Once A Lord Of The Diamond Himself For The Yanks,
by Todd Newville
by Todd Newville
|Richardson was the featured guest speaker at the 19th Annual Metro Prayer Breakfast on April 3, 2002, in Oklahoma City, sponsored by the Christian Business Men's Committee (CBMC). With a hungry pre-dawn crowd of about 2,000 on hand inside the Cox Convention Center's exhibit hall, Richardson proceeded to deliver a message of hope and inspiration - one designed to uplift everyone's spirits much in the same manner as some of Richardson's key hits and sparkling fielding gems did for the New York Yankees and their followers in the 1960s.|
"I played at the right time and with some great players," said the 66-year-old Richardson, a resident of Sumter, S.C. "Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record. Mickey Mantle had a wonderful career during the time that I played. We were teammates for a dozen years. The Yankees were constantly winning pennants in the American League, so we were playing in World Series competition most every year. Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra were in New York. Those were great moments."
Richardson played second base for the Yankees for 12 years (1955 to '66), becoming a bona fide regular in 1959 when he hit .301 in 134 games. In 10 of those seasons, Richardson played in the World Series. In 1956, '58, '61, and '62, the Yankees took home world championships.
Richardson was a smart player and a dependable presence in the Yankee lineup. But, he wasn't nearly as flashy as some of his Yankee teammates. During the regular season, he was consistent at the plate more often than not.
In 1962, he set a Yankees' record when he recorded 692 at-bats. He also led the American League with 209 hits and hit .302 in the process along with 99 runs scored, 38 doubles, eight home runs, and 59 RBI (all career highs.) He finished second to Mantle for the MVP award that season in the Junior Circuit.
His defense was just as solid during his glory days. In 1961, Richardson won the first of his five straight Gold Gloves for his fielding prowess at second base. In the process, he surpassed Nellie Fox of the Chicago White Sox as the best fielding second baseman in the American League.
|Because of his solid bat and sure glove, Richardson made seven all-star teams (in 1957, '59, and from '62-66.)
If Richardson rode shotgun to some of his more flamboyant Yankee teammates during the regular season, he tended to hop in the driver's seat during the post-season. He became a star in the World Series and was often the marquee attraction.
In the 1960 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York outscored the Bucs 55-27 in a seven-game set. The Bronx Bombers won three games by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. But, the Pirates won the close ones (6-4, 3-2, 5-2), capped by a thrilling 10-9 victory in Game 7 when Bill Mazeroski homered to end the Series.
Former New York Yankee great Bobby Richardson signs an autograph after the Metro Prayer Breakfast on April 3, 2002, in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Todd Newville)
Despite the Yankees' downfall, Richardson was voted the Series MVP with a performance that included a .367 average, eight runs scored, and 12 runs batted in. Six of his ribbies came during the first inning of Game 3, when he collected a two-run single and socked a grand slam in a 10-0 drubbing of Pittsburgh.
"I was in the clubhouse when the (seventh) game was over," said Richardson, a career .266 batter who at one point played in 30 consecutive World Series games. "I never heard of an MVP being chosen from a losing team. The editor of Sport magazine came in and said, 'You're to receive the Corvette as the outstanding player'. It was quite an honor but it was bittersweet because, when you lose, it takes away from it.
"Mickey Mantle said it was his biggest disappointment when we lost to the Pirates that year. We scored a lot of runs and felt like we had the better ball club. But, they turned out to be the world champions of baseball."
(From left to right) Don Demeter, Bobby Richardson, and Tom Sturdivant share a moment after the Metro Prayer Breakfast on April 3, 2002, in Oklahoma City. Demeter and Sturdivant (both Oklahoma City residents) are former major leaguers and friends of Richardson. (Photo by Todd Newville)
|In the 1961 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Yankees won four games to one. Richardson collected nine hits and led all batters with a .391 average in the Series. In 1962, New York beat the San Francisco Giants in seven games as Richardson saved the day again - this time with his leather, not wood.|
In the bottom of the ninth of the decisive Game 7 at tricky Candlestick Park, Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry was nursing a 1-0 lead with two outs and men on second and third. Slugger Willie McCovey stepped to the plate and unleashed a vicious line drive right toward Richardson at second base. Naturally, he gloved it for another Yankee world title.
"I was hoping you wouldn't say anything about the 1963 Series," Richardson said with a wry grin, "because (Sandy) Koufax was pitching and I struck out the first three times up. In fact, he got Mantle, (Tony) Kubek, and myself each three times. They beat us in four games.
"In 1964, with Yogi as our manager, we went seven games before losing to the Cardinals. After that, Yogi was replaced by the Cardinals' manager, Johnny Keane. But, I simply have to say that I played at a great time with great players. Looking back, it was a really fun time filled with fond memories."
After retiring from the Yankees, Richardson became a college baseball coach at the University of South Carolina. He piloted the Gamecocks to a gaudy 51-6 record and a berth in the 1975 College World Series at Omaha, Neb., where they lost to the Texas Longhorns 5-1 in the title game.
The great infield for the New York Yankees of the early 1960s consisted of (from left to right) Clete Boyer at third base, Tony Kubek at shortstop, Bobby Richardson at second base, and Joe Pepitone at first base.
|"Those great moments with the Yankees carried over for me as I became a college coach," said Richardson, who had a .978 fielding percentage for his career. "I coached my teammates' sons like Whitey Ford's son and Phil Rizzuto's son."|
Always a proud franchise, the Yankees lost to the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series. It wasn't until 1996 (a period of 15 years) that New York made another trip to the Fall Classic. Since then, they have been winning at a torrid pace - winning world titles in 1996, '98, '99, and 2000. They nearly won another last year before falling in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With Derek Jeter at shortstop, Bernie Williams in center field, and newly-acquired Jason Giambi from the Oakland A's at first base, New York has a solid offensive attack. Six-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, along with Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, give the Yankees and manager Joe Torre a solid rotation and reason to look to the future with optimism. Richardson is happy his former club is living in the penthouse of the American League once again.
"I think they are a great ballclub," Richardson said. "They measure up to the previous standards that were set. One reason for that is money. They have the income to go after players such as Giambi. They have the nucleus of a great ball club and they will be hard to beat for some time. Joe Torre is a tremendous manager. George Steinbrenner wants to win and he's put together the players that Torre needs to win with."
|Being a standout on the baseball diamond gave Richardson a multitude of opportunites after retiring. He has chosen to spread his message of hope and faith in Jesus Christ across the United States during many speaking engagements before many civic groups and church gatherings.
"Because of baseball, doors have been opened for me and I have the privilege of speaking at many events around the country," Richardson said. "I realize I'm invited (to speak) because of baseball, so I naturally share a few things about baseball, my career and some of my teammates.
Oklahoma congressman and former NFL superstar Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks shares some time with Bobby Richardson at the Metro Prayer Breakfast on April 3, 2002, in Oklahoma City. Largent was a product of Putnam City High School in OKC. (Photo by Todd Newville)
"The important thing is to challenge people concerning their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I became a Christian when I was 14 and it's exciting for me to share in a down-to-earth way what the Lord means to me. I hope there is a positive response to what I say and I really enjoy being at these types of events."
It's not just everyday folks who benefit from Richardson's words of Biblical wisdom. Teammates - most notably Mantle in his final days - also appreciated his approach to life and the sharing of his message.
Mantle died on Aug. 13, 1995, in a Dallas hospital following a battle with cancer. A liver transplant wasn't enough to save the man who blasted 536 career home runs and won three MVP awards - plus a coveted Triple Crown in 1956.
On the outside, Mantle was always a fun-loving person - loved and adored by teammates and fans alike. But, a life of alcoholism and other personal problems ultimately led him to seek a more Christian life in his final years. Richardson helped in Mantle's transformation.
Former New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson slaps a tag on a Detroit Tigers baserunner during a contest at Yankee Stadium as the umpire signals that the runner is safe.
|"Mickey was a great ballplayer and he had a great career," Richardson said. "He was a team leader. After baseball, his name was still magic. All of his career, it seemed things just went his way. But, he did have some battles in his life and he overcame some of those battles. Mickey was a changed person (late in his life) and probably the most humbled person I have seen when Bob Costas interviewed him on national television. He said 'I am not a role model. I have been a failure as a father and a husband.' I thought it was one of the most poignant interviews I'd ever heard.|
"He was a very humble man and he challenged people by saying 'Don't be like me.' There was a change in his life, more than just a transition. He responded and became a Christian, choosing to receive Christ as his savior. He had a peace that surpasses all understanding when he died. I was at his funeral to share some of those things. I'm excited that he had a wonderful career in baseball, but even more so that he came to know Christ and had peace and contentment."
Whether it was a clutch hit on the baseball diamond during his playing days or mere love, friendship and support for a famous teammate in need during his retirement, one thing about Richardson is certain.
He has always been good for an assist of Biblical proportions whenever needed.