The 70s. A decade of cultural change and freedom of expression. Where fashion was bold and bright, and personal style was used to express one’s individuality. It permeated every aspect of society, including baseball. Uniforms became brighter and tighter. Stirrups were pulled up higher than ever before. Pullover jerseys and powder blue were on trend. And the St Louis Cardinals had, arguably, the best uniform in baseball.
Never enough powder blue
Baseball players themselves also began to express their individual style. Whether it be through unruly hair or well-groomed moustaches, players from this decade became style icons long before they became baseball legends. Who could possibly forget Roland ‘Rollie’ Fingers’ waxed handlebar moustache from that time?
So, it should come as no surprise that in the midst of all this, Topps released one of its boldest and most colorful sets. The 1975 Topps set, with its vivid, multi-colored borders, fit in perfectly with the bright and colorful uniforms of the time. The front of the cards feature full color photographs, with team names emblazoned across the top in a bold 3D font. Players’ names are printed along the bottom in a smaller, simpler font, and their positions are printed inside the image of a small baseball, which is positioned on the bottom right of the cards. Facsimile signatures also feature on the front of the cards.
The 660 card set, released in wax, cello and rack packs, as well as vending boxes, features the rookie cards of Robin Yount, George Brett, Jim Rice and Gary Carter. Other noteworthy cards include Mike Schmidt, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan and Hank Aaron.
But there’s another standout card in this set. It’s not a standout because it’s the card of a future Hall of Famer. No. It’s a standout because the card itself is as interesting as the player was.
Behold card #259 – Len Randle.
Looking at the front of the card, you’ll notice that Topps chose a rather unconventional action shot. It depicts Randle, his head raised towards the sky, letting out a discernible scream at the end of a swing. We can only imagine why he is so frustrated here – did he just strikeout after a lengthy at bat? Did he pop out weakly? For an average player like Randle, who at that point had a career batting average of .255, it was an all too familiar emotion. But was there a more nefarious reason why Topps chose that particular picture?
The ‘75 Randle in all its glory
Looking at the back of the card, you’ll notice the trivia question and accompanying cartoon. The trivia question asks, “What is meant by choking the bat?”, while the accompanying cartoon depicts a player aggressively choking the life out his bat. Hmm. Interesting choice given the picture featured on the front of the card.
Reading his bio at the bottom, it states, “…Spry and aggressive, he has never played below Triple-A ranks in his 5 seasons of pro ball.” Notwithstanding the fact this is probably one of the few times you’ll see the word ‘spry’ on the back of a baseball card, there’s that word again: aggressive. In fact, the entire theme of this card seems to scream out “aggressive” (pun intended).
What the hell was Topps trying to say here?
Randle was rated as a top prospect early in his career. He was the first round pick of the Washington Senators in the 1970 MLB draft and the tenth pick overall. After a little more than one season with their Triple-A affiliate in Denver, Randle debuted as the Senators’ second baseman in June 1971. He batted .219 with 29 runs scored in 75 games. In 1972, with the Senators newly relocated to Texas and now called the Rangers, Randle was awarded the role of Opening Day second baseman. Manager Ted Williams, impressed with Randle at Spring Training, made him his lead-off man, only to watch him struggle mightily at the plate. He would bat a paltry .193 over 74 games, before being sent back to Triple-A in Denver.
His confidence waning, Randle continued to struggle in in the minor leagues for the remainder of the season. Unsure whether to take a chance on him, the Rangers sent him to their new Triple-A affiliate in Spokane at the start of the 1973 season. Randle soon found renewed energy and drive in the Pacific Coast League. Over 140 games, he batted a solid .283 with 118 runs scored and 39 stolen bases, earning him a call-up to the Rangers in mid-September.
In 1974, under the auspices of new Manager Billy Martin, Randle had a breakout year. He batted .302 with 26 stolen bases and scored 65 runs. His speed and versatility made him a valuable member of the Rangers.
Yet he also had a breakout year in another sense. It was the year that his hard-hitting and aggressive personality really began to show. A prime example of this is an incident that occurred between Randle and Indians’ reliever Milt Wilcox during a game at Arlington Stadium on May 24, 1974. It started in the bottom of the fourth, when Randle slammed his shoulder into Indians’ second baseman Jack Brohamer, in an attempt to break up a double play. Wilcox then retaliated in the bottom of the eighth, throwing up and way in behind Randle’s head. Infuriated, Randle bunted down the first baseline, knocking Wilcox to the ground when he tried to tag him for the out. He then continued on towards first base, where he tried to take on first baseman John Ellis, but was tackled to the ground, at which point a brawl ensued between the two teams.
Was this the aggression that Topps was alluding to when they designed his 1975 card? Or did they somehow sense that more was to come from Randle?
In 1975, Randle’s batting average fell to .276 and he stole far fewer bases, though his plate discipline remarkedly improved. His walks increased from 29 to 57, leading to a then career high OBP of .341. But the season also brought about an unexpected change. New owner Bob Corbett, unimpressed with the Rangers’ 44-51 record for the first half of the season, fired Martin as manager on July 20, and hired Frank Lucchesi the following day. It would prove to be a fateful decision.
In 1976, his first full season under Lucchesi, Randle’s performance dropped significantly. His batting average fell to .224 with only 53 runs scored, and his OBP fell to .286. He looked lost at the plate. That offseason, Lucchesi and Rangers’ officials discussed the possibility of replacing Randle with rookie Bump Wills, son of Maury Wills. Wills had shown tremendous promise in Triple-A that year, batting .324 with 26 HR and 95 RBI.
Randle arrived at spring training the following year troubled by the thought that he might lose his second base position to a rookie. He reportedly approached Lucchesi about it, who assured him that no decision had been made. But as the weeks passed, and Lucchesi selected Wills to play in more spring training games than Randle, his frustration grew.
On March 24, 1977, Randle burst into the Rangers’ clubhouse and began to pack his bags, telling teammates that he was leaving. Bert Blyeven, Mike Hargrove and Gaylord Perry managed to calm Randle down and dissuade him from leaving. When asked about the incident later, Lucchesi told reporters, “It’s too damn bad somebody stopped him from leaving. I’m tired of these punks saying pay me or play 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.”1
Four days later, on March 28, 1977, Randle approached Lucchesi before a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins. Randle claims Lucchesi said, “What do you got to say, punk?” at which time he just “…ran out of cheek”2. Witnesses saw Randle hit Lucchesi three times in the face with a left, a right and another left.
“Suddenly, with unbelievable quickness, Randle’s right hand shot forth. No wild drawback or windup… but a straight strike from the body… and there came a left with some terrible rapidity… Then another right and a left.”3
Like Sugar Ray, Lenny Randle took zero shit
“In personal reference, I have seen the hand speed of Sugar Ray Robinson and the cobra strikes of Muhammad Ali, but the flurry of Randle’s punches, all landing on the manager’s face, must have broken all speed records.”4
Lucchesi promptly fell to the ground and Randle moved towards him again before Bert Campaneris jumped in front of him - pushing him away and likely saving Randle from catching an attempted murder charge. Lucchesi suffered three facial fractures, a concussion and a back injury from the attack. He required surgery to elevate his fractured facial bone below his right eye into proper position.
Following the attack, the Rangers promptly suspended Randle for 30 games and fined him $10,000. On April 27, 1977, just before his suspension was due to expire, he was traded to the New York Mets for a small sum of cash and a player to be named at a later date (this player turned out to be Rick Auerbach, who incidentally never ended up playing a single game for the Rangers).
Randle’s career with the Rangers had come to a dramatic end. But his baseball career was far from over. In fact, after being traded to the Mets, Randle had the best year of his career – batting .304 with 33 stolen bases and 78 runs scored over 136 games in 1977. He also hit a walk-off home run to end a 17-inning marathon against the Montreal Expos on July 9, 1977 at Shea Stadium; but his performance tapered off considerably in 1978, where he batted .233 with only 14 stolen bases and 53 runs scored.
The Mets released Randle on March 29, 1979, and shortly afterwards he signed with the San Francisco Giants, who assigned him to their Triple-A affiliate in Phoenix. On June 28, 1979, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who also assigned him to their Triple-A affiliate in Portland, until his contract was purchased by the New York Yankees on August 3, 1979. Randle played 20 games for the Yankees as an outfielder, batting a meager .179 with only 2 runs scored. He was granted free agency at the end of the season.
Randle signed with the Seattle Mariners on March 20, 1980, only to be traded to the Chicago Cubs three weeks later. He enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance with the Cubs, batting .276 with 50 walks and an OBP of .343 as their regular third baseman. The following year, Randle returned to the Mariners as a free agent, where he played out the remaining two years of his career, batting .223 with 32 runs scored over 112 games. His last major league appearance was on June 20, 1982.
Over his 12 year, 1,138 game major league career, the “spry and aggressive” Randle batted .257 with 488 runs scored, 322 RBI and 156 stolen bases, and more importantly scared the shit out of everyone and everything in his wake.
1“Manager hospitalized by player’s punches,” The New York Times, March 29, 1977.
3Sherrod, Blackie. “How Lenny Randle’s unexpected attack shook the Rangers,” The Dallas Times Herald, March 29, 1977.