Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #90 Bobby Richardson

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The popular second baseman was a four-time World Series champion, and is one of the last living players from the Casey Stengel/Ralph Houk dynasty years.

Name: Bobby Richardson
Position: Second baseman
Born: August 19, 1935 (Sumter, SC)
Yankee Years: 1955-66
Primary number: 1
Yankee statistics: 1,412 G, .266/.299/.335, 196 2B, 37 3B, 34 HR, 73 SB, 60.3 SB%, 78 wRC+, 8.3 rWAR, 6.3 fWAR

Biography

The Yankees have a long line of successful second basemen throughout their history, from Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri in the late '20s to Robinson Cano today. One of these great second basemen was Bobby Richardson, a soft-spoken religious man from South Carolina who was known for his defensive prowess and World Series heroics.

Amateur star

Richardson was born shortly after the Depression to a father who bore the same name. Robert Sr. was a part-owner and manager of Richardson Marble and Granite Works in Sumter, South Carolina. Young Bobby grew up loving baseball, and he began playing on a Salvation Army YMCA kids' team when he was 10 years old. As he matured, he ascended to better teams, the local Kiwanis Club team and later, the Sumter American Legion team, which was coached by Richardson's mentor, coach Hutchinson. They won the state championship when Richardson turned 17 in '52, and the Yankees took notice of the young second baseman.

Both Georgia Tech and the University of North Carolina offered him scholarships, and 11 other MLB teams were interested in him, but Yankee scout Bill Harris the Yankees' minor league Norfolk manager, Mayo Smith, convinced Richardson to sign with the Yankees. The day after he graduated from Edmunds High School in '53, he signed with the Yankees, collected some donations from local friends and family ($85 in coins), then took the bus to Norfolk.

Richardson's 27 games were a disappointment, as the 17-year-old only hit .211, so he was demoted to Class D Olean up in New York. Although he was further from home, Richardson rediscovered his hitting form against the lesser talent, batting .412 with a .542 slugging percentage in 32 games the rest of the season. In '54, he reported to Class A Binghamton a few hours away, where the small second baseman hit .310 with a .411 slugging percentage in 141 games, notching 29 doubles among his 171 hits. He was voted the Eastern League MVP, then moved out to Colrado for another promotion to the Triple-A Denver Bears, where he played at Bears Stadium, which later became Denver's famous Mile High Stadium. There, he hit .296/.359/.423 with 146 hits in 119 games, and when superb infield Gil McDougald went down after getting hit by a line drive in batting practice, the Yankees summoned him to make his MLB debut on August 5, 1955 at age 19.

Breaking out from Casey's reins

In Richardson's first game, he recorded his first career hit off a brand name, the Tigers' future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning. It was one of only four hits he had in 29 plate appearances though, and he returned to the minors once McDougald recovered. He hit .280/.337/.366 for the remainder of '55 with Triple-A Richmond, then followed that season up by posting a tremendous year back in the thin Denver air in '56: .328/.362/.485 with 30 doubles, 12 triples, and 10 homers. Despite the gaudy numbers for a middle infielder, the Yankees kept him in the minors for all but five games in '56; the likes of McDougald, Billy Martin, and Jerry Coleman made it tough for Richardson to crack the Yankees' roster.

Finally in '57, the Yankees took Richardson north with the team when they broke from spring training, and he rewarded their faith by batting an impressive .344/.360/.396 through mid-June. Although he slumped shortly after that, he was named to the first of eight All-Star teams by his Hall of Fame manager, Casey Stengel. The two men had an occasionally tenuous relationship, as Stengel never called him anything except "Kid," and once made a crack about Richardson's clean-living, Baptist lifestyle: "Look at him. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't chew, he doesn't stay out late, and he still can't hit .250."

Richardson did not like the ever-changing lineup, just as he did not like it when Casey pinch hit for him before he batted even once in a game, or when the skipper batted him ninth in the order behind a good hitting pitcher like Don Larsen or Mickey McDermott or Tommy Byrne. But that was Casey's style. On at least one occasion, Casey pinch hit for Bill Skowron and Clete Boyer before their first plate appearance, too (for Boyer, it happened in his very first World Series game!), and he batted Martin and Rizzuto ninth in the order. None of them liked it. -- SABR

It was an odd season, as Richardson's second-half numbers belied his All-Star status--from mid-June on, he had a horrible .489 OPS and ended the years at a 56 wRC+ in 97 games. Nonetheless, the Yankees won the pennant and Richardson appeared in his first of 36 career World Series games, though he never made a plate appearance. The Yankees lost in seven games to World Series MVP Lew Burdette and the Milwaukee Braves. '58 was also a struggle for Richardson, who could only manage a 61 wRC+ on the season in 73 games, but the Yankees returned to the Fall Classic, where they exacted revenge on the Braves by recovering from a 3-1 deficit to take the series in seven. Richardson only made one start and five plate appearances on the series, but he still had his second World Series ring (despite getting into just five games in '56, he had one from that year, too).

Somewhat ironically, Richardson did not truly break out until the Yankees themselves stumbled as a group. '59 was the only season from 1955-64 in which the Yankees did not win the AL pennant; they ended up in third place, 15 games behind the "Go-Go" White Sox. However, Richardson established himself as a regular in the lineup by appearing in 134 games, making his second All-Star team, and hitting .301/.355/.377 with a 100 wRC+ thanks to a tip by hitting coach/Hall of Famer Bill Dickey to use a heavier bat and harder swing. He was the only regular to hit .300 in '59, and some friends on the Orioles helped make that possible by throwing him easy pitches on the last day of the season. Richardson's successful season forced Stengel to keep him in most of his lineups.

World Series hero

By most measures, '60 was a big step backward for Richardson. He appeared in a then-career-high 150 games out of 154 for Stengel, but he never seemed to break out of a season-long slump, ending the year at an ugly .252/.303/.298 triple slash with a 67 wRC+. He was still a fine defensive second baseman, but his bat was a hole in the Yankees' otherwise formidable lineup, which featured Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, newly-acquired AL MVP Roger Maris, All-Stars McDougald, Elston Howard, "Moose" Skowron, and shortstop Tony Kubek, Richardson's best friend and double play partner. The Yankees avenged their lackluster '59 by romping to the AL pennant by eight games over the runner-up Orioles, then played against the Pirates in the World Series.

Pittsburgh had not made the Fall Classic in 33 years, but they had a tough team. Although the Yankees seemed to blow them out every other game, the Buccos hung in there by narrowly winning the opener, Game 4, and Game 5. Richardson was vital to the blowouts, as he finally escaped his nightmare season with a phenomenal World Series. He went 3-for-4 (two in one inning) with a double and three runs scored in the 16-3 Game 2 victory, then came to bat for the first time in Game 3 after the Yankees had already knocked out Pirates starter Vinegar Mizell in the first inning.

Former Dodger Clem Labine was on, and he allowed a bases-loaded RBI infield single to Howard ahead of Richardson, who came to bat with the bases still loaded. The last thing on anyone's mind was a home run; the light-hitting second baseman only had three to his name in nearly 1,600 career plate appearances entering Game 3. Richardson actually blew a squeeze play on his first two strikes, then had to swing away. When he did, he turned around on an inside fastball and sent it to the left field bleachers for a shocking grand slam, a Yankee Stadium World Series first. Three innings later, he followed the slam with a two-run single to set a World Series record that still stands today: six RBI in one game.

Richardson went 2-for-3 with another double in the Game 4 loss, then was held hitless by Harvey Haddix and Roy Face before coming back in Game 6 with two triples (one off Labine) and three RBI. in the 12-0 Whitey Ford shutout win. During the finale, Richardson closed out his Fall Classic his fifth multi-hit game of the series, but counterpart second baseman Bill Mazeroski crushed the Yankees' championship dreams with an even more stunning homer than Richardson's Game 3 slam. Although Richardson's 11 hits earned him World Series MVP honors (the only World Series loser to ever be honored), he was devastated like the rest of his teammates. He even sold the Corvette awarded to him for a Chevy station wagon since he felt it was a better use of his money with three kids at home.

Now managed under former coach and catcher Ralph Houk, Richardson's friend who convinced him to not quit baseball, the Yankees won the title in '61 with an astounding 109-win team, one of the greatest in the history of baseball. Maris and Mantle grabbed the headlines, which helped obscure another bummer season from Richardson, whose '59 campaign was looking more and more like an outlier. Again though, his bat came alive in the World Series against the NL champion Reds. He had a hit in every game, and three-hit games in both Games 1 and 4. It was a .391/.391/.435 series, and the Yankees took the championship home in five games for Richardson's third title. (This time, the MVP was Ford, who threw 14 shutout innings.)

In '62, Richardson rebounded with the best season of his career, a three-win season by WAR measures, and a 103 wRC+. He returned to the All-Star team, won the second of five straight Gold Gloves, and actually finished runner-up to Mantle in AL MVP voting thanks to a league-leading 209 hits, easily a career-high (as were his 38 doubles). The Yankees won a third straight pennant, but Richardson struggled in the World Series this time. No one remembers that though, since the most famous play of his career occurred in the field at the end of Game 7. The man who surrendered Mazeroski's homer in 1960, Ralph Terry, was again on the mound, this time trying to complete a gem in Game 7, a 1-0 shutout. The home team San Francisco Giants put the tying run on third and the winning run at second though (a terrific play by Maris in right field kept a run from scoring), and future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey stepped up to the plate with two outs. A single would win it, and he hit a rope to Richardson, who played him perfectly and snared the line drive to end it, agonizing Giants fans like Charlie Brown.

Richardson later recalled, "People often suggest that I was out of position on that play, but McCovey hit two hard ground balls to me earlier in the Series, so I played where I thought he would hit the ball." It was a classic smart play knowing the hitter by a smooth defensive second baseman.

Despite making four more All-Star teams, Richardson's career was relatively unremarkable toward the mid -'60s. His wRC+ hovered in the mid-70s for two more AL champions, and like the rest of the Yankee lineup, he could do absolutely nothing against the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Johnny Podres in the '63 World Series against the Dodgers. His last great moments of glory occurred under new manager Berra during the '64 World Series, which was also the Yankees' final gasp of greatness for over a decade. He set another World Series record that has never been broken, 13 hits in one Fall Classic against the St. Louis Cardinals. It wasn't enough to beat St. Louis though, and Richardson never made it into another World Series.

Both he and the Yankees further declined in '65, and he initially planned on retiring after the season despite only turning 30 in August. Career-ending injuries to his friend Kubek forced the shortstop to retire though, and the now-CBS owned Yankees convinced Richardson to come back for one more year so that they did not have to scramble for a second baseman. The Yankees suffered their worst season since the pre-Ruth days as they descended to the AL cellar, and though 31, Richardson called it quits for good after '66 to return to his family.

Richardson later went on to become a baseball coach at the University of South Carolina, where he guided them to the final game of the '75 College World Series and three other appearances from 1970-76. He managed seven future major leaguers before quitting to pursue an unsuccessful run for Congress. He returned to baseball as the coach and athletic director for Coastal Carolina from 1984-86 and Liberty University from 1987-90 before retiring relatively young at age 55. He's been back to Yankee Stadium for many Old Timers' Days since his playing career ended, and he remains one of the most popular players in Yankees history.

Andrew's rank: N/A
Tanya's rank: N/A
Community's rank: 62
Avg. WAR rank: 99

Season Stats

Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

TB

rWAR

fWAR

1955

19

NYY

11

29

26

2

4

0

0

0

3

1

1

2

0

0.154

0.214

0.154

0.368

1

4

-0.7

-0.5

1956

20

NYY

5

7

7

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0.143

0.143

0.143

0.286

-23

1

-0.1

-0.2

1957

21

NYY

97

320

305

36

78

11

1

0

19

1

3

9

26

0.256

0.274

0.298

0.573

58

91

0.2

0.2

1958

22

NYY

73

195

182

18

45

6

2

0

14

1

3

8

5

0.247

0.276

0.302

0.578

62

55

0.3

0.2

1959

23

NYY

134

507

469

53

141

18

6

2

33

5

5

26

20

0.301

0.335

0.377

0.713

99

177

2.2

1.7

1960

24

NYY

150

507

460

45

116

12

3

1

26

6

6

35

19

0.252

0.303

0.298

0.601

67

137

0.7

-0.1

1961

25

NYY

162

704

662

80

173

17

5

3

49

9

7

30

23

0.261

0.295

0.316

0.610

67

209

-0.6

-1.0

1962

26

NYY

161

754

692

99

209

38

5

8

59

11

9

37

24

0.302

0.337

0.406

0.743

101

281

3.3

3.1

1963

27

NYY

151

668

630

72

167

20

6

3

48

15

1

25

22

0.265

0.294

0.330

0.624

76

208

2.5

2.2

1964

28

NYY

159

728

679

90

181

25

4

4

50

11

2

28

36

0.267

0.294

0.333

0.626

73

226

0.5

0.5

1965

29

NYY

160

713

664

76

164

28

2

6

47

7

5

37

39

0.247

0.287

0.322

0.609

74

214

-1.0

-0.5

1966

30

NYY

149

648

610

71

153

21

3

7

42

6

6

25

28

0.251

0.280

0.330

0.610

79

201

1.0

0.6

NYY (12 Yrs)

1412

5780

5386

643

1432

196

37

34

390

73

48

262

243

0.266

0.299

0.335

0.634

77

1804

8.3

6.3

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

BR Bullpen

SABR Bio

Other Top 100 Yankees

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