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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Willie Randolph deserves a plaque in Monument Park

Willie Randolph throws out the ceremonial first pitch

Willie Randolph throws out the ceremonial first pitch before Game Four of the ALDS between the Yankees and Orioles on October 11, 2012. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

While we're on the subject of honoring Yankee greats, and in some cases, the pretty goods, here's a name the team should strongly consider when the marketing department continues its "recognition series" in 2015 and beyond:

Willie Randolph.

And if these ceremonies are designed for the fans, dare we say as an effort to sell more tickets, then we present a Yankee fan to endorse Randolph, too. Well, a former one. He's had to switch allegiances for professional reasons.

"Growing up in Newark, Willie Randolph was my favorite player," said Bo Porter, now the manager of the Astros. "You look at his accomplishments. I think his resume speaks for itself. He's a Yankee legend. He's a captain.

"I would love to see him recognized like a lot of the other Yankee greats have been recognized."

Full disclosure: Porter and Randolph are friends. The two had lunch together when the Astros visited the Bronx last week. But you don't have to be Randolph's buddy to understand that he's as deserving a plaque as recent honorees, like Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill, both of whom got their piece of Monument Park real estate earlier this season.

Martinez and O'Neill were key figures in the Yankees' dynastic run at the turn of the century. As such, they're tremendously popular, especially to the generation that first grew into fandom during the 90s. But in Randolph, who earned four of his six World Series rings on Joe Torre's coaching staff, the Yankees have a natural bridge back to the 70s and 80s, a period that tends to get overlooked when it's not Old-Timers' Day.

Maybe the three-plus seasons (2005-08) Randolph spent as manager of the Mets tends to fog up people's memories a bit. But he's pinstriped to the core, and Ron Washington, now the Rangers' manager, went as far as to make a spiritual connection -- unsolicited, mind you -- between Randolph and the current Yankees' captain, Derek Jeter.

"He's a continuation of a tremendous circle," Washington said. "Willie Randolph is another. He was some kind of a player, man. He was a difference-maker. His attitude, the way he went about his business. He was a winner."

Washington remembered playing against Randolph when the two were still teenagers in rookie ball. Even then, he recalled how smart Randolph was on the field, with a competitive fire that made him stand out. It was fitting that Randolph, as the Yankees' infield coach, wound up as a mentor to Jeter when he broke into the majors. And probably no coincidence that Randolph's win-first, me-second mentality rubbed off on another captain.

Years later, as Mets manager, Randolph still bristled when he watched opposing players fraternize on the field during batting practice. He never could come to grips with that. His Yankees were loved by the team's legion of fans, but despised by everyone else, and that included all the other teams.

"I think Willie is not just old-school," Porter said. "I think he's a prime example of what winning baseball is all about. That's old-school, new-school. He's from the school of this is how you win baseball games."

Attitude can be difficult to convey in bronze. But Randolph has plenty of plaque-worthy accomplishments, including a few that go beyond the field. Raised in Brooklyn, Randolph was the first African-American captain of the Yankees (Ron Guidry shared the captaincy with him).

Despite the bitter rivalry between the Mets and Yankees, the fact that Randolph ascended to be manager in that other borough should be a plus for his plaque credentials, not a minus.

As for the numbers themselves, take your pick. Randolph was the second baseman on back-to-back World Series winners (1977-78) -- the Yankees' last titles before the dynasty began in '96. He is seventh all-time in games played at second base (2,152) -- one ahead of his longtime Royals rival Frank White -- and ninth in putouts (4,859).

Randolph's impact during that Yankee era is not something the modern fan is necessarily all that familiar with. To those 35 and under, he's only been seen as a coach or manager. But for a franchise that takes great pride in its history -- one unmatched in the sport -- reaching back a little further to bring that crew into the spotlight again should be a priority during this ongoing recognition series.

"The Yankees were pretty good back then at identifying good character people and winners," Washington said. "I don't know if George [Steinbrenner] just went and bought them or what. But they were winners and he demanded nothing else."

It's unclear when -- or if -- the Yankees will get around to honoring players from Randolph's time during this recognition series. Bernie Williams already is penciled in to get a day in 2015 and the team could also choose someone like Jorge Posada or Andy Pettitte to fill out their promotional schedule. Mixing in Randolph would not only recognize him, but help link the Yankee generations during the same season.

This year, they got lucky with Torre's induction into the Hall of Fame and Jeter's pending retirement. In Jeter's case, the Yankees get the double-payoff of his official day on Sept. 7 and his actual final Bronx game on Sept. 25. Randolph certainly doesn't carry the star-power of a Torre or Jeter, but giving him a plaque would do a lot for the integrity of Monument Park.

Not everyone deserves to be enshrined there.

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