TEMPE, Ariz. — When it was over Sunday, Lenny Randle climbed into the stands to talk, sign autographs and pose for pictures. He would have been there for hours, but they wanted him for the postgame radio show and he wasn't about to disappoint another audience.
Randle, 46, looking fit and ready for whatever replacement ball brings, returned to U.S. professional baseball with a hearty smile at Tempe Diablo Stadium. He also singled and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, winning over fans, Angel teammates and Manager Marcel Lachemann.
"He's very out-going," Lachemann said, watching Randle sign autographs for children who weren't born when he got his last hit in the major leagues while playing for the Seattle Mariners in 1982. "He's not really what you would call inhibited."
Randle said he's been playing in Italy the past seven years, knew the majors were looking for players and came to Arizona to find work. He impressed Preston Gomez, special assistant to General Manager Bill Bavasi, and he recommended the club take a closer look. Saturday, the Angels signed him to a minor-league contract. Sunday, they put him in the game and he looked like the best player on the field.
There were some huge differences between Randle and the other replacement players, however.
When Randle broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1971, his first manager was Ted Williams. As a Texas Ranger later in his career, he punched out Manager Frank Lucchesi in an infamous clubhouse scrap. More recently, he's been running a batting school in Chino Hills and doing stand-up comedy gigs.
Suffice to say, his swing is better than his Michael Jackson impression.
In the sixth inning of the Angels' 3-1 victory over Colorado, Randle lofted a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to left off pitcher Jeff Sellers, scoring Jose Peguero. Next time up, Randle singled sharply to center field. Each time at bat, a few in the crowd chanted "Lenny, Lenny." A woman held up a hand-lettered sign that read: "We love Lenny Randle."
When the game ended, Randle walked into the stands behind the Angel dugout to embrace the woman and others. He told one young boy who said he wanted to be a baseball player, "Get your college degree at Arizona State (Randle's alma mater), so you have something to fall back on." He taught others a few words of Italian.
Later, Randle said his teammates, many of whom are more than 20 years younger, weren't quite sure what to make of him.
"About 15 guys today said, 'How old are you?' " said Randle, a .257 career hitter in his 12 major league seasons with Washington, Texas, the New York Mets, the Yankees, the Chicago Cubs and Seattle. "It's all diet and conditioning. This game is fun. I kept saying in the dugout, 'We're having fun now.' "
Someone asked if he had any doubt he could still play in the majors. "Are you kidding?" he said, incredulous. "There's no question."
Bavasi stopped by to congratulate Randle, joking, "Nothing any other 46-year-old couldn't do."
Former Dodger Pedro Guerrero is expected to report to the Angels' minor-league camp today. Most of the position players, including Leon Durham, 37, participated in their first workout Sunday morning at Gene Autry Park in Mesa, Ariz.