And now, in the final of my digressions honoring or at least mentioning players clad in the uniforms of all eight qualifiers for the 2006 playoffs (with a pause to honor the munsoning of Cory Lidle), here is the incomparable Lenny Randle, caught in the midst of an apparently enjoyable moment of homoerotic horseplay with a San Diego Padre first baseman, possibly Gene Richards.
Happy thoughts come to my mind when I think of Lenny Randle, the first being–as it probably is for most baseball-minded people not named Frank Lucchesi–of a third baseman refusing the apparent doom of a perfectly bunted ball by cartoonishly pitching to his hands and knees to try to push the ball foul with deep exhalations from his lungs.
But then I think of my dad, who always put aside his triple-hatred of riding the subway, sports, and crowds to take my brother and me to a ballgame at Shea once during each of our yearly visits to see him in New York City. While he spent most of these games either glaring at the New York Times or jamming his fingers in his ears to battle the sound of Laguardia jets passing close by overhead, my brother and I took a break from the grim, ominous march of rooting for the Red Sox by yelling carefree encouragement to the late-’70s Mets, who seemed paradoxically spectacular and incompetent: first baseman Willie Montanez making incredible scoops of wild throws that were already several seconds too late; catcher John Stearns forming a brick wall at home plate in hopes of impeding the runner as the relay peg sailed into the dugout; centerfielder Lee Mazzilli, cap flying free to reveal his immaculate Scott Baio feather cut, sprinting across the brown Queens grass in his notoriously custom-tailored, form-fitting uniform and diving stylishly for line dives that touched down yards away from his outstretched glove. Even the lingering vestiges of the Mets’ glory days seemed affected by the glittering ineptitude, Jerry Koosman dashingly windmilling and firing his way to a 3–15 record, Ed Kranepool clouting pinch-hit drives to the warning track.
But nobody epitomized this thoroughly enjoyable style of Rockette-kicking defeat from the jaws of victory as much as Lenny Randle. Lenny Randle may have been to some a talented disappointment but to me he was one of the few viable answers to what Camus would call the absurdity of existence. I mean, here we are, born to this life only to, well, put it this way: in baseball terms, we’re going to eventually get thrown out, and it’s not even going to be close. So why not ridiculously but sincerely try to stretch that bloop double into a triple? Why not fly into the stands to try to catch a foul ball headed for the loge seats? How many breaths do we get? Why not cartoonishly pitch to the grass and use a few of those breaths to push that perfect dying bunted ball to the other side of the white chalk line?