The Texas Rangers were about to play the Minnesota Twins in Orlando Monday when a long-simmering feud erupted. Lenny Randle, a second baseman for the Rangers, had been benched in favor of Bump Wills, a rookie and the son of former major league star Maury Wills. Frank Lucchesi, the Texas manager, took Randle aside on the third-base line and shortly thereafter, in full view of some 1,000 spectators, the manager suddenly found himself on the ground, the victim of a Randle punch.
Randle said Lucchesi had called him a "punk." Lucchesi, who wound up in the hospital with a fractured cheekbone, denied the slur. Lucchesi now is contemplating suing for assault and, if he does, it will be the first case of its kind on record.
Lucchesi is 50 and Randle 28. The disparity in age only compounds the disrespect for discipline that exists among modern athletes.
Baseball has had many fights in its century-old history but physical contact between player and manager is rare.
The legendary John McGraw, when he managed the New York Giants, fought with umpires, the league president and opposing players - but never with one of his own men. Nobody dared challenge McGraw's authority.
Leo Durocher was attacked a few times as a manager but never by one of his own players, although he had several running feuds and near-fist-fights with other players.
There is an uncomfirmed story that big Frank Howard once became displeased with Durocher when both were with the Dodgers. Hondo, the story goes, slammed Durocher against the dugout wall and shook him like a vibrator. But Durocher was a coach and not a manager then. It's all right to belt your coaches but not your manager.
Billy Martin came closest to adopting the simple method of instilling discipline in his troops when he managed Detroit and Texas. Martin once was challenged by Detroit pitcher Dave Boswell and knocked him cold.
Martin and outfielder Elliott Maddox had words, but nothing more, when both were with the Rangers.
Maddox was traded to the Yankees and he and Martin had another confrontation when Martin was still managing Texas. It happened before a spring-training game in Pompano Beach, Fla., but, again, no blows were struck.
The footnote to this one is that Martin wound up as the Yankee manager and one of his model ballplayers was Maddox.
Burt Hawkins, the traveling secretary of the Rangers, always seems to be in the middle of trouble. Hawkins witnessed the Randle-Lucchesi incident. Hawkins was the victim of a Martin slap in a dispute on an airplane a few years ago. Texas owner Brad Corbett is alleged to have used that incident later to fire Martin.
There was also the time in Detroit some years ago when Ossie Bluege was managing the Washington Senators. At the time, Hawkins was a baseball writer. Bluege became incensed at some articles Hawkins had written and took a swing at the reporter in the clubhouse. He missed.
Texas' Corbett and his two top men, general manager Dan O'Brien and executive vice president Eddie Robinson, have suspended Randle. It's unlikely that the player, who, incidentally, is one of the few survivors on the Rangers of the Senators who moved to Texas in 1971, will ever again play for Texas. He's also a marked man by other clubs who have enough other problems and don't appreciate having their managers zonked by employees.
Randle makes $80,000 a year and is not considered a quality ballplayer. He batted .224 last year and has a lifetime mark of .267.
Corbett is upset with O'Brien and Ronbinson for not trading Randle when he had some market value. Now, it will be difficult to peddle him.
Corbett has a precedent in ruling how long Randle should be suspended. Back in 1932, the Senators were playing the Yankees at Griffith Stadium when Washington catcher Carl Reynolds slid into home plate and knocked the ball away from New York catcher Bill Dickey. Reynolds brushed himself off and was walking to the dugout when the enraged Dickey came up from behind, spun Reynolds around, and broke the Washington catcher's jaw.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, then the baseball commissioner, made a Solomon-like decision. Dickey was suspended for as long as it took Reynolds to recover entirely. It was two months.