Name: Robert Clinton “Bobby” Richardson Jr.
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, 78 wRC+, 8.1 rWAR, 6.3 fWAR
Certain players have a knack for performing when the spotlight is brightest. Arguably one of the best Yankees second basemen of all time, his prowess for World Series heroics was often overshadowed by the many Hall of Famers who played alongside him. Bobby Richardson’s smooth hands at the keystone and his contributions to a relentless Yankees dynasty landed him in the Top 100.
Born to humble beginnings in Sumter, South Carolina, Richardson’s father was in the marble and granite business—using his skills to build tombstones for local cemeteries. Richardson still has memories from his childhood of returning signs indicating the recently deceased to the funeral home next to his father’s business, receiving a small $5 tip in the process. Unlike his father, Richardson was allowed to play baseball at a young age, first within a YMCA program on a team sponsored by the Salvation Army and later a team through the local Kiwanis Club.
Richardson’s status as a ballplayer took flight when his American Legion team won the state championship in 1952. Richardson recalls going to see the film “The Pride of the Yankees,” the story of Lou Gehrig, before a game in Charlotte during his American Legion playing days. Richardson marveled at the Yankees organization and daydreamed of the chance to be a part of it one day. Little did Richardson know at the time, but his dream would soon come true. A Yankees scout eyed the young second baseman—but so did 11 other Major League teams. He was also offered scholarships to the University of North Carolina and Georgia Tech.
The day after Richardson’s high school graduation in 1953, he signed with the Yankees. Unlike today, no special treatment was afforded to Richardson after signing—having to scrape together donations from family and friends to afford a bus to Norfolk. Richardson only saw the field 27 times in Class-B Norfolk, where he struggled. One extra-base hit and a .211 average got Richardson demoted all the way down to Olean. Class D was friendly to Richardson who hit a gaudy .411 for the remainder of the ’53 season.
Following an MVP season in ’54 with Class-A Binghamton, Richardson got the call to Triple-A Denver at the start of the ’55 season. Richardson was a long way from home but continued to hit—slashing .296/.359/.423 over 119 games. He had established himself at the plate and in the field, setting himself up for an opportunity in the big leagues.
Following an unfortunate batting practice injury to steady utilityman Gil McDougald, the Yankees big club called up Richardson. At the young age of 19, Richardson made his debut with the Yankees on August 5, 1955. Richardson recorded his first MLB hit in his debut—a single off fellow first-year player Jim Bunning. No Wally Pipp situation was in the cards for Richardson, who was subsequently sent back to the minors following the return of McDougald. In 1956 Richardson continued his stellar play in Triple-A, smashing 52 extra base hits in 124 games. He appeared ready for a more prominent role in the big leagues.
It is fitting that the soft-spoken, well-behaved Richardson would receive his big break at the hands of a brawl at the Copacabana nightclub. The fight at the New York establishment led to the trade of former Casey Stengel favorite Billy Martin and thus more playing time for Richardson.
Richardson’s hot start to 1957 earned him his first All-Star appearance, but he failed to match his first-half success and finished the season batting .256 after hitting over .300 through June. The Yankees made it to the World Series in ’57 but ultimately fell to the Milwaukee Braves. Richardson did not have a plate appearance in the series, and his struggles continued into ’58, hitting only .247 with an OPS of .578 in 73 games. The Yankees once again made it to the World Series, this time winning in seven games against the Braves. Richardson made his first career October start in ’58 but only had five plate appearances in the series. His well-known Fall Classic heroics would come later in his career.
Richardson’s faith-driven life—a devout Christian—and low-key lifestyle is noted by many, and contrasted by many of the bad-boy Yankees of that era, like the dismissed Martin and legends Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. Manager Casey Stengel poked fun at Richardson, once stating: “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.”
According to Richardson, Stengel later amended the quote stating that Richardson was: “the best .260 hitter I ever had.” That quote still feels like a backhanded compliment from Stengel, but quite often, glue guys like Richardson help define championship runs despite the lack of recognition or praise.
Despite the Yankees’ relative struggles in 1959 (finishing third in the American League) and Stengel’s oft-used platoon system, Richardson established himself as a regular in the lineup and at second base. His breakout campaign saw him slash .301/.355/.377, collecting 141 hits in 139 games.
In a recurring theme throughout Richardson’s career though, he could not follow up his strong ’59 campaign in 1960. While he appeared in 150 games, his batting average dropped nearly 50 points. His 67 wRC+ was the worst on that 1960 team of any player with at least one hundred at-bats. Behind MVP addition Roger Maris, the Yankees rebounded from their third-place finish in ’59 to recapture the AL pennant in ’60, facing off with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Although Richardson had endured a brutal season, it turned out that he saved his best ball for last.
In Game 2, Richardson collected three hits, drove in two runs, and scored three en route to a 16-3 win. In Game 3, with the bases loaded against Clem Labine, Richardson was given the bunt sign for a squeeze play — one that would be considered criminal by today’s standards, given the situation. Both attempts at the bunt failed, but Richardson made amends but turning on a 3-2 inside fastball and sending it down the left-field line for a shocking grand slam. Never a power hitter, Richardson’s only previous long ball of ‘60 had come all the way back in April.
The small-statured, light-hitting Richardson was an unlikely hero and was promptly greeted with a “nice bunt” from Stengel upon his return to the dugout.
Richardson was not done, as he collected a two-run single later in the game to set a Fall Classic record for most RBI in one game with six. His batting tear continued into Game 4, adding two more hits and an RBI. Richardson added three RBIs in Game 6, including two triples, setting up the historic Game 7 against the Pirates. Richardson’s two hits and two runs scored allowed the Yankees to tie up the game late in the contest. Famously, in the bottom of the ninth, Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run to claim the World Series for the Pirates. Richardson still holds the all-time mark for most RBIs in a World Series with 12—leading him to a World Series MVP despite the losing effort. He remains the only player to be awarded World Series MVP from a losing team.
Ralph Houk took over as manager in 1961 and Richardson played in all 162 games that season in more stable lineups. It was another down offensive season (.261 average and a 69 wRC+) for Richardson; however, he did collect his first of five straight Gold Glove awards in ‘61. Richardson’s glove always outshined his bat. He led the league in putouts and double plays that season which was becoming the norm for him and shortstop teammate Tony Kubek. The Yankees went on the win the World Series against the Reds in 1961, with Richardson slashing .391/.391/.435 in what was another solid World Series performance. Once again his seemingly sluggish bat rose to the occasion in the most crucial situations.
Would you be surprised if I told you that in 1962, Richardson finished runner-up to the iconic Mantle in the AL MVP race? In a career year that saw him lead the league in hits (209), Richardson struck out a mere 24 times in 754 total plate appearances. Finally, he was able to take advantage of the fact that no one wanted to walk him in front of Mantle and Maris. He posted personal bests in almost all major offensive categories, leading to an All-Star appearance and another Gold Glove.
In an amusing joke played by the baseball gods, Richardson followed a great season with a mostly bad World Series. He went 4-for-27, but there’s a reason why no one remembers that slump. Richardson’s defense made up for it in crunch time of Game 7. The 1962 Fall Classic against the Giants went the distance and was a true nail-biter up until the bitter end. Behind starter Ralph Terry — the man who surrendered Mazeroski’s walk-off winner in ‘60 — the Yankees were winning 1-0 in the ninth at Candlestick Park, but, a drag bunt by Matty Alou and a double by Willie Mays set up second and third for the Giants with two outs. Only a terrific play by Maris and perfect relay from Richardson to home stopped Alou from scoring.
Had Alou thrown caution to the wind, he almost certainly would’ve been dead in his tracks.
Still, New York was in a world of trouble with the tying run on third, the winning run at second, and Willie McCovey at the plate. With another future Hall of Famer due up next in Orlando Cepeda, the Yankees decided to simply pitch to McCovey. The menacing lefty absolutely scalded one ... right to Richardson at second.
Richardson snagged the ball, securing the Yankees title and one last World Series ring to his collection. As Charlie Brown/Charles Schulz later bemoaned, had McCovey hit one “just a few feet higher,” the Giants would have been champions instead.
Forty-five years following the play, Richardson saw McCovey for the first time since the infamous line drive, joking with Richardson, he stated “I bet your hand still hurts.” Richardson tells the story before that famous play of the distractions he faced before the final out. Double-play partner Kubek said to him “I sure hope Willie McCovey doesn’t hit the ball to you” before the pitch. Within that same sequence, Richardson claims that the umpire behind him asked if he could have his ballcap after the game, as a gift for his cousin. Richardson proceeded to deliver both a career-defining moment, and a souvenir cap.
“The Preacher” calls it quits
Richardson could never replicate 1962, and his regular season numbers were pedestrian for the remainder of his career. He continued to collect Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, but as evidenced by his .258/.289/.329, 75 OPS+ showing from ‘63 onward, his bat was in serious decline from its apex. The Yankee second baseman did make two more World Series appearances (1963 and 1964) but lost both. Richardson continued to hit in October, setting an MLB record for most hits in a single World Series with 13 in the 1964 Fall Classic against the Cardinals, which St. Louis won in seven anyway.
In 1965 the Yankees were in decline and Richardson was looking to retire. His friend, and double-play partner Kubek was forced to retire due to injury and Richardson was looking to spend more time with his family. The Yankees convinced him to stay for one more season in 1966 but following that season, at the age of 31, Bobby Richardson retired from Major League Baseball.
Richardson remained an active member of the baseball community, earning particular plaudits for his leadership of the program at University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks went from also-rans to College World Series contenders in just a few years, finishing runners-up to Texas in 1975.
Richardson later coached Coastal Carolina and Liberty, as well. He also became an avid public speaker and even unsuccessfully ran for Congress at the urging of President Gerald Ford. He was an Old-Timers’ Day regular for years and we’re happy to report that he’s still going strong at age 88.
Richardson’s numbers never popped off the screen, but his slick glove, timely hitting in big spots, and overall good nature make him a popular Yankee to this day. One of the good guys of baseball and a member of a gold era of Yankees baseball, Richardson lands at No. 94 on our list.
Staff rank: N/A
Community rank: 59
Stats rank: N/A
2013 rank: 90
Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
Fowler, Scott. “Former Yankee Baseball Great Bobby Richardson Opens Up.” The Charlotte Observer, 9 Aug. 2023.
Pasculli, Len. SABR Bio