Yankees All-Time Most Underrated Players, Part One
The New York Yankees of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s were a rowdy sort. Led by characters like Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin, together with players who had nicknames like “Moose” (Skowron), along with a guy in right who was a former marine and wore a crewcut unashamedly (Hank Bauer), and another military type who was known as their “Field General” (manager Ralph Houk) Bobby Richardson would have seemed to be the odd man out with his choir boy looks and bible toting ways.
Except that he fit in perfectly with those Yankee teams. Consistency on the playing field and consistency in life as well, it could easily be argued that Bobby Richardson was the glue that held the team together, despite the fact that nearly everyone else on those winning teams was more gifted than he was.
Yes, he had some decent numbers. Nothing earthshaking (.266 career BA), but if you looked at the non-offensive numbers you could easily spot his value as a five-time Gold Glove winner, seven All-Star appearances, and a second place finish in the MVP voting for 1962.
It was the character of the man himself that separated him from others. You couldn’t say that he wore his religion on his sleeve, but at the same time he got better on other people in such a positive manner that he could command respect without demanding it.
In fact, one of the most telling stories about Richardson is one that came out just recently. It’s about the time when Mickey Mantle was hanging on for dear life in a Dallas hospital bed, and Richardson traveled to pay him a visit. By now, of course, Mantle knew that it was time to pay the piper for all of those carousing and drinking days and nights.
In fact, he said himself at one point, “If I had known I was gonna live this long, I’d a taken better care of myself,” referring to the fact that his dad had died at an early age from what Mantle believed was a hereditary disease.
In any event, it was Mantle’s intention that Richardson would hear his “confession.” But Richardson would have none of it, pretty much telling The Mick that it was too late to be sorry for all the hurt you cause in other people’s lives along the way. But true to form, he also told Mantle that God would forgive him.
Later, however, a SABR biography on Richardson recounts that Mickey Mantle’s widow, Merlyn, asked “the Preacher” to deliver the eulogy at Mickey’s funeral service in 1995. The Mantles were at Roger Maris’ funeral ten years earlier when Bobby recited a poem that a fan sent him, and Mickey made Richardson promise that he would read it at Mickey’s funeral, too.
Bobby Richardson would save his best baseball for the postseason in which he had an overall .302 BA. He is the only player from a losing team to win the World Series MVP award, which occurred in 1960 when the Yankees fell victim to a home run by you know who in the seventh game. Typically, when he got back home to North Carolina Richardson traded in the Corvette he had won as the MVP for a family station wagon.
Following his retirement in 1966, he predictably stayed active as a community and religious leader. Once, he was urged by President Gerald Ford to run for a seat in Congress, which he did losing by only 3,000 votes. It was widely thought at the time that Richardson just didn’t have the “heart” to play in the game of politics.
But in the game of baseball at only 5’9″ and 160 lbs, he was as “tall” as they come and a Hall of Famer in life.