New York Yankee Legends: The ultimate professional Willie Randolph, player and manager

Throughout the years, the New York Yankees have had some of the best players ever to play the game at Yankee Stadium. Players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and so many more. Some of them were household names, while others did not receive the recognition they deserved. Willie Randolph is one of those players having dropped off the everyday news. But today, we focus on his great career with the Yankees.

Willie Larry Randolph, the son of South Carolina sharecroppers and the great-grandson of enslaved people, parlayed his nimble hands, patience at the plate, and excellent hitting into an 18-year career as a second baseman in the major leagues, 13 years of which were with the New York Yankees. Willie Randolph was born on July 6, 1954, at Holly Hill in the Low Country of South Carolina. His great-grandmother, Nellie, was enslaved until she was 19. She worked as a sharecropper, as did Willie’s parents, Randy and Minnie Randolph. In the fall of 1954, the Randolph’s followed other relatives who had moved to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Randy Randolph got a job in construction, and as they added four more children to their family, he began to drive a taxi on nights and weekends.

The Brownsville section of Brooklyn was a ghetto populated mostly by African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. It soon had the largest concentration of public housing in the whole city and was rife with gangs and drugs. Randolph himself grew up in the Tilden Housing Projects on Dumont Avenue. Willie would recall that baseball kept him out of trouble as he was totally focused on playing major-league baseball. He played stickball in the streets, softball in the schoolyards, and hardball at Betsy Head Park, which was littered with broken glass, rocks, and craters. Randolph later said, “You want to know where I got my fast hands from? … That field made a man out of you. If you weren’t fast, those bad hops got you but good.

Willie credited Little League coach Galileo Gonzalez for teaching him the game. And he said that growing up in Brownsville provided him with many of the skills he needed later. Randolph attended Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, a star athlete. In the 1972 draft, Willie was drafted by the World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. In the minors that year appearing in 44 games, he batted.317. In 1974 he was with the Thetford Mines (Quebec) Pirates of the Double-A Eastern League. He finished that season with a batting average of .254 and on-base percentage of .397. After the 1975 season, Randolph was traded to the New York Yankees.

Randolph was the Yankees’ starting second baseman in 1976, appearing in 125 games. He had a batting average of .267, drew 58 walks, and had an on-base percentage of .355. He would remain the Yankees’ starting second baseman through 13 seasons until 1988. Willie was known as a good hitter with runners on base, a patient hitter who drew a lot of walks, and an excellent fielder at second base. He did not hit well in the ’76 postseason but was named to the All-Star team. In 77, he was selected to the All-Star team and set an All-Star Game record for most assists (six) by a second baseman in a nine-inning game. During the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals, he had five hits and 2 RBIs in 18 at-bats. In the World Series, he had four hits and scored five runs as the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Randolph continued to play well in 1978, getting 139 hits and 36 stolen bases in 134 games. His batting average was .279. He had another good year in 1979, but in 1980 he had an incredible 119 base on balls while hitting .294 and scoring 99 runs. Between 1982 and 1984, Randolph was a consistent player, with a batting average between .279 and .287, an on-base percentage between .361 and .377, and a slugging percentage between .348 and .349. In 1984 he had a career-high 162 hits and led the league in double plays by a second baseman (112).

On November 12, 1986, Randolph became a free agent, and the following January, he re-signed with the Yankees. In 1987 he had his best year as a Yankee, driving in a career-high 67 runs, scoring 96, and sporting a batting average of .305. His slugging percentage was the highest of his career, .414. He was once again named to the All-Star team. He played his last year with the Yankees in 1988, appearing in 110 games with a batting average of .230. However, his on-base and slugging percentages remained high, standing at .322 and .300, respectively.
During his time with the Yankees, Randolph was known for his excellent quick hands in defense of second base and his consistent hitting, particularly with runners on base. Even though he was not a home run hitter (best year 7 HR’s), he was a great teammate in the dugout and a beloved fan favorite.

Randolph remained the paramount professional with all the crazy stuff going on during the Bronx Zoo period. After leaving the Yankees, Willie played two years with the Dodgers and one year each with the Athletics Brewers, and his final year with the Mets.

During Willie Randolph’s career, he was a six-time All-Star, got two MVP nominations, he received a Silver Slugger Award for second base. He was also awarded the Jame P. Dawson Award in 1976. During his 18-year career with six different teams, he appeared in 2,202 games and had 2,210 hits (including 316 doubles and 54 home runs), with 687 RBIs, 1239 runs scored, and 271 stolen bases. His batting average was .276, his slugging percentage .351, and his on-base percentage .373. His fielding percentage was .979. Randolph never committed an error in a postseason game. Three times during his career with the Yankees, he had four hits in four at-bats, and twice he drove in five runs in five at-bats.

After his on-field career, he would in 1993 be back with the Yankees as assistant general manager. From 1994 through 2003, he was the Yankees’ third-base coach, and in 2004 he became the bench coach under manager Joe Torre. In 2004 he would be named manager of the Mets. After a poor season in 2008, the first base coach, pitching coach, and Willie were all fired. Randolph was stunned. In 2008 Willie and his wife Gretchen established the Willie Randolph Foundation to support baseball in the inner city. Willie will always be a Yankee to Yankee fans and is welcomed to every Old Timer’s Day with huge applause from the Yankee faithful.

As of the last information, Randolph with his wife Gretchen live in Franklin Lakes, in New Jersey. The couple has four children named Taniesha, Chantre, Andre, and Clara. Famed pitcher Tommy John once called Randolph a true family man and a man interested in his community. Willie delivered the commencement address to Fordham University’s 2007 graduating class, of which his daughter Clara was a member. On that same day, he managed the second game of a three-game set with the Yankees. On Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium in 2015, Randolph was enshrined with a plaque in Monument Park.

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