Sports

Bobby Richardson: The original Mr. October

Sumter's Bobby Richardson is the only player on a losing team to be named World Series MVP.
Sumter's Bobby Richardson is the only player on a losing team to be named World Series MVP.

Bobby Richardson remembers the at-bat like it happened yesterday, even though it took place 49 years ago.

The New York Yankees second baseman stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning in Game 3 of the 1960 World Series.

The bases were loaded with one out, and to Richardson's surprise, manager Casey Stengel called for a sacrifice bunt. Richardson fouled off a couple of attempts before he worked the count to 3-2. With third-base coach Frankie Crosetti telling him to go the opposite way to right field, Richardson got an inside pitch from Pittsburgh right-hander Clem Labine.

He turned on the ball and deposited it over the left-field fence, much to the delight of 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. Not only did it give New York a 6-0 lead in a game it went on to win 10-0, it was Richardson's first homer since late April.

"That's a memory I can't forget," Richardson said.

The memories of that series were bittersweet for the Sumter native, who batted .367 with 12 RBIs - and one homer - to claim MVP honors but watched his team lose Game 7 to the Pirates when Bill Mazeroski hit the most famous walk-off home run in major league history. He is still the only player from a losing team to win the World Series MVP.

Richardson, however, played in seven World Series as part of the Yankees dynasty (1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964), winning three times. He cherishes his moments in the spotlight, knowing many players never get an opportunity to play on baseball's biggest stage.

And there were quite a few moments.

In 1962, when the Yankees defeated the San Francisco Giants in seven games, Richardson caught the final out in a 1-0 victory off the bat of Willie McCovey, who later said it was the hardest ball he ever struck. If it had been a few feet higher, it would have scored the game-winning runs.

Richardson remembers an encounter with McCovey several years ago as the Hall of Fame slugger turning to him and said: "I bet your hand is still hurting."

Richardson was on the other end of that scenario in his final postseason appearance, when he popped up for the final out of the 1964 World Series in Game 7 against Bob Gibson. He went 13-for-32 in that Series, including seven hits off Gibson, another Hall of Famer.

"But I didn't get one there," he said, still disappointed.

Richardson can recite one memory after another from his postseason days, back when the pennant winners went straight to the World Series.

Those memories go for the fans as much as the players. Even if he couldn't remember the details, he would get reminded of them at Yankees fantasy camps.

"They know everything about every player. And they remember every moment," Richardson said. "Dozens of these men could recite the Yankees' World Series lineups. They can remember those names even today."

Yankees fans, of course, are in a category all their own when it comes to remembering their team's many championships.

Richardson, 74, remains a prominent part of Yankees lore and a fixture at Old-Timers Days. A devout Christian who is active as a speaker at religious gatherings, he has developed relationships with current Yankees like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira through Baseball Chapel, an international ministry group.

His memories have not stopped either. Last year, 27 members of his family flew to New York to attend the final game at old Yankee Stadium with him, and this year he stood on the field as one of 50 former Yankees when the new Yankee Stadium was christened.

"It's unbelievable," Richardson said. "When you're down on the field, it looks just like the old stadium from there."

Even though it's not the same place, the memories don't change. For much of his 12-year career, Richardson manned second base. His top season was 1962, when he batted .302 with eight homers and 50 RBIs. His 209 hits led the American League, and he came in second in the MVP voting behind teammate Mickey Mantle.

A seven-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, Richardson struck out only 243 times in his career while compiling a .266 average and 1,432 hits.

He retired in his prime at age 30 after the 1966 season to get away from the grind of the game and help raise his family. He returned to his home state and took over as USC baseball coach in 1970. In his seven seasons, he compiled a 220-91-2 record, including an appearance in the 1975 NCAA championship game, where a loss to Texas ended his best season at 51-6-1.

Yet one of his best memories at USC is of bringing the Yankees and the Mets in for an exhibition game, when the Gamecocks played three innings apiece against the two clubs, which squared off in the nightcap.

"It was a fun time. It put the program on the map," he said.

Having a name like Richardson also played a role in building the program into a perennial power. His star power has never dimmed in his home state and his workplace home of New York City. He knows that from his trips to the mail box.

"Your (fan) mail doesn't drop off," he said. "Even over 40 years later, it continues."

He answers every piece of it, knowing how important the memories are to the senders. At a recent speaking engagement at Catawba Baptist Church in Rock Hill, where his son Ron is the pastor, the 1966 film, "The Bobby Richardson Story," was shown.

It includes a lot of World Series footage, and the men in attendance wanted to reminisce with him. They wanted to talk about Mantle and Roger Maris, Moose Skowron and Tony Kubek, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.

Richardson remembers his former teammates - some deceased, some living - like they all could put on a uniform and take the field again as the current Yankees try to claim their 26th World Series title.

"It's very special," he said.

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