The smell of spring is in the air. That can only mean one thing: America’s favorite past time is back.
Monday April 6 marked the start of a new season of Major League Baseball.
Baseball legend Willie Randolph has enjoyed many opening days. With a playing career spanning eighteen years with six different teams, he’ll always be remembered as a second baseman with the New York Yankees. Randolph won two World Series rings as a player with the Bronx Bombers and four more with the Yanks during his eleven year tenure as a bench coach.
Last spring, Randolph penned his book, The Yankee Way: Playing, Coaching, and My Life in Baseball. In his memoir, Randolph tells the story of his life playing and coaching for one of the most storied professional sports franchises in the world. “The book was about sharing my story from the sandlots to the big leagues,” Randolph told EBONY.
Growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Randolph believes that his story can encourage kids to consider his beloved spot. “I just want to inspire young people,” he said. “Just to be able to share that with the people; the championships, World Series, All Star appearances, it’s been really an unbelievable life in sports.”
The racial makeup of professional baseball has changed over the last three decades. Undoubtedly Jackie Robinson’s impact in breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947 had a huge impact on the game. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks carried that torch which was then passed on to Randolph and others in the 1970s. When Randolph started his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, 27% of Major League baseball was African American.
Fast forward to 2015, the landscape is different. Sure players like CC Sabathia, Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson and Ryan Howard are African American baseball players that are household names, but they make up only 8.5% of African Americans playing Major League Baseball. “We have to continue the fight to try and find a way to incorporate inner city kids and minority kids into the game moving forward,” said Randolph.
So why are fewer African American players sitting in dugouts across America? For starters, the rise in other ethnicities playing professional baseball has grown, including a significant increase of Latin Americans and Asian Americans playing big league ball. Here’s another factor: a round orange bouncing ball! Basketball has become the preferred choice because of its low costs. “Baseball has become very expensive,” said Randolph.
“Now they have travel teams. When I was a kid, we didn’t need a lot of money.”
Speaking of diversity, one person that Randolph has been keeping his eyes on is Mo’ne Davis. Davis, 14, is the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in Little League World Series history. “She’s the one that’s dominating right now,” said Randolph. The Philadelphia native also turned heads back in February with her vicious crossover dribble on comedian Kevin Hart at the NBA’s All Star Celebrity basketball game at Madison Square Garden. “Girls love to play sports,” he said.
“To see her athleticism and the way she plays the game and people say: ‘Wow is that a girl?’ Yes she’s a girl and she’s excelling and she’s a great athlete. It’s great that she’s around a great organization and a team that gives her this great exposure.”
Aside from keeping track of the next in line, Randolph is anxious to get back into managing a baseball team. He managed the New York Mets from 2005 until he was fired 69 games into the 2008 season. “I got fired in a tough spot,” said Randolph. “But I was successful and I did a good job. I want to get the opportunity to show everyone what I’m capable of doing.”
Randolph compiled a 302-253 record as manager of the Amazings. The Mets club that he managed in 2006 was the last Met team to reach the postseason. Following his tenure with the Mets, he also served as a bench coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and served in a similar role with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Yankees could use his knowledge and experience. After failing to make the postseason the past two seasons, the Yankees have improved their depth in pitching. Sportsbooking site TopBet projects the Yankees to be in the middle of the pack in the American League East this season.
So what’s next for Randolph? The Yankees recently announced that they will honor their beloved second baseman with a plaque at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, a shrine that pays homage to former players. “You stop and think about it, it’s almost surreal,” said Randolph.
He’s still active with his Willie Randolph Foundation which supports programs and initiatives for improving athletic opportunities for boys and girls in the New York metropolitan area. “I want to be apart of groups that are trying to get players back to playing the game of baseball,” he said.
“If you show them a way, they will play.”
Brandon Robinson is a sports and entertainment writer and TV personality. Follow him on Twitter @SCOOPB and visit www.ScoopB.com.