guys getting locked in is pretty big.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — APRIL 21, 2007

The Rangers have designated LHP Bruce Chen for assignment and purchased the contract of RHP Willie Eyre from Oklahoma, a move that you could see coming after last night’s eight-inning bullpen effort in advance of tonight’s starting assignment for Kameron Loe, who isn’t likely to be asked to go more than five or six innings in a best-case scenario.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

THE NEWBERG REPORT — APRIL 21, 2007

Here’s the part I’m having a hard time with.

August 30, 2005, White Sox at Rangers

IP    H    R  ER   BB   K    Strikes-Balls
7.2   2    0     0     1     2     75-42

It was Brandon McCarthy’s sixth big league start, and first win.

April 20, 2007, Athletics at Rangers

IP    H    R  ER   BB   K    Strikes-Balls
1.0   4    6     6     2     1     23-20

It was the shortest of McCarthy’s 16 big league starts, eclipsing the two-inning stint in his 15th big league start.

The column that stands out the most to me is that final one, the strike-to-ball ratio.

Mechanics, I guess.  Otherwise, what’s going on?

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

NEWBERG REPORT PLUS — APRIL 19, 2007

Going into 2007, Kenny Lofton’s career numbers: .299/.372/.423
This year: .222/.295/.315

Frank Catalanotto’s career: .297/.362/.454
This year: .139/.225/.361

Michael Young’s career: .300/.344/.453
This year: .180/.219/.328

Mark Teixeira’s career: .282/.364/.534
This year: .192/.333/.212

Sammy Sosa’s career: .274/.345/.537
This year: .220/.250/.500

Hank Blalock’s career: .272/.335/.455
This year: .250/.286/.346

Nelson Cruz’s career: .222/.269/.385
This year: .206/.289/.206

Gerald Laird’s career: .266/.315/.401
This year: .132/.209/.184

Ian Kinsler is the anomaly.

Considering the above, it’s almost impossible that this club isn’t far worse off than 6-9 and two games back. The hitting will get better, markedly better, and as long as the pitching (which by no means has been fluky-good) doesn’t fall apart, the Rangers’ record ought to get markedly better, too.

Ought to, at least.

Right?

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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