BY DON SCOTT
READING – The 54th Reading Hotstovers Banquet was held on Thursday at Riveredge Inn in Reading, with featured speakers Steve Blass, Rickey Bottalico and Bobby Richardson.
Bottalico is a former Phillies pitcher who is doing broadcasting, as is Blass, a former Pittsburgh Pirates hurler. Richardson, long time N.Y. Yankees infielder, is the only World Series MVP to win the award while playing for the losing team, in 1960.
That bit of information is well-known, but it’s unlikely anyone reading this knows Richardson is familiar with the Lebanon area dating back to the 1950s.
“I have a friend, Martin Gluntz (LVC ’53), a retired senior vice-president of Hershey Foods who played on the 1952-53 Lebanon Valley College basketball team that went to the NCAA Final 16,” Richardson said. “I also have another friend who was a pastor in the Lebanon area where I spoke at his church so I have fond memories of the area.”
A member of the Yankees from 1955 to 1966, Richardson retired at the age of 30, because of the travel involved and the separation from family.
“Tony Kubek and I roomed together, and the Yankees won the pennant nine of the first 10 years we played, so we had been in competition all that time and felt we had missed out on the priorities of our families,” Richardson explained. “We both decided to retire, but as it turned out Tony was called into the Army Reserve program and got a pinched nerve playing football and was told if he didn’t retire it might result in a permanent paralysis.
“Ralph Houk, who was the manager at the time, wanted one of us to play one more year,” Richardson continued. “At first, I was to retire and Tony would continue, but as it turned out Ralph asked me if I’d stay another year, so I did play my final season in 1966.”
There were a few games (38) at third base, but the majority of Richardson’s time was spent at second (1,339). When he first came up, Phil Rizzuto was the shortstop and Casey Stengel would pinch-hit for him so he went in as a defensive replacement there (21).
The No. 1 jersey is just one of several Yankees’ retired numbers, but the way Richardson got it before the ceremony that honored Billy Martin brought a chuckle from Bobby as he reminisced about that story.
“In the Yankees organization, going back to the days of Ruth and Gehrig, it is the clubhouse guys who decide who wears what number,” Richardson said. “I started out with 29 and then had 17. One night Billy Martin and couple of the guys went out to the Copacabana Night Club for a birthday party and the bar bill was $2,000.
“None of them had the money, so Martin signed the owner’s name to the check and shortly after that he was traded to Kansas City, so that’s how I got No. 1 in 1958 and had it the rest of the way.,” he added.
Richardson is also remembered for “The Catch” in the 1962 World Series with the San Francisco Giants, another story that brought a big smile while recalling a meeting with Willie McCovey years later.
“I hadn’t seen Willie for 45 years after that play when I was invited to come back and throw out the first ball with him,” said Richardson. “The first thing he said to me was ‘I bet your hand is still hurting’. He admitted it was one of the hardest balls he had ever hit, and it looked like a base hit, but because of the top spin on it, it came down in a hurry. When Willie was inducted into the Hall of Fame he was asked how he’d like to be remembered and he answered ‘as the guy who hit a ball a foot over Bobby Richardson’s head’.”
Noted for putting the ball in play, Richardson didn’t get many walks and only struck out 243 times during his 12-year career. His thought about that was, “When you had Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra or Elston Howard around you it made it a lot of fun to be there.”
1959 was the only year New York didn’t win the pennant during his time in ‘The Big Apple’, but it was also a time when he had a chance to be the only Yankee to hit .300 that season, and that elicited this story.
“I was hitting .299, and in the last game of the season Stengel said if I could get a hit he’d take me out so we’d have at least one guy at ..300,” said Richardson. “Word got around, so Billy O’Dell, who was pitching sent word to me he’d be throwing it right in there for me.
“Brooks Robinson was playing third and said he’d play back for me to bunt,” continued Richrdson. “Catcher Joe Ginsberg was telling me what was coming, and Ed Hurley was the first base ump who said I better make it close. I hit a line drive toward my best friend Albie Pearson who made a diving catch.”
Stengel was the manager for Richardson’s first five campaigns, followed by Houk, Berra, Johnny Keane, then Houk again.
“I can tell you everything you ever heard about Casey is true,” stated Richardson, who will turn 80 in August. “His forte was handling the press. He could double talk, and they’d laugh and stay out all night with him. Frank Crosetti pretty much ran the club and Jeff Turner handled the pitching, while Casey would occasionally go to sleep on the bench.”
As to winning the MVP on the losing World Series team, his quick reply was: “I’m not sure that’s an honor. It was one of those things that still stands and is funny because I only had 26 RBIs the whole year then had 12 in The Series.”
Following retirement Richardson turned to college coaching at South Carolina, where he had Whitey Ford’s son as his switch-hitting shortstop, Rizzuto’s son in the outfielder and Al Worthington’s son at second. He was also the athletic director and baseball coach at Coastal Carolina, then ended up at Liberty University, where he was the athletic director and assistant to the Chancellor.
When questioned about what it was like in the Yankees’ locker room with guys like Mantle and Maris, he said, “Both were wonderful, quiet leaders. In 1961 when they were battling each other for the home run title each one wanted the other to break the record. Mantle was unable to play the last three weeks, so he was really pulling for Roger more than anybody.
“I was honored to be asked to preside at both of their funerals,” added Richardson. “I represented the Yankees at Roger’s funeral, where Mickey was a pallbearer and he asked me to do his at that time.”
In closing, Richardson had this to say about who was better, Mantle or Mays. “Mantle was the all-around guy during my time, but arguably Mays was that in the National League, with Ted Williams as the best hitter. There was also one other guy who should be mentioned and that would be Roberto Clemente.”