A League of Fans Special Feature
Bobby Richardson was a second baseman for the New York Yankees from 1955 through 1966. He was part of one of the great dynasties in American sports history, playing in seven different World Series during his career. He won the World Series MVP in 1960, the only player on a losing team to win the Series MVP award. He was an eight-time American League All-Star and five-time Gold Glove award winner.
Following his playing career, Richardson became a college baseball coach. He’s known as the “Father of South Carolina Baseball” for turning a mediocre program into a national powerhouse. In 1975, he led the Gamecocks to the national championship game before losing. His record at South Carolina was 221-92-1, including the school’s first three College World Series appearances. He later coached Coastal Carolina University and Liberty University.
Richardson is a national leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He famously did the funeral service on national television for Yankees great Mickey Mantle. Richardson is involved with numerous charitable and community service projects, including the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which provides help to members of the baseball family in need of assistance.
Richardson was recently interviewed by Ken Reed, League of Fans’ Sports Policy Director.
Ken Reed: What’s your best memory from your playing career?
Bobby Richardson: October is what I think about when I think about the Yankees because of all the World Series I was fortunate enough to play in with my teammates.
In 1966, my last year, we finished in last place, so it was then that I realized that some players spend their entire careers without making it to one World Series. That was the season I fully appreciated what we accomplished on all those great teams.
Reed: What do you think was better about Major League Baseball in your day vs. today?
Richardson: Well, I think finances didn’t dictate the game nearly as much as they do today. For example, money didn’t dictate the starting times of games.
I think it was a friendlier time in those years. We traveled by train quite a bit in my early years and we spent more time together as a baseball family. We really grew close together as a family.
One thing that bothers me is that today’s game takes so long to play. Our games weren’t nearly as long. I wish there was a way that they could speed baseball up a bit. I honestly don’t watch many games today and the length of the games is one of the reasons.
You have long commercial breaks today and there are so many specialists when it comes to pitching. You have the middle innings pitchers, the setup men, the closers, etc. There are fewer complete games today because the manager or pitching coach is always out at the mound changing pitchers, it seems.
Also, the pitchers today don’t seem to have the control they used to. That coupled with batters striking out more today means the counts grow on almost every batter and that makes the games longer as well.
Another thing, at the college and high school levels you have coaches calling almost every pitch from the dugout. That lengthens games. I didn’t believe in that. I had good catchers who knew what the pitcher was throwing, and how they were pitching on a given day. They knew better than I what would be good pitches to call for certain situations and I trusted them.
Reed: Do you think there’s anything better about baseball today than in your time?
Richardson: Well, I think with strength and nutrition coaches that players are stronger today.
I think it’s a positive today that players don’t need to get a job in the offseason to supplement their income. Players can afford to bring their families along with them more today and I think that’s good for families.
Reed: If you were named Major League Baseball commissioner for a day, what one thing would you do to make the game better?
Richardson: Well, I don’t think I’m qualified for that position but I always said my old roommate, Tony Kubek, would’ve made a great baseball commissioner. For example, if he thought the game was too long, I’m confident he would’ve come up with some good rules and policies to speed it up.
If somehow I was baseball commissioner, I would try to do just that, speed up the game. I would also not let television dictate when games started. Too many games start too late in the evening because of television and I don’t think that’s good for fans, especially young fans. I’d also shorten the season. We have too many games at night when the weather is cold and fans are out there freezing. I also think we have too many playoff games now.
Everything is built around finances today. Unfortunately, the game of baseball now is dictated by money.
Reed: What was the most rewarding part of your college baseball coaching career?
Richardson: One thing that comes quickly to mind is that after we went to the College World Series for the first time in 1974, two of my best players said, “Coach, we’re going to come back next year instead of going pro because we’re having a great experience here and we think we have a chance to win it all next year.” Well, we made it to the final game but ended up losing to Texas. But the fact those players valued their experience in our program and wanted to stay on board for another year with their coaches and teammates was definitely rewarding to me.
Reed: You made an unsuccessful run for United States Congress in 1976, barely losing to the incumbent. What made you run for Congress and what did you hope to accomplish?
Richardson: Well, through some mutual friends I had met President Gerald Ford and we had become fairly good friends. He asked me to run for Congress from South Carolina a couple times and it’s hard to tell the president “No.”
I don’t know if I had any certain accomplishments in mind if I had won. I do know I would’ve been driven by a set of principles that would have dictated my actions, whatever the issue might have been. I would’ve surrounded myself with as much information as possible and then voted what I thought was right, based on principles, not what might have been best for my reelection or anything like that.
I think it’s very important to stand for principles, even if the whole world might be against you. A good politician can’t yield easily to the whims of the crowd, as we see too often today.
Reed: You’ve been a devout Christian your entire life, including your years with the Yankees. You’ve also been praised for living your values without pushing your religious beliefs on anybody. Was that an intentional decision of yours?
Richardson: I think it is part of my personality. I’ve never worn religion on my shoulder. I’ve done several of my teammates’ funerals and I certainly didn’t ask to have a part in any of them. I was either asked by a teammate to do his funeral, as was the case with Mickey Mantle, or I was asked by a relative of a teammate.
If you ask me about my religious beliefs and what they mean to me, I’ll definitely have a conversation with you but I don’t initiate those conversations. I just try to share my beliefs in a tactful way.
Reed: You famously did the funeral service for Mickey Mantle. What was that experience like?
Richardson: It was a humbling experience to do Mickey Mantle’s service on national television. It was a responsibility I took seriously.
Reed: For most of his life, despite being one of the most popular athletes in America, Mickey Mantle seemed like a troubled soul. He could be gregarious and gracious and then a short while later be moody and mean. If you would, talk about your relationship with Mantle through the years.
Richardson: It was just the alcohol. When he would start drinking is when the negative things would happen.
Mickey Mantle had the best spirit of anyone I know. He would give you the shirt off his back. He would fly across the country to do a benefit for someone in need. He could be the most giving person.
He came to my hometown in South Carolina on many occasions to do charitable work. Despite our different lifestyles, I considered him one of my very good friends.
I was thrilled that near the end of his life he went to the Betty Ford Center, gave up alcohol, and became a Christian. Unfortunately, his life only lasted a short time after that.
Reed: Following the 1963 season, you were given the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award as the MLB player that best exemplified the character of Lou Gehrig. Gehrig is known as one of the classiest men in baseball history. What did that award mean to you?
Richardson: It meant a lot. In a way, Lou Gehrig was the inspiration for my baseball career. When I was 14 years old, back in American Legion baseball, our team was taken to the movie Pride of the Yankees, which was about Lou Gehrig. Gary Cooper played Gehrig. I remember seeing that movie and thinking what a great man, what a great organization. I’d like to be part of that.
That was really the turning point for me in baseball. It fired my desire and dedication to the game. During my junior year in high school, our school yearbook listed my career desire as playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.
Reed: Mr. Richardson, thank you for your time. It’s most appreciated.
Richardson: Your welcome. I enjoyed the conversation.
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A League of Fans Special Report