The early days of the Mariners were lacking highlights. There aren’t many things that immediately come to mind when you think back on the pre-Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners. Alvin Davis won the Rookie of the Year Award, and over the course of his Mariners career played so well relative to the rest of the team that a movement emerged to retire his number. Gaylord Perry won his 300th game in a Mariners uniform There’s the Kingdome cat guy. Mario Mendoza, of the Mendoza Line fame, had his best season with the Mariners, slashing .245/.286/.310 in 1980.
Perhaps the most enduring highlight of those early years was Lenny Randle blowing the ball foul:
(Randle denies he blew the ball foul, telling reporters after the game, “I didn’t blow it. I used the power of suggestion. I yelled at it, ‘Go foul, go foul.’)
Randle played in 112 games for the Mariners in 1981 and 1982, the final seasons of his major league career. Despite the Mariners only heading into their fifth season of existence when Randle joined, they had endured some pretty awful seasons already, having never lost fewer than 95 games in a season. Randle may not have been on a fun team, but he decided to make his own fun for the Mariners.
It began with the famous foul ball. It continued with a commercial released in August of 1981, hoping to draw fans to the ballpark following the end of the player’s strike:
There’s some clear talent on display there from Randle. The singing, the dancing, the comedic timing; he was born to be a star.
In fact, Randle grew up in a family who loved music and performing. He told Fox Sports in a 2015 interview, “We thought the Randle 5 was gonna be the Jackson 5, Part II.” Baseball overtook his musical aspirations, but music remained a creative outlet for him.
In 1981 Randle became friends with a young Mariners fan with cerebral palsy. When Randle learned the young boy needed a $5,000 voice synthesizer, he decided to make a record to raise the money. Right before the players went on strike, he got together with some teammates and relatives and they put together a fantastically funky song about the beloved Kingdome, a song that should have been played at every Mariners home game since:
Randle supplies the main vocals and the cowbell. He was backed up by Mariners players Larry Andersen (the pitcher who produced the famous foul ball), Bryan Clark, Al Cowens, Julio Cruz, Todd Cruz, and Dick Drago. His 10-year-old niece Rashawna also supplied backup vocals and his brother Ron played the other instruments.
Released in 1982, “Kingdome” describes a dance that fans and players do called the Kingdome. It involves putting your arms over your head in an arc, mimicking the shape of the Kingdome roof. The song claims the dance is going around Seattle. For all we know, it may have been an early 80s Macarena (any readers who remember this era, will have to let us know if this was the case). The song also extols base runners to do the Kingdome as they’re going around third and heading home. If the Mariner players were stopping to dance their way home, this could explain why the Mariners were second to last in runs scored in the American League in 1982.
I ran across this song earlier this year while searching for something related to Lenny Randle. How is this song not embedded within the Mariners fan experience? At least up until the Mariners moved out of the Kingdome, it should have been a game day staple. Like many confusing things the Mariners have done, the answer lies with the front office.
Instead of jumping at the chance to promote their ballplayers, stadium, and team in one funky little ditty, the Mariners tried to stop everyone from breaking it down. Randle told Fox Sports, “The ownership thought it was a distraction. Every city [the Mariners] played in, somebody would also want to book a show for the band or put us on the news. So the front office was like, ‘Well, what are you doing? Is it baseball or music?’ It pissed them off because they were worried about our concentration.” It also seems likely that the Mariners front office, led by owner and Orange County resident George Argyros, didn’t quite know what to make of the funk-style song.
However the Mariners felt about it, baseball and music fans liked the song. It ended up raising $20,000, according to Randle. The young fan got his voice synthesizer and the rest of the money was donated to a church. Randle claims the song was a huge sensation. Although I couldn’t find any mention of it in contemporary local media (which doesn’t mean it isn’t out there somewhere), he said the players took the song on the road during the strike and promoted it in clubs around Seattle and beyond.
The song also had a B-Side titled “I’m a Ballplayer”. If the Mariners front office couldn’t handle “Kingdome”, they certainly weren’t going to tolerate this one:
In the middle of the 1982 season, the Mariners released Randle to make room on the 40-man roster for an injury call-up. Randle had the option to go down the AAA, but he decided to move on. Randle continued to make music though. Along with his former Mariner teammate, Thad Bosley (who would record his own albums in the coming years), Randle continued putting together tracks. A full-length Lenny Randle & Ballplayers album titled “Just a Chance” was released in 1983. It included “Kingdome” and “I’m a Ballplayer”. I found another song on the album, titled “American Worker”:
The album also included a song called “Mr. Rogers Gets Down With Muhammad Ali and E.T.” I have found no trace of this on the internet. If anyone reading this happens to have the album, please report back to us with all the details on this song.
Given the Mariners lack of interest in playing “Kingdome” or allowing him to promote it, Lenny Randle’s music seemed destined to fade away. The song found new life thanks to Light in the Attic Records. In 2014 the company put out a compilation album of Seattle music called “Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle Funk, Modern Soul & Boogie Volume II 1972-1987” that featured “Kingdome”. (The Wheedle is a character in a children’s book and the original mascot of the Seattle Super Sonics.) Randle’s inclusion on the album cements his place in a Seattle music culture that didn’t get much mainstream attention. It puts his song in another place to be discovered again.
After the Mariners released him, Randle went to play in Italy. He was the first MLB player to play in Italy, and earned the nickname “Cappuccino” from the fans there. He still holds the record for the longest home run in the Italian Serie-A1 League (I was unable to find how long the home run was). He still lives in Italy and runs his Lenny Randle Sports Academy in Nettuno. He’s hoping to find the next Italian baseball star.
In the meantime, let’s all remember the musical sensation that was Lenny Randle, and add “Kingdome” to our list of highlights from the old-time Mariners.