Welcome to the first in our article series highlighting the top 10 players once drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but signed elsewhere and performed well. The covered period runs from the start of the modern draft in 1965 through 1980.
Our first honoree, Lenny Randle, amassed 11.5 bWAR as a Major League infielder and outfielder for 12 seasons from 1971 through 1982. Though Randle is primarily remembered for his six seasons with the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, he later played for both New York teams plus the Cubs and Mariners as well as in Italy.
Before any of that, however, the California native was the Cardinals’ 10th-round draft pick in 1967. Instead of signing with St. Louis, though, Randle played collegiate ball at Arizona State and helped lead the Sun Devils to the NCAA title in 1969.
The next time Randle was drafted, he was 10th again, but this time the 10th overall pick of the 1970 Draft by the Senators. Though he debuted in the majors in 1971, the team’s final year in Washington, it took the switch-hitter three years to stick and become a full-timer. Among his early managers were Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Whitey Herzog and he became a favorite of Herzog’s successor, Billy Martin.
By spring training 1977, Randle was well-established, playing all over the diamond for the Rangers, but things changed when Frank Lucchesi replaced Martin. Unhappy that he was being eased out of his starting role at second base, a frustrated Randle physically assaulted his manager, putting him in the hospital with facial injuries that required plastic surgery. Always a model citizen to that point, Randle’s actions were surprising as they were violent. He was charged with assault, was suspended, then traded to the Mets.
Under two more eventual Cooperstown inductees, New York skipper Joe Torre and coach Willie Mays, Randle thrived. He put together his best season, worth 4.5 bWAR, batting .304, stealing 33 bases and scoring 78 runs for Torre’s last-place club.
In 1978, Randle’s performance dropped off considerably, and the next spring, he was released. He landed with the Giants and played a partial season in Triple-A before and after being dealt to the Pirates in the Bill Madlock trade. A month later, Randle was back in the majors, his contract having been purchased by the Yankees, where Martin was then managing.
During spring training 1980, the free agent signed with the Mariners, but ended up breaking camp as a member of the Cubs after his contract was sold again. It would be Randle’s final season as a regular in the majors, as the Cubs’ third baseman batted .276 and stole 19 bases in 130 games.
A free agent again for 1981, Randle re-signed with Seattle, where he finished his MLB career as a reserve for two seasons. In his 4487 career plate appearances, Randle’s slash line was .257/.321/.335/.656.
His signature positive moment occurred on May 27, 1981, when Randle became a baseball blooper superstar. When Royals outfielder Amos Otis dropped a slow roller down the third base line, Randle fell to his hands and knees and unsuccessfully tried to blow the ball foul.
After his release by the Mariners, in 1983 Randle became the first major leaguer to play professional ball in Italy. He later managed, was a general manager and owned a team there, where he remains a celebrity to this day.
Among his other vocations include funk music and standup comedy.
Though Randle never fully lived down the Lucchesi incident, his life before and after has been conducted in an exemplary manner. He gives back by motivational speaking, conducting baseball clinics for children and running a sports academy.
In fact, MLB Network cameras filmed a documentary that first aired in December with Randle as its subject. He was called “the most interesting man in baseball” by Rolling Stone and “the Forrest Gump of baseball” by narrator Jim Breuer.
Lenny Randle could have become a St. Louis Cardinal, but instead joins TCN’s St. Louis Cardinals All-Drafted, but Unsigned Team: 1965-80 as an outfielder.
Stay tuned as the other nine members of this team are named, in career bWAR order. For more details on the All-Drafted, but Unsigned Team, click here.
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