Former Yankee great shares his testimony with local baseball enthusiasts

By Jim Goorman
Local Sports Journal

Trivia question: Who was the only major league baseball player who was voted Most Valuable Player for a losing team in a World Series?

The answer is Bobby Richardson. He received this distinction when the pennant winning New York Yankees lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates on a lead-off ninth-inning home run by Bill Mazeroski.

This fact, along with all kinds of Yankee stories and theological thoughts. were presented by  Richardson as he spoke to a breakfast group of more than 100 attentive “baseball enthusiasts” at Russ’ in North Muskegon and then in a religious service Sunday at the Downtown Holiday Inn.

Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson, and Whitey Ford.

Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson, and Whitey Ford.

The introduction both days was given by his oldest son, Robby, a minister at the Bridge Church in North Muskegon.

Richardson, now 78 years old, resides in his birthplace Sumter, SC, with his wife, Betsy, his bride of 58 years.

That 1960 World Series with the Pirates was a highlight year of his career as he batted .367 with 12 hits and 12 RBI, a grand slam and two triples.

Not too shabby for a second baseman whose main contributions were on defense as he secured five Gold Gloves, including 4 in a row during his 10-year career.

But consider that he played in 30 straight World Series games covering five seasons is a record that stills stands.

Of course, with guys like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra as teammates, Bobby could easily be overlooked  as the Yankees finished with an amazing nine World Series appearances in the 10 years of his career.

Even the very successful Yankee manager, Casey Stengel, pinch hit for Bobby on one occasion in the first inning.  But you must consider Richardson’s worth as he was an All Star eight times in those 10 years.

Bobby played with what the baseball world said was a “million dollar infield” with Moose Skowron at first, Tony Kubek, his roommate at short and the light hitting Clete Boyer at third. Bobby acknowledged with a smile that “Skowron would pay Bobby $500 for every caught pop up on the right side.”

As he related Saturday, he was signed at 17 years old and had his first feeling of the Yankee mystique when he traveled to New York after signing and stood at the batting cage with the likes of Mantle, Maris and Berra taking their turns at batting practice.

As he stood watching, a strong arm went around his shoulders in the likes of Mickey Mantle who said, “Come on kid and take a few swings.”  It was the beginning of a great friendship with “the Mick” which would continue throughout his career, but becoming much closer when Bobby retired at 30 years old.

Bobby talked about the Yankees 1961 World Championship season with Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record with his 61st homer in his last at-bat for the season.

“Roger was more comfortable in playing rightfield that year than when the game was over and he had to field questions about when and if he would break that record,” said Richardson.

Mantle hit 54 home runs that year and the three catchers, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and John Blanchard hit a never repeatable feat of a hitting a combined 60 home runs.

The Yankee team actually was pulling for Mantle to break the record rather than Maris because Mantle came through the Yankee system and Maris was traded from Kansas City to New York.

Richardson called Maris the “first pre-steroid player.”  Maris would eventually die at 51 years old and Mantle would succumb to liver complications.

To note the respect that Bobby received is shown in the fact that he gave the eulogies for both men.

“I do not get nervous speaking in front of groups, but I did get unnerved when doing the Mantle eulogy in front of a national televised audience,” Richardson said.

When he retired at 30 years old, he served as the baseball coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks and went 56-6 and finished second in the nation behind the Texas Longhorns. Everyone of his positional players  signed a major league contract.

What really stood out as the weekend went on was the character and religious convictions of Bobby Richardson.

Respect is what he received because of the respect he gave to others around him.  It was a refreshing breath of air in this modern era of selfish and self-indulgent athletes, to hear a man who walked the talk on and off the field.

The changing of his life centered around the time when Muskegon’s Gospel Film president, Billie Zeoli, came to his house while in high school and showed a film to Bobby and he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.

Consider these events as part of his character:

  • He received the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1963.
  • He was encouraged by future president Gerald Ford to run for congress in South Carolina and lost by a narrow 1,500 votes.
  • Players such as Moose Skowron would do their cursing after a strikeout, but would ask Bobby for apologies for these words as they passed him in the dugout.
  • He went on Billy Graham Crusades and gave his testimony in Madison Square Garden in New York and twice in Japan.
  • He witnessed to his teammates, including Mickey Mantle, who during his last days, asked for Bobbie to fly to Dallas to be with him.  Mantle told Bobby and Betsy Richardson that he had accepted Christ as his savior and based it on John 3:16.
  • Teaming with Watson Spoelstra, a Detroit writer, and Red Barber, team chapels were initiated on Sundays and have carried on to this day.

Bobby left the audiences with three things that are important:

  1. It is important how we live our lives.
  2. There is a rapid pace in this world and we need to spend time with the important people of our lives, such as with grandkids
  3. There is a power in our example.

He gave tremendous challenges to every young boy and adult in attendance.  This also can be read in his book “Impact Player” written in 2012.

 

 

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