By David Rogers. July 24, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC – A 2007 study by Science Daily magazine reports that the average Major League Baseball player’s career is just 5.6 years. Of the stars that make it big, most are far over the hill when the time comes for them to hang up their gloves and cleats. Yankee Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Richardson defied the odds on both sides of the "norm."
Speaking to the annual Men's Connection "special breakfast" Tuesday at Chetola Mountain Resort, Bobby Richardson disclosed to the almost 150 in attendance that spending time with their young and growing families is what prompted him and shortstop Tony Kubek to make the retirement decision at just 29 years of age. "I'd been in the major leagues since I was 19," Richardson said. "I knew that if I stayed in baseball, I would not see my kids grow up and Tony felt the same way. We reached an agreement with the Yankees that one of us would stay one more year to help bring young Bobby Mercer into the majors. That was going to be Kubek and I was going to retire, but Tony went on active duty in the Army Reserves and playing touch football sufferd an injury that Mayo Clinic said might result in a permanent paralysis, so I played the one more year, honoring our genetleman's agreement with the Yankees."
So Mr. Richardson's career lasted — choice — roughly twice as long as the average major leaguer. It also ended — by choice — when he was still in his prime at 30 and well before his becoming "over the hill." Without a doubt, Richardson represents a man who had his priorities straight — helped along by the financial security of a 10-year "All Star" professional baseball career and good jobs after he retired, as head coach for University of South Carolina baseball and later as athletics director, assistant to the Chancellor, and baseball coach at Liberty University.
Especially for the 60-something and up aged men in the Evergreen Room on Tuesday, Richardson's talk was a walk through personal histories. He spoke of his friendship with Mickey Mantle — undoubtedly the boyhood idol of many in the room — and revealed that early in his professional career he and Mantle "had a place" they came to in the offseason in the "Adam's apple" of Grandfather Mountain. "I remember a time when we both came here and were Grand Marshalls for the Ski Festival in Boone. I didn't know how to ski and Mickey didn't know how to ski, but they filmed it on a ski lift, so we looked like we knew what we were doing!"
Mr. Richardson's introduction by Men's Connection summer instructor Chip Cash included video clips of his remarkable exploits with the Yankees. A highlight was the 1960 World Series, when the Yankess represented the American League vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. After he took the speaker's podium shared some opening remarks, Richardson recalled the events surrounding Game 3 of the World Series when he came to the plate with the bases loaded, "You know, as I watched this film I thought of two things. First, when I walked up to home plate that day I was batting eighth in the lineup. You fellas will understand this. Whitey Ford was pitching, so he was batting ninth. If Don Larson or Tommy Byrne were pitching, they would have batted eighth and I would have been batting ninth and they would have batted 7th or 8th."
Reinforcing the notion that he was not known as a particularly good hitter, Richardson added, "So many times in that sort of situation, manager Casey Stengel would call out to me to 'hold that gun' and he would send in Enos Slaughter to pinch hit for me. Well, I listened as I walked to home plate (for him to say, 'hold that gun'). The bases were loaded. It was the first inning and we had already scored one run, and I didn't hear, 'hold that gun.' So I walked up (to the batter's box) and looked down at third base coach Frank Crosetti, and he gave me the bunt (sign). Now you men know that's not a good play. Bases loaded, first inning, pitcher up next, But I fouled it off. So I looked down at 3rd base again and he gave me the bunt again. I didn't do it on purpose, but I fouled it off again. So (with two strikes), Frank Crosetti hollered out, 'Hit to right field and try to stay out of the double play.' So I was trying to hit a ground ball to the right side when Clem Levine threw a fastball (inside). I was more surprised than anybody that it went out of the park (to left field) for a grand slam home run. When I got back to the dugout, Stengel's response to me was, 'Good bunt.'"
Richardson went on to drive in 12 runs in the 1960 World Series, which the Yankees lost in seven games. He remains the only player ever to be named MVP of a World Series from the losing team — and his record of 12 RBIs still stands today. His buddy, Mickey Mantle, is second at 11 — in the same World Series.
Such were the career tidbits that kept the audience engaged with rapt attention for just over 60 minutes of reflections on a storied baseball career and a personal witness for his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In addition to talking about his baseball exploits with the likes of Mantle, friend and roommate Tony Kubek, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Rhyne Duren, among other great Yankee names of the era, Richardson spoke of personal struggles and accomplishments within the perspective of his deep religious faith.
He shared requests for spiritual encouragement from former New York and Kansas City manager Dick Howser as he was facing imminent death from an aneurism. He spoke of his work on behalf of Youth for Life.
He recalled a devotional at the end of his career when all of the Yankees and many other attended at the Bismark Hotel in New York. His guest speaker held a Bible in the air in front of these polished professional men, each of whom Richardson knew inside were facing personal challenges, either financially, in marriages, or in their other relationships. He told these men, Richardson said, "The Bible says three things. First, there is a problem and it is sin. Second, it gives you the answer to the problem and that is Jesus Christ. And third, you have a decision to make in whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior…the answer is yes or no."
Once you have accepted Christ, Richardson instructed, it is important to followthrough, to talk with God every day. "A lot of us fall into that category of accepting Christ, walking down the aisle making that decision (to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior), but we don't follow through in a manner that is pleasing to God. It is important to be in that church where God's word is found. It is important to spend time in his precious Word, to have devotions in the home with fathers taking the lead, talking with God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to empower us."
The former Yankee great has officiated or spoken at many funerals, including those of many departed friends and teammates. "If you remember, I said that in 1961 Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and broke Babe Ruth's home run record (for a single season). At 51 years of age and in a battle with cancer, he went on to be with the Lord. A Gideon led him to Christ about six months before he died, but the funeral was in Fargo, North Dakota. Roger's wife asked if I would come and offer the eulogy and represent the Yankees. Well, I did go and I have never been so cold in my life. I'm telling you that Fargo that time of the year (mid-December) is really cold if you don't have an overcoat. But we went outside for the last part of the service — and I really was cold — but when it was over we got on a motor home to take us back to the hotel. Mickey Mantle had been a pallbearer and he came and sat down by me (in the motor home), and he said, 'I want you to have my funeral.' That's all he said. And at that time I said, 'Boy, that will never happen.' And then I saw him again not too long later in Greensboro, Georgia playing in a golf tournament. And he said, 'Don't forget now, I want you to have my funeral.'
"And then I saw an interview on television. It was Bob Costas talking with Mickey, and he had been going through a battle at that time, having been through the Betty Ford Clinic. He told Costas, 'I don't drink anymore.' He was wearing a hat I had given him, and he went on to tell Costas, 'I don't drink anymore. I haven't been a good husband. I haven't been a good father. I am no hero. But I still have a void in my heart.' I immediately started getting calls from all over. We knew what it was and we started praying for him.
"And I recalled the various times that Mickey and I spent together, here in Boone, North Carolina, at the University of South Carolina where he came down to do an instructional film for 8-year-old boys. I remember him being in uniform and giving instruction to these little 8-year-old boys…the icon of baseball at that time giving instruction. Forty years later they found a copy of that film and they found one of the boys. Of course he was 48 by this time. He was asked, 'What do you remember about Mickey Mantle giving that instruction down in Columbia?'
"And the man said, 'Well, the thing I remember most is that when he finished the instruction, we asked if he would take one swing.'"
Richardson continued, "Mickey was batting right handed (he was a switch hitter). My assistant coach was pitching. He hit the ball out of the park, over the football field, and into the parking lot. I yelled out, 'Wait! Stop! I'm parked over there!"
The laughs and smiles came aplenty to the appreciative Men's Connection crowd. There were many nods of the head, too, among the faithful crowd of Blowing Rock believers, God's children one and all.