Randy (Macho Man) Savage's dream was to make it to the Majors
Before starring as a pro wrestler, Randall Mario Poffo was a strong-armed catcher
A high school star in Illinois, Randy went undrafted but signed with Cardinals
The hard working Savage made most of his talent but wasn't good enough
He sat home for two straight days, waiting ... waiting ... waiting.
The boy had a dream, after all. From the time he was 7 or 8 years old, the one thing Randall Mario Poffo wanted to do was play baseball. He was the kid who carried his mitt and bat everywhere; who begged his little brother Lanny to get off the couch and come to the back yard for some extra BP; who pinched himself every time his father, Angelo, took the boys to Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park to catch Hank Aaron or Roger Maris or Willie Mays as they came through town.
Was Randy Poffo the greatest athlete Downers Grove (Ill.) North High had ever produced? Probably not. But when it came to determination and drive, well, he was in his own league.
Once, while he was matriculating at Herrick Junior High, a physical education teacher questioned whether any of the students could do 100 sit-ups without stopping. Randy exceeded 1,000. Another time, 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."
Guarnaccia laughed and walked away.
"No exaggeration," he says now. "Randy became fully ambidextrous."
As a junior at Downers Grove North, Poffo batted .500 for the Trojans, leading them to a West Suburban Conference title. The next year, he improved to .525 and Downers Grove North repeated. With the local reputation as a winner, a player with power to all fields and a cannon of an arm from behind the plate, a future in pro ball seemed all but inevitable. A handful of scouts had come to suburban Illinois to watch him play, and while he didn't perform particularly well in their presence (a 102-degree fever rendered him useless), the interest was undeniable.
"We all assumed Randy would be welcomed into professional baseball," says his brother Lanny. "It was more than his dream. It was his destiny."
On June 8, 1971, Randy Poffo -- handsome, polite, clean cut -- sat inside his house at 3909 Venard Road and waited for the phone to ring. At approximately 10 a.m., the Chicago White Sox opened baseball's amateur draft by selecting Danny Goodwin, a catcher out of nearby Peoria Central High. Roughly three hours later, with the 40th pick, the Chicago Cubs took catcher Steve Haug, also from Illinois. One spot later, the Oakland A's tabbed catcher Ron Williamson. Four picks after that, Michael Uremovich, another catcher, went to the Twins. Then Steve Hergenrader to the White Sox. And David Christiansen to the Angels. And Michael Frazier to the Dodgers. And ... and ... by the time two days and 48 rounds had passed a whopping 66 catchers were selected.
None by the name of Randy Poffo.
"That was the darkest of dark times for us," says Lanny. "To describe it simply as sad does the pain no justice. Randy was ignored. Completely ignored. I assure you, he never forgot that feeling.
Randy Poffo died last Friday.
Before we go on, you should probably be told as much. Randy Poffo, the kid who dreamed of playing baseball, was driving his Jeep Wrangler in Pinellas County, Fla., when, at approximately 9:25 a.m., he suffered a massive heart attack. The Jeep veered over the raised concrete median divider, crossed over several lanes and crashed head-on into a tree.
When police arrived, they found Poffo's wife, Lynn, hurt but stable. Beside her, slumped forward in the driver's seat, was the lifeless body of a thickly built man with a white beard and a familiar face. He was 58. "I believe Randy was already gone when it hit," says Lanny, who wrestled in the WWF under the sobriquet, The Genius. "Which is the better way, I suppose."
If the accident sounds familiar but the name does not, that's probably because Randy Poffo was better known -- actually, universally known -- as Randy (Macho Man) Savage, one of the most accomplished and beloved professional wrestlers of all time. A former champion in both Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation and Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, the Macho Man became something of an iconic figure, what with his distinctive "Oooh Yeah!" growl, his bright, flamboyant duds, his outrageous appearances in Slim Jim commercials ("Snap into a Slim Jim!") and his cameo role as Bone Saw McGraw in the movie Spiderman.
Yet to a small handful of people, Macho Man Savage was merely a role, a funny-yet-foreign character that defined but a tiny sliver of a person's life. To them, Randy Poffo was not a wrestler; not a pitchman, not an actor, not a comic book character.
He was a ballplayer.
"That was his love," says Barry Cernoch, a high school teammate. "That's what Randy was all about."