David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Six World Series rings, but it hasn't always been a shiny, happy baseball life for Willie Randolph, the Brownsville product who grew up to be a Yankees captain and Mets manager.
Randolph still wears the disappointment of that firing by the Mets like a dirty T-shirt beneath his street clothes because he's the type of ultra-competitive person who doesn't let things go. And for it to happen in New York, his backyard, amplified the sting.
But on Willie Randolph Day in the Bronx, the Man of the Hour returned to his true home turf, donned the pinstripes again and flashed a winning smile that couldn't be washed away by a rainstorm. Standing beside his newly minted Monument Park plaque, microphone in hand, Randolph had the Yankee Stadium crowd at hello.
His first words to the clapping fans?
"I love you, too!" he yelled.
Vintage Willie. Motor gunning, mouth running, he probably didn't need the mike. Earlier, the highlight video had showed him spinning around the field like a pinstriped Tasmanian devil, turning double plays, stealing bases, even flexing in the dugout after a home run.
Randolph surfed that momentum during his time at the podium, flanked by his extended family. Before he finished, however, he talked about walking the streets of Manhattan, people stopping to say hi. Cab drivers telling him, "You got a raw deal with the Mets."
Randolph couldn't resist. Much of his speech was unscripted, off-the-cuff, and plenty of emotion leaked through.
It just feels wrong that his only chance at managing ended in 2008, only 2 1/2 months into that season, and that his last major-league job was a one-year stint on Buck Showalter's Orioles coaching staff in 2011.
At first, Randolph tried to move off the topic, preferring to keep the focus on his special day. But it took only two sentences for him to steer the conversation back there, probably because the question haunts him even when we're not around to lob it in his direction.
"I'm willing, ready and able," Randolph said. "You have to ask that to the people that hire. All I can do is my due diligence, keep my finger on the pulse of the game and hope that my resume speaks enough to where I have another shot."
Randolph will turn 61 next month, but pinballing around the diamond Saturday in uniform, he looked capable of suiting up for the Yankees-Tigers nightcap. Scooping grounders, jawing with former teammates, it seemed as if Randolph didn't have enough to do during the Old-Timers' BP session. It's a shame that he can't funnel this boundless energy -- along with an encyclopedia of playing knowledge -- back into a club at the major-league level.
Randolph has had some brief flirtations with teams looking for coaches during the past few years, including the Yankees this past winter, but nothing materialized. To see him at the Stadium, however, was a reminder of how supercharged he becomes in this environment, in this jersey.
It was a brilliant, and overdue, gesture to finally honor Randolph, and surprising Mel Stottlemyre with a plaque of his own on the same day made it a very touching afternoon.
A generation of Yankees fans was under the impression that the franchise didn't exist before 1996. The team's marketing department has been targeting that demographic lately with "recognition series" days for Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Joe Torre and Bernie Williams and the upcoming ones for Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. With Randolph and Stottlemyre, a few of the dustier decades are being brushed off and put back in the spotlight.
"The '96 team was great," Randolph said, "but the kids today, they have to know that we kick-started things again. There were some lean years with the Yankees for a while. They had some bad teams, so we were very proud of that era.
"I would hope that someone like [Graig] Nettles and Roy White would get their due. Because those guys taught me how to play and I don't think they should be forgotten. Those guys are great Yankees."
What's a few more plaques in Monument Park for a guy who's always loved a crowd, especially on Willie Randolph Day.