This Saturday, "Macho Man" Randy Savage will be posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Even if you don't know Savage from his wrestling career, which spanned four decades and nearly as many major promotions, you know who he is from sight and sound. Savage was, if nothing else, the guy snapping into Slim Jims on your television, and he appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, maybe most famously as wrestler Bone Saw McGraw in 2002's Spider-Man.
Lesser known than all of this is that, prior to following in his father's footsteps and becoming a wrestler, Randy Savage was known by his birth name, Randy Poffo, and he played baseball in the Cardinals' minor league system.
No, really! Okay, so maybe he doesn't have your typical Baseball-Reference bio page ...
... but he has one for a reason.
Poffo was a two-time all-star catcher in high school, but failed to get the attention of any team during the 1971 draft. His father, Angelo Poffo, drove Randy all the way to St. Louis for an open tryout, in which roughly 300 hopefuls tried to get the Cardinals' attention. Poffo was the only one of them to get a contract, for $500 a month, according to a Sports Illustrated profile written about him shortly after his fatal car accident in 2011.
It's difficult to know if Randy Poffo would have had a real baseball career. Injuries caused him to miss time -- Poffo was a catcher and an outfielder, and a collision at the plate damaged his shoulder. He didn't let that stop him, though, as he tried to throw left-handed instead of righty. This wasn't even a new trick of his, though, as in high school, he taught himself to be ambidextrous in case he needed to pitch.
John Guarnaccia, a longtime childhood friend, spotted the right-handed Randy throwing balls with his left hand. "Uh, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Well, a coach might want me to pitch," Randy replied. "But I don't wanna burn out my arm. So I'll learn to do it lefty, and I'll save my right for the important things."
His arm -- the right one -- was apparently a cannon, with Poffo throwing balls from the outfield to home plate in practice with ease. His friend, Guarnaccia, claimed that Randy could throw the ball back to the pitcher harder than the pitcher threw it to him when he was still a catcher. He had power, or at least potential for power, but a combination of holes in his swing and pitcher-friendly home parks in the minors kept it from fully materializing before he called it a career. It should be noted, too, that the future Savage was playing at the rookie league level, and players just aren't developed enough to have in-game power at that early stage unless they are a superstar in waiting. You shouldn't scout stats, but a short study suggests that he might have been a better player than we give him credit for, as he could have been a bit unlucky in his final season.
Who says baseball players lack personality?
You will be shocked to hear this, but Poffo was in tremendous shape even as a baseball player, and those who saw him play remember how intense (another shock!) and determined he was to succeed in his profession of choice. It wasn't enough to keep him in the Cardinals' organization for very long -- Poffo was cut after two seasons while only making it to A-ball -- but he caught on briefly with the Reds as a 21-year-old before moving in to wrestling full-time in 1975.
All told, Savage batted .254/.346/.391 with 16 homers in just over 1,000 plate appearances. That might not sound like all that much, but remember how the game has changed over the years: a .240/.324/.318 line was the league average in the Florida State League, where Randy Poffo played his final year of professional ball, and he put up superior numbers. He wasn't going to do anything about being "slow as mud", but there were ways to fix his "long and twitchy" swing enough, especially since his walks suggest he already seemed to have somewhat of an eye for hitting. And hey, maybe he had a little bit of coach in him, as he developed a hitting exercise that his then teammate Larry Herndon still uses:
Herndon said Poffo used to swing a bat into a hanging car tire as a regular training exercise in order to strengthen his hands and make sure he utilized his legs during swings. The technique was so effective that Herndon adopted it from Poffo and still uses it with his Lakeland players to this day.
A determined worker, some pop, a solid eye, maybe one plus tool if his arm is as good as the anecdotal evidence suggests: maybe he wasn't going to be a star like he was as a wrestler, but you wonder if he had stuck in the game if he would have fulfilled his dream of reaching the majors. He certainly didn't feel that was the case, and given how things turned out for him after, it's difficult to say he made the wrong call. Poffo never heard the crowds in St. Louis or Cincinnati go crazy for him on a baseball field, but Randy Savage headlined plenty of sold-out shows over the decades, and became a cultural icon in the process.
Wrestling was the better decision for Savage and the entertainment world, and there's no arguing that. But baseball sure could have used a little more of Randy Savage's personality over the years. Go ahead, try to claim that the World Series would somehow be less compelling if it featured Bryce Harper in fringe and sunglasses delivering promos like these.
Baseball missed out on the tremendous personality of Randy Poffo, but their loss was pop culture's gain. Maybe we should be thankful that he didn't drive a few more baseballs over the wall.
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