By Bobby Richardson as told to Marty Appel
Not many players can name their biggest hit and their biggest catch, and have the good fortune for both to have been in a World Series with millions looking on.
The biggest catch I ever made was the final out of the 1962 World Series, when I moved quickly to my left to snare a line drive by San Francisco’s Willie McCovey, which gave the Yankees their last world championship in what would prove to be a 15 year span.
It was sure an important catch, and it wasn’t easy – it was really hit hard by a Hall of Fame slugger, but let’s face it, it was a play you had to make, it was obviously within my range, and oh boy, if I hadn’t caught it, we would have lost that Series and I would be tucked away in baseball infamy.
So it was good that I made the play, and good that it is well remembered (except by Giants fans) all these years later.
But the game I’ll never forget – because it was so improbable! – was the third game of the 1960 World Series, Yankees vs. Pittsburgh.
This was actually my fifth World Series. I’d had cups of coffee in 1955 and 1956 with the Yankees, but wasn’t on the eligible roster for those Subway Series against Brooklyn. I had been on the roster in both 1957 and 1958 against Milwaukee, but hadn’t played much – a total of just six of those 14 games, all as a late inning defensive replacement or pinch runner.
I had become a regular in 1959, but we finished third that year. So 1960 was my first opportunity to start every game of the World Series, and hopefully, be a key contributor.
The first two games of the 1960 World Series were played at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The city had not hosted a World Series since 1927 when the legendary “Murderer’s Row” Yankees had swept the Pirates in four straight. “Beat ‘em Bucs” signs were everywhere; the city was basking in pennant fever. We split those games, losing the first one 6-4 before winning the second game 16-3. Much of the talk around the first game was Casey Stengel’s decision to bypass his veteran ace Whitey Ford, and instead start Art Ditmar, who had led our pitching staff with 15 wins. (Whitey was only 12-9). Ditmar didn’t have it, and the second-guessing goes on to this day. I batted eighth in both games and went 3-for-4 with a couple of RBIs in game two.
We flew back to New York after the 16-3 win, and we were obviously in a great state of mind, having split the games in Pittsburgh and were now back in Yankee Stadium. My wife Betsy was with me – we had sent our kids home to South Carolina – and we still had our season’s rental home in Ridgewood, New Jersey. With the kids’ bedrooms vacant, a couple of teammates stayed with us out there rather than have to pay for hotel rooms.
So on Tuesday morning, October 8, we all drove over the George Washington Bridge, down the Major Deegan Expressway, and into the player’s lot on the first base side of the stadium. It was business as usual in terms of these routines, but it was different. The chill in the air meant “World Series weather,” and it meant we would wear our dark blue sweatshirts under our jerseys. I liked that look.
I looked at the lineup card taped to the wall of the dugout as we headed out for batting practice, and, predictably, I was slotted in at eighth again.
I was the team’s player representative, so I had some last minute duties involving family tickets. I was still embarrassed that as player rep, I had the job of organizing the team photo for the cover of the World Series program – and then I forgot the time and wasn’t in the picture. The programs were sitting in our lockers. I really felt dumb.
I loved all the pre-game pageantry, including lining up along the baselines for introductions. It was all part of what made the World Series magical. Perfect sunny October baseball weather, Yankee Stadium, wrapped in red white and blue bunting, packed with over 70,000 people; Mel Allen doing pre-game interviews on the field; P.A. announcer Bob Sheppard calling out names like “Mic-key Man-tle,” “Ro-ger Mar-is,” “Yog-i Ber-ra,” and “Whit-ey Ford,” — it just felt like baseball at its finest. When I heard “batting eighth, the second baseman, number one, Bob-by Rich-ard-son,” I smiled proudly.
Whitey started for us at last, and easily retired three straight Pirates in the top of the first, with Dick Groat, the second hitter, grounding out to me.
We came up in the last of the first to face an old friend of mine, Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell. But Mizell faced only five batters, as Bob Cerv, Mantle and Skowron singled and Gil McDougald walked. It was only 1-0 at that point, but the Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh went to his bullpen and brought in the old Brooklyn Dodger righthander Clem Labine. Labine had faced the Yankees in the World Series in both 1955 and 1956.
The first batter he faced, Ellie Howard, got an infield single, scoring Mantle, moving Moose Skowron to third and McDougald to second. Now it was 2-0, bases loaded, and my turn to hit.
I half expected to hear Casey yell “Hold that gun,” which was how he sometimes summoned a hitter back to the dugout to send up a pinch-hitter. Pinch-hitting for someone in the first inning could be insulting and demoralizing, but it’s not like it hadn’t happened before. I’d been in that spot. I’m sure he was thinking, “I’ll send up Enos Slaughter here and break up this game.”
I got to bat, but I was shocked to see third base coach Frank Crosetti giving me the bunt sign. Bunt? With Ford up next? He wanted me to let Ford hit with two out and the bases loaded rather than let me swing away?
I may not have been Mantle or Maris in that lineup, but this just wasn’t sound baseball.
Casey could be tough to play for.
I bunted Labine’s first pitch foul.
Okay, I got that over with.
I stepped out of the box and again looked at Cro.
I couldn’t believe it. And again, I fouled it off. An oh-and-two count.
Now Cro abandoned signals and just yelled to me in his high voice, ”Hit the ball to right field! Try to stay out of a double play!”
I didn’t like that it was oh-and-two and I was in this spot, but at least I knew that if I could drive the ball to the right side, it would likely score Moose and we’d be up 3-0.
Here came Labine’s third pitch to me – a high fastball, just inside a bit. I swung quickly, got ahead of the ball and drove it pretty nicely down the left field line and towards the 301 sign at the foul pole.
There was no way I would assume it was gone – I had hit three career home runs at that point (two in 1959 and one on April 30, 1960, my last one) – and I had only hit one of those three in Yankee Stadium, on September 11, 1959. That made 649 at bats in Yankee Stadium with one home run. So no one in the ballpark, including me, and including Betsy in the stands, was thinking home run.
But there it went. The Pirates left fielder Gino Cimoli, had raced over but it was beyond his reach. I looked up to see Dusty Boggess, the second base umpire, twirling his index finger, signaling home run. It settled into the third row – maybe 310 feet from home plate – and one, two, three, four runners were about to cross the plate. I had hit only the seventh grand slam in World Series history.
Did I even have a home run trot? I knew Mickey just kept his head down and ran it out – never looking to embarrass the pitcher. I guess that was my example.
Most importantly, we now had a 6-0 lead and would cruise to a 10-0 victory behind Whitey. I had two more RBIs in the game, for a record six in one game that still hasn’t been bettered to this day.
There was more to come for me. I wound up with 12 RBIs for the seven game series, which remains a record after more than half a century. I had driven in only 26 runs the whole regular season.
We lost the Series when Bill Mazeroski homered in the last of the ninth of game seven in Pittsburgh, and that Series remains one of the most talked about in baseball history. I was named the MVP and awarded a Corvette by Sport Magazine. I’m still the only player on a losing team to ever get the World Series MVP award, although in 1960, the award was only six years old and not much was made of that fact. I was also the first non-pitcher to win it, and there wasn’t another one until Frank Robinson in 1966. So for the first eleven years of that award, I was the only hitter to win it.
I’m 82 now, Betsy and I have 16 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren (more on the way), and not a day has passed when someone hasn’t brought up that grand slam home run to me.
And you know what? I like that a lot.