Bobby Richardson: Saving the Mick
By Aaron Little and Shannon Woodland
The 700 Club
Scott Ross interviews former Yankee second baseman, Bobby Richardson:
Bobby: Well, Mickey Mantle was the player of the decade, hit from power from both sides of the plate. Tremendous ballplayer, great leader. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record, 61 homeruns in 1961.
But as any sports fan knows, the everyday role-players are just as important to success and sometimes even put their own stamp on history.
Scott: Talking about records, you have some of your own that still haven’t been broken.
Bobby: You know, it’s amazing that after 48 years those records still stand. One is most RBIs in a World Series game, which is six. The other is most RBI’s, which is runs batted in, in a World Series, which is 12. And then I also hold the record of 13 hits in a World Series. But, more important, I think, I had the record of playing in 30 consecutive World Series games. I played at the right time is what that means.
What that means is that Bobby had what it takes to be a five time all-star and the 1960 World Series most valuable player. He still remembers that series well.
Bobby: The third game of that series, I was batting eighth in the lineup because I wasn’t a real good hitter. But, in the first inning we scored one run with the bases loaded and one out. And a lot of times in that position, Casey Stengel would pinch hit for me.
Scott: He was your manager.
Bobby: He was my manager my first five years. And he would just say, “Hold that gun.” And that meant just come on back and let Slaughter hit for you. I didn’t hear that. And then I was told to try and hit the ball to right field, stay out of the double play. And I was trying to hit a ground ball to the right side when Clem Levine threw a fastball and I was more surprised than anybody when it went out of the park for a grand slam.
The game announcer said, “It’s a hard drive to left field, and he slowly goes back, back, back, but he doesn’t have a chance. It’s a grand slam home run for the littlest Yankee!”
Scott: Now concurrent with all this, Bobby, you were a man who professed faith, a Christian. In that era, not too many people were saying that out loud, at least not in the public arena. How did that happen in your life? Where did you encounter Christ, or Him you?
Bobby: When I was 14-years-old, my mom invited our pastor to come over to our home on a Sunday afternoon after church. I wanted to be outside playing basketball but was ushered in. He opened his Bible and started sharing verses like when Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life.” And that day as a young teenager, I recognized I knew about the Lord Jesus. I knew that historically he died on the cross, but for the first time I was confronted with the fact that it was a personal relationship with a living Savior who gives to us abundant life.
So how did this small town Christian boy from Carolina become one of Mickey Mantle’s teammates on the New York Yankees?
Bobby: I signed right out of high school when I was 17 and I was given a four day trip to New York to work out with the Yankees. Took the train from Sumter to New York. Checked into the hotel in New York. Took a cab out to Yankee Stadium. I was told to put on my uniform and walk out onto the field and take some balls out at second base and to take some batting swings in the batting cage before the ball game. Well, I took the ground balls at second, but I was too embarrassed to step in front of anybody in the batting cage, and Mickey Mantle came up and put his arm around me and said, “Come on kid, step in here and take some swings.”
From that moment on, a special friendship between Mickey and Bobby developed. They played together until Bobby retired in 1966 after an 11-year career. They shared three World Series championships. Mickey always admired Bobby’s faith and the two remained close, long after their playing days.
Bobby: I can remember a dozen times when he and I spent time together. He came down to the University of South Carolina when I coached there and did an instructional film. Came to my home here in Sumter, South Carolina and gave a batting exhibition. And on all those occasions, Mickey and I talked about the things in life that really mattered, his relationship with Christ.
After baseball, Mickey was best known for his battle with alcoholism. But in his final days, it was Bobby’s gentle friendship that had the biggest impact on his life.
Bobby: Some years later in Dallas, Texas, he was in the hospital, already had a liver transplant. And my phone rang in the hotel, it was early in the morning. It was Mickey and he said, “I’m really hurtin.” We had prayer together on the phone. Mickey and I talked together and as I was leaving to come back to South Carolina, I received a call that he’d taken a turn for the worst. Immediately we were on a plane flying out to Dallas. And one more time, I wanted to be bold because I wanted him to spend eternity with me in heaven - walked into Baylor Medical Center, he had a smile on his face. He said, “Come over here, I can’t wait to tell you this.” He said, “I want you to know I’m a Christian, I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior.” I cried a little bit and then I said, “Mickey let me go over it a little bit with you to make sure you understand.”
Bobby now looks forward to seeing his friend again. Meanwhile he’s still living in his hometown of Sumter, South Carolina with Betsy, his wife of 52 years. Bobby still receives daily reminders of the part he played in Yankee history.
Bobby: Forty-two years later, I still, and so do all the other Yankees that were in that era, receive tons of mail or pictures or balls or helmets to sign and send back.
Bobby Richardson, from 1966 retirement ceremony:
“As I think of baseball and the memories I’ve had in the past ten and a-half years, I think of the opportunities. And in closing I can only say as Mickey Mantle has said, as Lou Gehrig has said, how lucky it has been for me to have been a Yankee. To God be the glory. Thank you very much.”
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