Obituary: Randy Tate (1952-2021)

RIP to Randy Tate, a right-handed pitcher who was a part of the New York Mets starting rotation for the 1975 season. His sister announced on Facebook that he died on March 25 from complications of COVID-19. He was 68 years old.

Cindy Tate Agee posted on March 25: “My brother Randy passed away today from Covid complications. This picture [see below] brings so much joyful memories to my heart. We traveled to watch him play ball back in the day. Will always treasure those days. He was the kind hearted brother everyone wanted. I will miss him everyday. I’m sure mom and dad will be happy to see you in heaven. Please keep our family in your prayer. His wife Evelyn has Covid she needs lots of prayers. His daughter Tracie has lost a brother, brother-in Law and dad within the last year. It’s been such a heart breaking time for her. Please keep her in your prayers.”

Source: Facebook

Randall Lee Tate was born on October 23, 1952, in Florence, Ala. A top athlete at Lexington High School in Florence, he was drafted by the New York Mets out of Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala., in the Fifth Round of the 1972 Amateur Draft. He was the only member of the Mets 1975 draft class to reach the major leagues. The 19 year old’s first season in professional baseball was a rough one; he went 0-9 with a 6.00 ERA for the Rookie-Class Marion Mets of Marion, Va. Control was his biggest problem, as it would be for the bulk of his career. He walked 54 batters in 60 innings and threw 20 wild pitches. He improved a little in 1973, winning 4 games against 10 losses with a 4.38 ERA for the Pompano Beach Mets. He didn’t register his first professional win until June 8, but it was a pretty impressive win — a 7-inning, 2-0 no-hitter against Fort Lauderdale. It was the first time all season long that he had lasted more than 5 innings in a start. He credited the win to a new pitch that teammate Mike Bruhert taught him 10 minutes before the game.

“He showed me how to throw my fastball differently,” he said later. “I was ready to pitch tonight.” Tate struck out 7 and walked 5.

Tate won 9 games in 1974, spending most of the season with the Class-A Anderson (S.C.) Mets of the Western Carolinas League. Working with pitching coach Billy Connors, he learned to use his curveball more effectively and reduce his wildness. Tate saved some of his best pitching for the end of the season, when the Mets promoted him to AAA Tidewater for a couple of starts. He won both of his starts with two complete games, including a shutout. He allowed just 2 earned runs in 17 innings while walking 8 and striking out 9. He also joined the Mets in an exhibition game against the Tides and allowed just 2 hits in 7 innings. It made quite an impression on Mets manager Yogi Berra.

Tate joined the Mets in an 18-game exhibition series in Japan in October and November of 1974. The Mets didn’t pick up a win until their sixth game against the Japan All-Stars. Jon Matlack threw 8 strong innings, and Berra sent Tate to pitch the ninth with an 8-0 lead. The rookie walked 2 batters, including home run king Sadaharu Oh, but he struck out slugger Koichi Tabuchi to end the game. He was roughed up in a start against the Yominuri Giants, but he made his case for his 1975 status.

Randy Tate runs to first after a bunt attempt, while catcher Gary Carter chases the ball. Source: The Daily Journal, August 5, 1975.

Berra was so enamored with Tate and his live arm that he added the rookie to the New York Mets starting rotation in 1975. He joined Matlack, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, with Hank Webb and George Stone serving as spot starters. It was a gamble of a move. Tate, 22, had three years of experience, mostly in the low minors, and he had a total of 13 wins. “Let me tell you something about Randall Lee Tate. He is going to be one helluva pitcher, with the accent on going-to-be,” wrote New York Daily News columnist Dick Young.

Tate won his first major-league game in his second start, a 4-3 victory over the Cubs on April 2. He worked 6 scoreless innings and allowed 5 hits, but he walked 5. For the most part, Tate was able to maintain control, but when he lost his command, the walks piled up.

Catcher John Stearns, a fellow rookie himself, tried to play the part of Crash Davis to Tate’s Nuke LaLoosh. “I’ve told him numerous times that he had the ability, the good stuff,” Stearns said. “That he has a good fastball and a good curve. Just throw strikes and don’t do any thinking. Just throw strikes.”

Berra was similarly supportive, though the team’s middling performance cost him his job midway through the season. “He wasn’t any worse than Nolan Ryan was wild. I’ll tell you, he’s got a good curveball. That’s his best pitch,” Berra said.

Tate’s record on the year was 5-13 with a 4.45 ERA. He started 23 of his 26 games and walked 86 in 137-2/3 innings. He also struck out 99. Getting his curveball over consistently was a big challenge. “If I can throw the curveball for strikes and get ahead of the hitter I can play around with a ball,” he said as he was starting to get over his rookie jitters. “When you’re behind, you may choke the ball and don’t give it a good whip. I’m whipping it now.”

Tate’s record wasn’t an indicator of his pitching ability. Consider the 4-3 loss he suffered against the Expos on August 4, which dropped his record to 4-10. In 8 innings, He struck out 13 Expos, including 2 per inning for the first 5 innings, and had a no-hitter until 1 out in the eighth inning. Then he allowed a 1-out single to Jim Lyttle and began to labor. Pepe Mangual walked, Gary Carter hit an RBI single with two outs and Mike Jorgensen hit a 3-run homer to take the lead away from the Mets.

“I guess this is just my bad luck year,” Tate said. “I had gotten [Jorgensen] out two other times with the same pitch. I guess I didn’t realize it, but I must have been slowing down.”

Part of the blame must go to Berra, who checked on Tate after the walk to Mangual but didn’t bring in reliever Rick Baldwin until the ninth inning — after the lead was lost. “I was gonna give him one more batter. What are the odds of a guy hitting a home run like that? Ah, don’t blame the kid for the home run, blame me if you’re gonna blame someone.”

Someone in the Mets front office took Berra at his word. After the Expos swept the Mets in a doubleheader the day after Tate’s near no-no, Berra was fired as manager.

The new Mets manager, Roy McMillan, apparently didn’t have the same belief in Tate that Berra did. After Tate threw a complete-game win against the Padres on August 26, he was moved into the bullpen and rarely used. He had a final start in late September but walked 6 batters and didn’t make it out of the second inning. He later said that he pulled a muscle while working as a reliever, and it troubled him in the Puerto Rico Winter League and the Mets’ 1976 training camp. He was assigned back to AAA Tidewater but pitched poorly there, with an ERA over 6.00. He went all the way back to Class-A Lynchburg in 1977, where he hoped he could regain his lost confidence. He won 11 games, but his control was getting worse, and the Mets did not move him any higher up the organization because of a lack of consistency. He moved to the Pirates’ minor-league system in 1978 and got as high as AAA Columbus, but he did not return to the majors. A torn rotator cuff brought his season and ultimately his career to an end; he was just 25 years old. Berra had been trying to get him into the Yankees system, and if he had not been injured, Tate might have received that second chance.

Source: The Shreveport Journal, June 3, 1978.

Along with his 5-13 record, Tate’s 1975 Mets season comes with one other distinction: He never had a base hit. He reached base a few times and scored a couple of runs, but he was 0-for-41 in the majors. He had managed to hit a home run in the minor leagues, so it wasn’t like Tate was a historically bad hitter. But like many thing in his career, there was a measure of bad luck involved at the plate, too.

Tate worked as a welder after baseball, and his life had its struggles and legal entanglements. As of a 2020 article in the Times-Daily, he was retired, tending to his garden, obliging autograph requests and looking back on his baseball career with some fondness.

“I think, as I got older, at the age I am now, I realize how fortunate I was to be able to play at one time and the talent I had to make it to the big leagues,” Tate said.

That attitude was a significant change for Tate, as he admitted that he initially wanted nothing to do with baseball after leaving the game. Eventually, he and a friend would travel to Atlanta for Braves games, and Tate still received autograph requests for his 1976 Topps baseball card. He even agreed to try and pitch again for a friend’s local team, a couple decades after his retirement. That lasted up until he was hit by a comebacker to the mound and got a bloody nose for his efforts.

“I haven’t pitched again,” he said, laughing.

For more information: Times-Daily

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