It goes without saying that baseball has evolved a great deal since its beginning. The rules have changed, the players have changed, and these days, there are more metrics that help us get a better understanding for player evaluation, and whether you’re a big fan of that or not, it is what it is. No GM, front office member or coach will turn his back on knowledge.
Instead of considering the negative, let’s appreciate one of the positives of this era of baseball. Since baseball analysis has changed so much such generations past, many important players could have and did go overlooked during their era of play for a variety of reasons.
The latest player in our all-time team of complementary stars falls into this category. Today we can better appreciate him for what he was, and not dwell on what he wasn’t, with the help of numbers that make clear his value. None of this is to say that no one knew these he was good during his time. We just are able to gain a new level of appreciation for him.
Without any ado, the next player for the all-time team of complementary greats for the Yankees is second baseman, Willie Randolph.
Career NYY stats: .275/.374/.357, 1,027 R, 251 SB, 1,005 BB, 54.0 rWAR
The South Carolina native Willie Randolph was born on July 6, 1954, but his family moved to Brooklyn right after he was born, just as the Brownsville neighborhood was transforming. From a very young age, Randolph had his mind made up about becoming a major league baseball player, and he credited that focus for keeping him out of trouble going up.
“I was so focused on wanting to play major-league baseball that I had this mentality, this military mentality, even at a very early age,” Randolph said to his biographer. He also has stated that a big part of why he had such quick hands was from his experience of playing hardball at Betsy Hard Park, a field that was not in the best of conditions, to say the least. “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.”
Randolph was drafted in the seventh round of the 1972 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and three years later made his debut as a 21-year-old. Fate would have it that, following a short stint with the Pirates in 1975 with only 70 plate appearances, he was included in a trade package to the Yankees for pitcher Doc Medich.
Willie hit the ground running in pinstripes, making the All-Star Game and the World Series in each of his first two seasons. The Yankees went 1-for-2 in those Fall Classics, with Randolph putting in a better showing at the plate the second time around, when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977. A hamstring injury kept him out of action in the 1978 playoffs, but his excellent play until then helped the Yankees make an impressive AL East comeback and eventually win another title.
Randolph was a steady hitter and fielder who rarely struck out and walked a ton. A lack of power meant that other players of his era overshadowed him somewhat. But as we know today, Randolph’s consistency, his ability to play strong defense, and his on-base skills meant he was good as almost any middle infielder of his time.
Over his first five full seasons, Randolph had a run averaging 5.4 WAR per season that culminated in what was the best season of his career, 1980. This was the year of his only Silver Slugger award and a top-15 MVP finish. He slashed .294/.427/.407, with 99 runs scored, 30 stolen bases, 119 walks, 45 strikeouts, and a 133 OPS+.
Randolph had a down year in the next season, but managed to remain a steady, reliable contributor throughout the ‘80s. The Yankees’ playoff drought could not be blamed on him, and he even became co-captain alongside Ron Guidry in 1986. Randolph departed via free agency after 1988, but not before finding time for another superb season in 1987 that rivaled 1980.
After his retirement, Randolph became a successful coach, a part of the Yankees’ dynasty staff from 1993 until 2004, at which time he left to be the Mets manager With the Mets, he came one Carlos Beltrán at-bat away from a World Series appearance in 2006, and had a .554 winning percentage as manager. Randolph was a terrific Yankee deserving of his plaque in Monument Park, and he’s put together a sterling overall baseball career.