By Marty Appel
More than half a century has passed, and the World Series records of New York Yankees infielder Bobby Richardson continue to hold fast.
These are amazing not only for their longevity, but for their being serious offensive marks for a player better noted for defense.
And then there is one that feels like it might stand forever, and continues to confound: Sixty-two years after the World Series MVP award was created, he remains the only player on a losing team to win it.
Never mind Reggie Jackson as Mr. October. Not only did Bobby Richardson put his stamp on the 1960 World Series – one of the greatest ever played, but two years later, he caught the final out of the seven-game classic against the San Francisco Giants, retiring the great Willie McCovey by going to his left to snare a blistering line drive that would have won the game for the Giants.
By making the high-pressure catch, the Yankees won what would be their final world championship for the next 15 years, and the Giants lost what would have been their first world championship in San Francisco. They then had to wait 48 more years before making it happen. Richardson’s catch postponed that glory for nearly a half century.
Richardson, a lifetime .266 hitter over 12 seasons, was a .305 hitter over seven World Series. He batted .367 in the 1960 Fall Classic against the Pittsburgh Pirates, .391 in the 1961 Series victory over Cincinnati, and .406 in the 1964 World Series loss to St. Louis. In that series, he recorded 13 hits, a record since equaled (Lou Brock, Marty Barrett) but not surpassed.
But oh, it remains the 1960 World Series that leaves people shaking their heads in wonder.
After splitting the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Yankees returned home to Yankee Stadium for Game Three. Richardson was slotted in the seventh spot in the batting order, which by no means meant he would even see even a single plate appearance. Casey Stengel, in his 12th and final season managing the club, had never hesitated to go for a big inning by pinch-hitting for a light hitter – a Richardson, a Clete Boyer, even a Phil Rizzuto, and sending up a more muscled up hitter as early as the first inning. Richardson had experienced this. There was the sound of Casey’s voice from the dugout yelling “hold that gun” to a batter in the on-deck circle, when he decided to pinch-hit. If it was as early as the first or second inning, it was downright embarrassing.
Bobby’s focus was on the game, but there was a pre-game distraction he was dealing with. As player representative of the team, it was his job to assemble the squad for its team photo. And on the day of the shoot, he of all people, overslept and missed the photo.
He did not know at the time that the photo was to be used as the wrap around cover of the World Series program. So there he was, arriving for the Yankees first home game of the series, staring at the Richardson-less team photo in every player’s locker. He felt ridiculous.
Putting that aside, he fielded a ground ball cleanly in the top of the first behind Whitey Ford’s pitching, and then headed to the first base dugout to watch the Yankees face Vinegar Bend Mizell. It was not Mizell’s finest hour; He faced five batters, retired only one of them, and left the game trailing 1-0. In came the ex-Brooklyn Dodger Clem Labine, who promptly gave up a run-scoring single to Elston Howard. It was 2-0, and bases loaded for Richardson. There was no call fro Stengel.
It was a juicy situation for a batter, but Bobby had only three career home runs, and only one of them – more than a year earlier – at Yankee Stadium. In 1960, he had one home run and 26 runs batted in. He only had 16 extra base hits in 150 games.
Stengel ordered him to bunt. Twice. Both were fouled off. The bunt sign was removed and third base coach Frank Crosetti yelled at him to hit it to right.
But he got a pitch to his liking – to say the least – and pulled it to left. It found its way over the 301 sign and landed in the seats for a grand slam home run – his first home run in 649 at bats at Yankee Stadium. It was only the seventh World Series grand slam in history.
Just three innings later came a two-run single to left for a record six RBIs in a single game, a record still not bettered after 56 years. (It has been tied, by Albert Pujols and Hideki Matsui).
There came six more RBIs in that 1960 World Series for a total of 12.
Now 6 RBIs in a game, and 12 in a 7-game stretch are imposing numbers, but not the sort you would expect to stand into a sixth decade. And while it is true that it is tougher to beat these marks in post-season play (after all, a team is facing championship caliber pitching), it still boggles the mind that this can still be the standard.
Even more remarkable, perhaps, is that MVP award. He is the only losing player to ever win (the award, made by SPORT Magazine, began in 1955, with Johnny Podres the first recipient). and for the first 11 seasons of the award, until Frank Robinson in 1966, he was the only non-pitcher to win it. Also amazing. (He is also, still, the only second baseman to win).
But there is a back story to that MVP award.
In those early years of the award when the honored player received a new model Chevrolet Corvette, voting was done before the eighth inning of the final game by all the baseball writers in the press box. They were a good group to determine the winner, but there was a flaw. Most of them had to leave the press box after eight innings to get down to the winning clubhouse for the post-game festivities. (Today, a committee of media and MLB officials does the voting).
And that is what happened that day, as it had happened in the five previous years of the award. Except in none of those years had the game turned around and been decided by a walk-off homer (a term which didn’t exist then). The home run of course, was hit by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski, a shocker for sure.
Richardson had already been voted MVP and that wasn’t going to change. There was no mechanism in place to reverse it or have a new election. The writers were all scattered, hard at work on their post-game stories. And frankly, with the Series Bobby had, no one felt particular remorse over his getting the award.
No one at least, except some Pirates. Roy Face, the Pirates ace reliever, (he had three saves in the Series), confronted the Yankees public relations director Bob Fishel in the dark basement of Forbes Field and berated him severely over the vote. (Fishel had no role in the voting). It was only up to SPORT Magazine and its editor Ed Fitzgerald to change the vote, and they didn’t.
The car’s list price was just under $4,000. The World Series share for each Yankee player was $8,417 and for each Pirate, $5,215. The value of the car then, was significant. (Richardson’s 1960 salary was about $20,000).
Richardson received his car at a New York luncheon two days after the World Series, had a friend drive it to his home in South Carolina, decided it was impractical, and traded it in. A few years later, he reacquired it, again thought better of it, and again traded it in.
The RBI records for a single game and for a Series, the hit record for a Series and the World Series MVP award remain Richardson trademarks from a career which began as a successor to Billy Martin as Yankee second baseman. He never played for another organization and retired at 31. To think that in 2017, those accomplishments still stand, is no less short of the word “remarkable.”