Willie Randolph on Yankees fans: No one has been treated any better

NEW YORK -- On Saturday night, former Yankees co-captain Willie Randolph will be honored with a plaque in Monument Park. Randolph, a five-time American League All-Star, won two World Series as a player and four as a coach with the Yankees. Randolph was born in South Carolina, but he grew up in Brooklyn, New York.

Randolph, 60, conducted a Q&A with ESPN New York looking back at his Yankees career and looking ahead to Saturday night.

When you were acquired by the Yankees from the Pirates in the winter of 1975 with Ken Brett and Dock Ellis for Doc Medich, what were your thoughts?

WR: I was ecstatic. I was elated. I felt like I died and went to heaven, to have a chance to play for your hometown team and be with the Yankees, one of the most storied franchises in baseball history. It was every kid's dream.

What was your first impression when you showed up?

WR: My first manager was Billy Martin, of course. I just remember Dock Ellis and I going to the press conference. After that, I was at spring training and I'm in awe of Thurman Munson and Roy White. Chris Chambliss was my first roommate. Sparky Lyle was there. I was just like, "Be seen, but not heard." I was a very intense, focused young guy, for a 21-year-old. That is why I fit in so well because I did keep my mouth shut, I earned the respect of those guys.

How would you describe Billy Martin?

WR: Billy Martin, I heard some rumors about how tough he was on young players. I didn't know for sure. Billy and I just hit off well. It was weird. I didn't pay much attention to him. Again, I was so focused and so locked in, I knew who he was, but we just clicked from day one. Maybe because we were tough street kids, maybe because we were both second basemen. I wanted to impress him because I heard if you made mistakes as a young player under Billy Martin, you didn't fare too well. But we just needed to kick it off. Our friendship lasted until he passed away.

What are your thoughts on George Steinbrenner?

WR: I thought he came across as a strong boss. He knew what direction he wanted his ballclub to go in and he was going to do anything he could do to get there. He believed in giving the fans a winner and giving them what they want and entertainment dollar. He didn't care about putting his wallet out there to get a great team.

He demanded accountability and respect. He was another guy I kind of stayed away from because he was my boss, but I heard things about him, too, and I was not going to get in his crosshairs, especially early on. I was going to walk by him and act like he doesn't see me. Maybe he won't see me [laughs].

What were your favorite moments as a Yankee?

WR: When we won the World Series, it was like the heavens opened up. It was big-time in '77 and '78.

Not to be selfish, but my first real unbelievable moment was the '77 All-Star Game. Here I am, 22 years old, the game was at Yankee Stadium. I'm playing at Yankee Stadium in front of all my family and friends as an All-Star. I'm not only rubbing elbows with the Yankee greats, but I'm rubbing elbows with some of the best players in the game. Harmon Killebrew right next to me. Vida Blue is right there. I'm 22 years old.

It was at Yankee Stadium and Billy Martin was the manager, so the beauty was I played the whole game. I think I may have set a record for assists at the time in a nine-inning All-Star Game. I remember feeling totally blessed and feeling like I was in some sort of fantasy world.

I had guys I played high school ball [with] yelling at me, saying, "Hey, Willie. Hey, Willie." I was like, "This is surreal."

There were so many great memories. I could go on and on.

Who was your favorite teammate?

WR: Wow, that is a hard one. There are so many.

Was there one who you were closer with?

WR: Probably, Roy White. Roy White and I both lived in Jersey for a long time. He was one of my first mentors. Chris Chambliss was my first roommate. Chris and I were close, also. I would have to say Roy because I watched him play as a kid. I rooted for him. He taught me a lot about the game. He has a very quiet, dignified way. Roy made a real impression on me as a young kid.

I see Mickey Rivers and all those cats. I love them all. I always feel a certain kinship with Roy. To this day, we still have lunch and breakfast together every once in a while. I can't say that for any of the other guys I played with, as far as still being close to.

What have Yankees fans meant to you?

WR: Oh, shoot, are you kidding me? They have treated me like a native son. They mean the world to me. I can't imagine. I've been in this town a long time. I don't think there is anyone that has been treated any better. I really believe that. Every time I walk the streets of New York, people are always saying positive things to me, encouraging me. Even on the road. They have this respect for me, for some reason, and are always very nice to me. New York fans have always been solid with me. I love them and I always try to give it back to them. Saturday is going to be emotional for a lot of ways.

I just hope I can convey my love for them because they have been special to me my whole life, as a player and a coach. I walk the streets of New York and I have cab drivers and bus drivers beeping at me. They yell, "Hey, Willie, you got a raw deal with the Mets." [laughs]

What does it mean to you to be in Monument Park?

WR: I've been trying to come up with the right words. I stay awake at night pinching myself, trying to put into words. What can you say? So many things rush into your mind, memories. "A New York kid, you did good." I like being an example for other kids.

It has been such a storybook ride for me. Think about that? I was born in South Carolina, but I was raised in New York. I'm most proud of the journey that I've been on. I'm just so proud of being able to share this experience with my family and friends. This is a celebration to me to all those people who have put me on their shoulder and carried me to this point.