Long before Lanny Poffo and his big brother Randy became professional wrestling royalty, they were diehard baseball fans.
A couple of years ago, on the eve of what would have been his late brother’s 61st birthday (and long before we considered inducting Randy into The Hall of Very Good), I caught up with “The Genius” and talked their mutual love of baseball and Randy’s career before becoming the “Macho Man”.
HOVG: You and Randy grew up outside Chicago in Downers Grove, but I read somewhere that weren’t necessarily fans of either the Cubs or White Sox. What team was your favorite and what players in particular did you root for?
LANNY: We would make trips to Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park all the time. When the Yankees were in town, we’d go to see Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. When the Pirates came, we’d see Roberto Clemente. The Giants had Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. We also liked the Cubs and Sox, but my dad encouraged us to appreciate all the players in both leagues. These family outings are very happy memories for me!
HOVG: WWE Hall of Famer Pete Rose is no stranger to wrestling, having made appearances at a couple WrestleMania events. Did you guys ever have a chance to meet “Charlie Hustle”?
LANNY: I never met Pete Rose. I really appreciated the way he played the game. George Brett seemed to have the same intensity.
HOVG: Randy finished up high school in 1971 and hoped to be selected in that summer’s annual draft, but after 803 draft picks, he found himself not among the 48 catchers taken. Can you walk me through that whole ordeal? What was the reaction of your family and how did Randy respond?
LANNY: I was crushed. Randy got mad and decided to go to every tryout that anybody was having. He’d already turned down a full baseball scholarship to Arizona State University. He was an honor student but only had eyes for the pros.
HOVG: It wasn’t long until your brother found himself with an invitation to join the St. Louis Cardinals Gulf Coast League team. On a team that included a couple of future big leaguers, he ended up as one of the team’s most reliable hitters, batting .286 with a .492 slugging percentage. After Randy died, his former teammate Larry Herndon recalled his unique training technique of swinging a bat at a car tire hanging from a tree. Where did Randy come up with the idea?
LANNY: He did that and many other things to make his hands and wrists more powerful. I have no idea of the science behind it. I only know about his determination to hit until his blisters were bleeding! Randy loved Herndon very much. He was delighted to follow his successful career. He displayed no jealousy.
HOVG: You once told Colt Cabana that when Randy wasn’t working out with his teammates on the field, he could be found playing cards and taking their money. What can you tell me about your brother’s poker game?
LANNY: Randy never bluffed. “If you’ve got ’em, bet ’em!” He would be ultra conservative until he thought he had a winning hand. Then he’d raise and raise. He never cheated. He just took advantage of “a fool and his money!” He didn’t sign for a bonus. He only made $500 a month which was not a lot of money, even in 1971. My Dad promised to subsidize him but it wasn’t necessary as long as there were rich teammates who wanted to play!
HOVG: Randy would end up playing four seasons in the minors. In his last season, 1974, he found himself in the Florida State League competing against future Major League stars Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez and Ron LeFlore. Your brother would go on to actually led the Tampa Tarpons in a number of stats, including total bases, home runs, RBI and games played. I’ve gotta think he was in line to be promoted, but what happened? And how soon after he called it quits was he in talks with your dad to join the family business?
LANNY: My brother was a great hitter. He had a lot of pop in his bat. His swing was “a little too long” for a lot of the hitting coaches. His shoulder injuries led to throwing problems. He taught himself to throw left handed and signed with the White Sox as a first baseman in 1975. He made it through several cuts in Spring Training but was unconditionally released before the season started. He called it quits. He joined my Dad and me in Toledo, Ohio where we were working in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. Ten years of hard work later, “The Macho Man” made his WWF debut.
Randy Poffo played 289 games in four minor league seasons, batting .254 with 16 home runs and 66 RBIs. As “Macho Man” Randy Savage, he held 20 championships between his days with WWF and WCW and headlined three WrestleMania telecasts. Randy died of cardiac arrhythmia while driving on the morning of May 20, 2011. He was 58.
Lanny Poffo can still be found in the squared circle from time to time, but he spends most of his days as a motivational speaker and accomplished author. The Kindle edition of both of Poffo’s books are Amazon.com International Best Sellers. You can find him both on Twitter at @LannyPoffo and at his website.
The Hall of Very Good™ Class of 2015 is presented by Out of the Park Developments, the creators of the wildly popular baseball simulation game Out of the Park Baseball. Out of the Park Developments has made a generous donation to The Hall.