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Few Can Hold Candle To Randle

Wed., March 22, 1995

Replacement baseball has no shame, but it does have a sense of humor.

Chico Esquela’s at spring training with the California Angels.

You remember Chico. Beisbol bean bery, bery good to me. Well, he was Lenny Randle’s idea, if you can believe Lenny. He made up the character - character, hell, it was one line - and pitched it to Bill Murray, who gave it to Garrett Morris, generously, so there would be some reason for Garrett to be on “Saturday Night Live” back in the days when it was funny.

This was sometime before Lenny’s two other defining moments in baseball: punching out Frank Lucchesi and blowing foul a swinging bunt off the bat of Amos Otis.

Lo, 20 years later, Lenny Randle is Chico Esquela again.

Replacementbol being bery, bery good to him, and him to it.

Unable to deliver major league baseball, some of the game’s owners have at least tried to mount an amusing sideshow. But Pedro Borbon got his release on Tuesday, leaving the ball in Lenny Randle’s glove.

Which, amazingly enough, he’s still pretty handy with at the age of 46.

“I’m an ambassador for baseball,” he crowed as he signed autographs in his Angels uniform. “We’ve got to put the fun back into the game, the joy of it. People have forgotten it’s just a game.”

But they haven’t forgotten Lenny Randle, even though the last game of his 12-year major league career was with the Seattle Mariners in 1982.

“Lenny,” yelled a fan holding a pocket camera, “can I get a shot here?”

“Sure,” replied Randle. “In fact, I have to get a shot, too, so my wife will believe I’m here.”

The most popular player in the Cactus League this spring was, by a vote of the fans, the most popular player of the 1973 Spokane Indians - champions of the Pacific Coast League.

“Great town,” Randle said. “They need a major league team up there. What’s the deal? I thought the Bretts were going to get a major league franchise up there.”

Well, junior hockey and single-A ball make for a pretty full plate, he’s told. “I think the Bretts just like it up there because of the 3.2 beer,” he winked.

Lenny Randle knows everyone in baseball, it seems, if not everyone period. On a day when he would slap an RBI pinch single against the replacement M’s, he greets manager Lou Piniella and coach Sam Mejias with hugs. The few fans here who haven’t been able to go cold turkey without some kind of baseball fix chant his name, their memories reaching back to when he was an All-American shortstop for Arizona State’s 1969 NCAA champs. He drops show business names - Kevin Costner, Billy Crystal - in conversation as if they’d just been over to the house for a barbecue. Tyus Edney, UCLA’s little basketball hero, is one of his “300 relatives.” He claims to have been in one baseball movie, “A Talent for the Game,” and in another upcoming with a cast that includes, among others, Rodney King.

“My family’s involved in a lot of things - films, music, entertainment,” he said. “We manage a group, Coming of Age. I was just in New York, with MTV, doing a thing with Fab Five Freddy.”

Just what kind of thing that was, it’s best not to ask. Lenny’s always been doing one thing or another outside of baseball. During his Mariner days in the early 1980s, he did stand-up comedy. He also put out an album of heavy retro funk, “Ballplayers,” on the prestigious Randle Enterprises label. A sample:

I’ll be in Boston, Kansas City, uh, come and check me out,

I’ll be at the park and afterwards we can boogie out

I’m single, I like to mingle, I like to hit ‘em on the field,

So maybe we can have a relationship that will be real.

There was also a cut on the album entitled, “Mr. Rogers Gets Down With Muhammad Ali and E.T.”

So Barry White, he isn’t. But chances are, Lenny knows him.

But now he is Mr. Baseball again, not that he ever stopped.

“I played in Italy for seven years,” he explained. “Thirtyone countries all told. Kuwait, Bangladesh, Israel, Cuba, Honduras. I speak four languages - French, Italian, Spanish and baseball.”

In Italy, he claims to have found the fountain of youth: God, ginseng and pasta.

“Did you know there are 115 varieties of pasta?” he asks. “It slows aging. I run four flat to first base. I’m getting orders from my teammates.”

The truth is, Randle looks no older than he did when he played out his string with the M’s. In his first replacement game, he singled and stroked a sacrifice fly.

“He worked out for us for a few days and he held up,” said Angels general manager Bill Bavasi upon signing Randle. “He showed us he was healthy. But we’re realistic. We know his age. You have to keep an eye on him. But he’s got experience and a good personality and he can help some of these kids who might be tentative.”

Randle, naturally, sees his role somewhat differently.

“People are too stressed out,” he said. “We’re fining each other 25 cents if there’s stress lines showing on your forehead.

“There’s a lot of money in baseball now, but on the back of the bill it says, ‘In God We Trust.’ It’s a game. It’s time to enjoy it. We’ve got to give something back to the communities, to the fans, to kids. This game is going to self-destruct.”

Now, Lenny Randle used to have his moments of stress. It was in spring training in 1977 when, after three solid seasons with the Texas Rangers, manager Frank Lucchesi handed Randle’s second base job to a rookie named Bump Wills. When Randle demanded a trade, Lucchesi told the press he was “tired of $80,000-a-year punks complaining ‘play me or trade me.’ So Randle pummeled Lucchesi’s face with a left-rightleft combination.

He got a suspension and his trade and wound up hitting .304 for the Mets. By 1981, he was in Seattle and gained his most lasting fame when Otis topped a pitch down the third-base line.

Randle, playing third and realizing Otis would beat out the hit, got down on all fours and blew the ball foul.

On the morning he was to face his former team, Randle picked up the morning paper and saw a picture out of the Pan-American Games showing Mexico’s catcher blowing a ball foul against Guatemala.

“I’m going to play down there next,” he said. “I’ll go down to Panama or wherever and blow the ball with that kid. I want to know his name and where he lives.”

To Lenny Randle, the kid from Mexico shows promise. He could be another Chico Esquela.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.


 
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