Joe "The Joker" Randa was a fan favorite who was traded away, then re-acquired, making the most of his second opportunity in Kansas City. He was sure-handed at third base, once setting the franchise-record for consecutive error-less games. Offensively, he did not excel in any one area of the game, but was very good in all aspects, hitting for decent power, decent average, with decent plate discipline. He is eighth in games played for the Royals, spending eight seasons in Kansas City.
Joseph Gregory Randa was born in Milwaukee and attended high school in nearby Wales, Wisconsin. Randa attended Broward Community College where he was recruited by a young coach named Allard Baird, who would later become General Manager of the Royals. When Baird left to coach elsewhere, Randa transferred to Indian River State College in Florida before transferring to the University of Tennessee for his junior season. After hitting .342 with 10 home runs for the Volunteers, the Royals drafted him in the 11th round of the 1991 draft. Randa immediately lit up the minors, hitting .338/.438/.545 in the rookie Northwest League. Randa hit for a high average the next two seasons, but did not put up big power numbers for a third baseman. By 1994 he was in AAA Omaha, but blocked at the big league level by Gary Gaetti for the next two seasons.
When Gaetti departed in 1996, Randa was given an opportunity to split time at third base with journeymen utility players Keith Lockhart and Craig Paquette. Joe hit .303 as a rookie in 370 plate appearances with a solid .351 on-base percentage. That winter, the Royals were looking to upgrade their lineup and were presented with an opportunity to land two proven sluggers from the Pirates, who were looking to shed payroll. Randa was packaged with pitchers Jeff Granger, Jeff Wallace, and Jeff Martin and shipped to Pittsburgh for shortstop Jay Bell and first baseman Jeff King.
Randa was given the every-day job in Pittsburgh and flourished, hitting .302/.366/.451 with 7 HR 60 RBI, with 3.5 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, a career high. However, the Pirates were dissatisfied with his defense and his 21 errors, so they left him unprotected in the expansion draft. The new Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the second round, but immediately shipped him in a package to Detroit for All-Star third baseman Travis Fryman.
Randa slumped in Detroit, and when the Tigers signed free agent slugger Dean Palmer, Randa was dealt to the Mets for pitcher Willie Blair. However, the Mets had All-Star Robin Ventura at third base, leaving Randa again on the outside looking in. Just a few weeks later, Mets General Manager asked Randa if he wanted to return to Pittsburgh or Kansas City, as they had potential deals set up with both. Randa chose Kansas City.
The Mets dealt Randa back to Kansas City for former first-round pick Juan Lebron. Some Royals fans questioned the move for a team looking to build on young prospects. However reports surfaced that Lebron had behavioral issues with teammates that hastened his departure. Randa was just thrilled to have a place to settle down.
"It's just great to be back home. I owe my whole career to this organization. I want to prove to them that I am the player that they once thought I was.''
Joe was given the starting third base job, and started slowly. But his work with Royals legend George Brett paid off, and by June, Randa was on fire. He hit .383/.424/.613 over a 72-game stretch from June 6 to August 9 with a pair of four-hits games and a pair of five-hit games. Only George Brett has more 5+ hit games in his career as a Royal. At one point, Randa collected hits in ten consecutive at-bats. He ended the year with a line of .314/.363/.473 with a career high 16 HR 84 RBI.
"I don't think he's a surprise. We knew we were going to lose Dean Palmer and Joe Randa was really the first guy we identified as the one we wanted.....We knew he was motivated internally in just the right way to work hard and rise above the label of utility or platoon player that had been put on him."
-Manager Tony Muser
His penchant for smiling during at-bats caused manager Tony Muser to give Randa the nickname "Joker" after the Batman villain. Randa certainly gave Royals fans a reason to smile in 2000, part of a record-setting offense for the Royals. The Royals scored the most runs in franchise history that year, with Randa driving in 106 of them, to go along with a .304/.343/.438 line. The Royals rewarded the impending free agent with a one-year contract extension, then extended him another two seasons through 2003 at a below-market rate of $8.5 million, although Randa insisted he wanted to end his career in Kansas City.
Injuries caused Randa to slump in 2001, as his hamstring and back plagued him much of the year. He bounced back a bit in 2002, but with the Royals having budget issues, trade rumors began to swirl around him. Randa was rumored to have used his limited no-trade clause to nix a deal to the Mets, a report he denied. The Royals had a deal in place to send Randa to the Cubs for a pair of prospects, but that the deal was vetoed by Royals owner David Glass.
Ultimately, the Royals refusal to pay any of Randa's salary put an end to trade talks. Randa was happy to stay in Kansas City, and the Royals were lucky to have him as they got off to an amazing start that year and were in first place much of the summer. Randa was a big part of that, hitting .291/.348/.452 with 16 HR 72 RBI and setting a franchise record with 75 games in a row without an error.
"From how angry (I was) and the craziness of last winter; to be still here right now and have a team that's in a playoff run is pretty amazing. But it's been enjoyable. I'll never forget what happened this past winter, but I'll never forget what happened this summer, either."
The good feelings carried over into the off-season, with Randa signing a one-year contract plus an option year to stay in Kansas City. Randa slumped a bit, but still provided steady production at third, although the team slumped badly and lost 104 games. That winter, the Royals declined Randa's option and he signed a one-year, $2.15 million contract with the Reds.
Joe was dealt that summer to the Padres for a pennant run, making the only post-season appearance of his career. He played one more year in Pittsburgh before calling it quits after the 2006 season. He retired with 1,543 career hits, 123 home runs, and a career batting average of .284. He is ninth in Royals history in hits and RBI, 13th in runs scored, and his .288 average is 11th in franchise history for players with at least 2,000 plate appearances.
Joe Randa still works as a special adviser to the Royals, working on minor league development and residing in the Kansas City-area ever since his first season in the big leagues.
"I can't say enough about Joe...He's a guy who had more sitting on his table. I think his family, Bethany (wife) and his boys were a huge influence on wanting him to be here year around. I also think credit really goes to Joe, his family and the city. I think the city is really fortunate to have somebody like Joe Randa, who is really committed and lives here."
-Royals General Manager Allard Baird