Former Yankees great Bobby Richardson joined the rest of the baseball world in mourning the loss of one of the sport’s most legendary players, Yogi Berra, on Wednesday.
“He was my teammate, certainly, but he was my friend more than that,” Richardson said. “We’ll miss him very much.”
Richardson was a second baseman for the Yankees from 1955 through 1966, playing alongside Berra through the 1963 season, Berra’s last full season as a player.
The two stayed in contact and remained close friends long after their playing days ended. Many times after Yankees’ Old-Timers Day, Richardson and his wife Betsy would go to dinner with Berra and his wife Carmen. Richardson also was a regular at Berra’s golf tournament, playing as recently as two years ago.
The most recent meeting between the two occurred within the past year.
“The last time I talked to him was in New York, and he was in a wheelchair. Because of the cartoon character Yogi Bear, he called me Boo-Boo, and he said, ‘Boo-Boo we’re both getting older,’ and I said, ‘You’re right.’ He told me one time he thought he was going to live to be 100,” Richardson recalled.
“I have a granddaughter that’s good friends with his granddaughter, she kind of keeps us in touch, and we knew these last couple of weeks he was going down and that his timing was near.”
Berra was already one of the best players in the game when Richardson made his MLB debut, but Richardson said that did not keep him from helping out the newcomer.
“He would go out of his way to help teammates who were young ballplayers, and I was one of those young ballplayers that he would help,” Richardson said. “He was such a great hitter. He was a clutch hitter. He was the MVP three times, but he was in the voting several other times. Off the field he was tremendous as well.”
As a manager, Berra coached Richardson for one year, in 1964. The Yankees got off to a slow start that season and many wondered if Berra had lost control of the team, but New York rallied to win the pennant before losing to the Cardinals in the World Series.
“He knew how to handle people, and he was able to get along with everyone so well,” Richardson said. “I just remember him that way, as a friend, a teammate, a great ballplayer, but one that would go to bat for you every time.”
After Richardson retired and began coaching baseball at South Carolina, the Mets and Yankees came to Columbia to play the Gamecocks in an exhibition. Berra was managing the Mets and suggested to Richardson that he would pitch in order to make it easier for USC.
“Our team beat the Mets that day,” Richardson said. “He threw the ball right in there and they hit it. Our pitchers held them down, and it was just a wonderful day. That was so great of Yogi. He thought ahead like that a lot. He was always thinking of others.”
Richardson said it was hard to list everything Berra accomplished throughout his long life.
“It has been a full life where he’s done so much,” Richardson said. “He was just a personal guy, wonderful war record in Normandy, but he never talked about that. He was just a tremendous individual and a close friend, and we’ll miss him very much.”
Richardson celebrated his 80th birthday last month and is in his 60th year of marriage. He said he feels great and is enjoying spending time with his family.
“They had a surprise party for me the other night, my family completely surprised me and 200 people came out. Chad Holbrook sent a video and Whitey Ford sent a video and Tony Kubek sent a video,” he said. “Betsy and I didn’t know a thing about it. Some wonderful friends and my family gave me a beautiful automobile, so I’m doing fine. My health is good, and I’m doing well.”