The prototypical number two hitter – before skippers like Tony LaRussa and Don Wakamatsu started using high strikeout mashers in the two-slot (Chris Duncan and Russ Branyan) – Willie had a perfect batting eye and rarely struck out. It is the number two man’s task to move the leadoff man over by any means necessary. Strikeouts don’t do that folks.
Originally drafted by the Pirates, Willie played briefly with Pittsburgh in 1975 as a 20 year old. Failing to hit .170, the Pirates felt comfortable in putting Randolph in a package to obtain Yankees pitcher Doc Medich. New York made out like bandits as Randolph would go on to play for the Yankees on into the late 1980s while Doc only pitched one year in Pittsburgh.
As a rookie with the Yankees in 1976, Willie made the AL All-Star team while leading junior circuit second basemen in stolen bases. The Yankees won the AL East in ’77 with Randolph leading all second basemen with eleven triples. He was the junior circuit’s top run scoring second baseman, helping New York down the Royals in the ALCS. In a World Series victory over the Dodgers, Willie totaled two doubles.
Randolph was beginning to perfect his batting eye by 1978 when he led Major League second basemen in walks. He had a fine year in ’78 but missed out on the postseason. In 1979, his batting eye was as sharp as a tailored suit with a degree from Cornell. Randolph walked 95 times (tops among AL infielders) while fanning just 39 times. His 13 triples were good for third in the league.
The Yankees returned to the top in 1980 with Willie leading the league in walks – drawing 119 free passes. Due to his high total of walks, his on-base percentage was at a quite flattering mark 0f .427. This enabled Willie to score a large total of runs and help the Yankees to the ALCS. Although Randolph hit a nifty .385 during the series, the Royals swept the Yankees. Undeterred, Willie went into 1981 and led AL second basemen in runs scored in the strike shortened season. His Yankees won their division as well as the World Series with Willie showing off his batting eye by drawing nine walks during the Fall Classic.
Randolph drew 75 walks opposed to just 35 strikeouts in 1982. He led Major League second basemen with 86 walks in ’84 and finished third in the American League with 94 walks in 1986. An All-Star again in 1987, Willie hit .305 while fanning just 25 times in 449 at-bats. Despite Randolph’s fine work in the mid-80s, the Yankees couldn’t get back to the Playoffs.
After a poor 1988 season the Yankees granted Willie free agency and he signed with the Dodgers. He hit .282 in his only full year in LA. During the ’90 season Randolph was dealt to Oakland for outfielder Stan Javier. Willie played fine ball for the A’s, helping them reach the postseason. He hit .375 during the ALCS and .267 in a World Series loss to Cincinnati.
After the 1990 season, Willie signed as a free agent with the Brewers and had his last great year. He hit .327 during the season (a career high) and still owned his remarkable batting eye; drawing twice as many walks as strikeouts. He played one final year with the Mets before retiring. After his playing days, Willie coached with the Yankees for a number of years before landing the managing gig with the Mets. Even though he finished above .500 in his three full seasons with the Mets, he was let go in 2008. Currently, Willie serves as a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers.
G 2,202/R 1,239/H 2,210/2B 316/3B 65/HR 54/RBI 687/BB 1,243/SO 675/SB 271/BA .276/SA .351