Paul Richards is a tall, unbending Texan with a turkey neck, a rectangular jaw and frigid green eyes. His hair, now turning gray, was once as black as an Indian's, and his leathery skin is protected by a bone-deep sunburn collected down the 52 years of his life. He has a slow, lazy walk, a slow, dragging drawl and a mind as quick and sharp as a switchblade knife. It is a trick of time that Richards comes to us out of the sports pages as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. He should come, instead, from the pages of Zane Grey or Max Brand. You get the feeling after a few hours with Richards that the Alamo would not have fallen if he had been there. Old Paul would never have allowed it.
Paul Richards is a puzzle. One glance from him can make a person feel like a very small mouse trapped in the center of a very large room, for he is a cold man and a hard one. Yet when he chooses to relax the imperious reserve that cloaks him he can charm a ballplayer right out of his spikes, and the loyalty he elicits from the few who know him well is a rare and unusual thing.
Although he has no formal education beyond high school, he sometimes reads books that would make a professor wince. He once won a bet by reciting the Gettysburg Address without booting a line. He refuses to indulge in small talk, yet he is a gifted public speaker. No one would dream of describing him as a humorous man, but he possesses a caustic wit that can be terribly funny. There was a time when he carried a Bible on road trips, and back home in Waxahachie they say old Paul "can pray a nice prayer." But he has been thrown out of a hundred ball games for using language that would earn the envy of Leo Durocher.
He insists upon superb physical condition for his athletes while nourishing a private ulcer on radishes and pickled pigs' feet. He mistrusts airplanes but drives an automobile as if trying to reach the speed of sound. Baseball has been his life, yet he thinks a man is a damn fool to become a manager, and he would rather play golf. "I don't like Richards but I respect him," says Frank Lane, "and Paul is the kind who would rather have your respect than your affection." Yet he is so sensitive that he reacts to criticism like a hurt turtle, and he has been known to close his clubhouse to reporters who wrote something that he felt to be unfair.
April 17, 1961
Even when Paul was a boy his high school teammates had an awful time trying to figure him out. "We sure never suspected he was a genius then," says Jimmy Adair, who is now a coach with the Orioles. "In fact, we all thought maybe he was kind of dumb. He never said anything."
But now Adair thinks he has Paul figured out. "What he was doing," says Adair, "was thinking."
With some reluctance, since few are as fond of Richards as Adair, the rest of baseball is inclined to accept this judgment. Occasionally someone will still insist that Richards is a phony and a fake, more humbug than wizard. They like to point out that he has never won a big league pennant, even after spending almost $5 million to rebuild the Baltimore club. They argue that he handles grown men, professional athletes, as if they were dirty-faced kids, overmanaging them, padding his own reputation with mumbo-jumbo tactics that enthrall the public but lead nowhere. Yet his detractors decrease in number and speak with less assurance each year, realizing, perhaps, that they have been influenced more by the man's icy taciturnity than by any legitimate questions about his skill. For it is hard to criticize Paul Richards as a baseball man in the face of what he has accomplished.
In his first season as a big league manager, in Chicago in 1951, Richards jerked the White Sox out of the second division, where they had been living on laughs for seven years. Helped by some of Frank Lane's trades, he created the exciting Go-Go Sox and lashed them on to four straight first-division finishes.
Then, in the difficult dual role of manager and general manager, which no one had attempted since John McGraw, Richards moved to Baltimore, where the St. Louis Browns were trying to hide. Since the Browns had changed only their name and address, not their habits—which invariably deposited them in seventh or eighth place—it took Paul a bit longer to achieve the unlikely there. But last season, with a team so young that some of its members didn't have to change razor blades all year, Richards almost produced his miracle. The Orioles spent 29 days in first place and finally finished second, scaring the pin-stripes off the more muscular Yankees for most of a wonderfully dizzy season. At its end Richards was named American League Manager of the Year, an honor that left him unimpressed. What he wanted was a pennant—and this year he may get it.
The Orioles are not really that good just yet, but it would be foolish to underestimate Paul Richards. John McHale, a Richards admirer long before moving from Detroit in the American League to become general manager of the Milwaukee Braves, feels that only Casey Stengel, in recent years, deserves to be considered Paul's peer as a tactician. "On the field," says McHale, "he is usually two or three moves ahead of anybody else."
"If he had been managing those Yankee teams," says Frank Lane, "he would have been winning pennants, too. Easy."
There is an apocryphal volume known in baseball as The Book, and although no outsider has been permitted to withdraw a copy on his library card, to a manager its theoretical pages are a Baedeker for the tortuous road of decision he must travel from day to day. In The Book, it is rumored, are to be found all the possible situations that may arise in baseball and all the countermoves; the exact percentages on how likely a given tactic is to succeed in a given situation and how likely it is to fail. Richards has been accused of being a slave to these percentages. To the point of driving official scorers to apoplexy, he inserts a left-hand pitcher to face a left-hand batter in a crucial situation; he will always use a left-hand hitter against a right-hand pitcher when he can; he will replace a slow slugger with a good defensive outfielder in the late innings of a game in which he is ahead. Last September, in a more or less typical contest with the Tigers, Richards used 23 men, including eight pitchers and five left fielders, thereby tying a record. But it is pointless to criticize Richards for this. For one thing, other managers platoon, too. For another, his tactics seem to work (the Orioles beat the Tigers in that game 11-10). Finally, if a book on baseball actually exists, Richards has read it and thrown it away and written a new one for himself, in which chapters are re-edited from day to day. "I may win by The Book," he says, "but I'll be damned if I'm going to lose by it."
As a result, he may try anything. A favorite example is the time in '51 at Fenway Park when he moved Pitcher Harry Dorish to third base and brought in left-hander Billy Pierce to get Ted Williams on a pop fly. Then Pierce left the game and Dorish returned to the mound to face the right-handed hitters who followed Williams in the Red Sox lineup. Richards didn't claim to have invented the maneuver. "It's an old sandlot trick," he says. But he revived it in the big leagues.
While managing Buffalo in the International League, Richards found a way to keep Montreal's jack-rabbit lead-off man, Sam Jethroe, from stealing second base. He walked the pitcher ahead of Jethroe. Four times during the season, when leading Montreal in the late innings of a tight game, Richards walked the pitcher. Three times it worked. The fourth time Jethroe hit a home run. "That night," says Richards, "I was a lousy manager."
When Hoyt Wilhelm's wacky knuckler led to 38 passed balls in 1959 and 11 more by May of 1960, there arrived one day in the Oriole clubhouse a catcher's mitt that looked like something left behind by Baseball Clown Al Schacht. It was huge, "with enough webbing," as one skeptical newsman wrote, "to catch a school of salmon." The Orioles took one look and howled with glee. "Try it," said Richards, "then laugh." So the Baltimore catchers tried it and allowed only three passed balls the rest of the year. More important, Wilhelm won 10 games.
Some managers call for extra practice after a team loses, determined to correct the flaws that led to defeat. Richards sends the Orioles through workouts after they win. "They get more out of it then," he says. "They don't have the feeling they're being punished." He never goes to the mound to take a pitcher out of the game; he sends Coach Luman Harris. "They can't argue with Lum because it isn't his idea," says Paul, "and they can't argue with me because I'm not there."
It was Richards who used Iron Mike, the batting-practice machine, to pitch games during spring training while waiting for his pitching staff to get in shape. Working for both teams, Iron Mike pitchcd a 2-1 and 3-3 double-header in 2 hours 25 minutes, came back the next day for a 2-0 shutout. "He got a sore arm," said Richards, in explaining why Iron Mike was sent back to the batting cage. "We fixed it for $35, but by then the hitters were howling and the pitchers were ready, anyway."
But it is neither Paul Richards' tactical brilliance nor his sometimes weird innovations that have earned him a magician's reputation among the men who play for and against him through the long, testing summers of the American League. It is because he is one of baseball's great teachers, a man with the eye of a hunting hawk for spotting the slightest flaw in an athlete and the remarkable patience to correct the worst defect.
Frank Lane insists that Richards wanted to trade Nellie Fox away in his first season at Chicago but adds that it was Richards who made Fox into a ballplayer. (In 1959 Fox was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League.) Paul taught Fox how to make the double play and how to hit to left field, accomplishments which he sometimes has cause to regret now. He took Billy Gardner, a castoff Giant infielder, and made him into a regular second baseman who gave the Orioles several fine seasons while the kids were developing down on the farm. When one of those kids, Marv Breeding, came up last year, Paul spent weeks teaching him how to make the double play. "He must have shown Marv how to do it 500 times," says Lum Harris. "Then one day Breeding got it, just like that. The 501st time."
"I got it," says Breeding, "but I still have to practice it. Paul doesn't think it's perfect yet."
While bringing the young players along, Richards has exhibited infinite patience, refusing to rush them into the pressure of a big league season despite loud cries from Baltimore fans. This is the way he handled Brooks Robinson and Ron Hansen (who were third and fifth in last season's Most Valuable Player vote), and this is the way he is handling Dave Nicholson, the $120,000 bonus outfielder who the Orioles believe may someday become one of the game's superstars. "Hell, yes, we need power in the outfield," says Richards, "and right now he could probably drive in more runs than anyone I've got out there. But there's more to this game than hitting the ball out of the lot. Nick has things to learn. When he's ready I'll play him. Not before."
It is in the unbelievable performances he extracts from worn-out or unwanted pitchers, however, that Richards truly appears to have been kissed by genius. "He gets an extra 5% out of them," says Frank Lane. "He sees the little things other managers miss."
While catching for Atlanta, in 1937, Richards instilled in Dutch Leonard so much confidence in his knuckleball that Leonard, a big league castoff, went back to the majors for 16 more years. As a wartime catcher with Detroit, Paul soothed the nerves of an undisciplined youngster with wonderful talent named Hal Newhouser, comforting him, consoling him, sometimes cussing him out. Before Richards, Newhouser had won just 34 games in four seasons; in the next three he won 80.
Saul Rogovin was nothing with Detroit. Richards brought him to Chicago in '51 and made him into a pitcher who won 12 games that season and had the best earned run average in the league, 2.78. The next year Rogovin was 14-9.
"Everything I know," he said, "came from Paul." Virgil Trucks apparently was washed up with the Browns in '53; he had been 5-19 the year before and his record in June, when Richards obtained him in a trade, was 5-4. Yet he finished that season a 20-game winner and won 19 the next year. Richards had shifted Trucks's grip on the changeup, encouraged him to throw more overhand and taught him a kind of screwball. "I never thought I'd be learning a new pitch after 16 seasons in baseball," said Trucks. "This guy is the best manager I ever worked for."
When Billy Loes, a rather unusual young man, arrived in Baltimore from Ebbets Field, he brought along what he insisted was a sore arm—and an absolute reluctance to endanger it further by throwing hard. One day Richards taunted Loes until Billy's fast ball threatened to burn a catcher's hand. "Fine, Bill, fine," drawled Richards and sauntered away. In 1957 Loes was 9-3 by July 1 and made the All-Star team.
Hoyt Wilhelm was washed up in '58, a relief pitcher who could not get his knuckleball over the plate. Richards bought him from Cleveland and spotted the trouble right away: not enough work. So Paul gave him a starting job—and Wilhelm pitched a no-hitter against the Yankees. The next year he won his first nine games; at the end of the season he had 15 victories and the best earned run average in the American League. Among other things, Richards noticed that Wilhelm was tipping his pitches, allowing opponents to see in advance, by a flash of his grip on the ball, what he was going to throw. Since Wilhelm throws the knuckler nine out of 10 times, no other manager seemed to care. But Richards cared. "You'd be surprised how many batters he fools with that 10th pitch," Paul says now.
John McHale says Paul's greatest asset is his ability to make ballplayers believe in him. "He's a con man," says McHale. "He makes them believe that everything he says is right. Then it's easy for him to make them believe in themselves."
With his ballplayers Richards is a strange mixture of mother hen and ogre. A shortstop who made three errors in the first game of a double-header at Buffalo spent the intermission fielding ground balls. In Atlanta, after his team had won the Southern Association pennant, won the playoffs and swept the first three games of the Dixie Series, Richards had his pitchers running in the outfield before the fourth game. "I'm getting them into shape," he said, "for next year." Defeat, particularly stupid defeat, leaves in him a smoldering fury that he cannot always control. At Seattle he broke a toe kicking a locker, and although he no longer kicks lockers he sometimes explodes in other ways. Last year he forbade the Orioles to take their usual quick showers after a particularly galling loss. "Just sit there," he told them, "and think about that one for a while."
He seldom praises good performance, for in his code that is what a ballplayer is supposed to give. He discourages familiarity, having little or nothing to do with his team off the field. Yet all ballplayers seem to respect him; and most of them develop a real affection for him.
"He's a tough one," says young Milt Pappas, who is seldom given to profound reflection, "but you realize after a while that he's only trying to help you become a better ballplayer. I consider it an honor to play for him."
"There is no indecision in the man," says Skinny Brown. "He may be wrong sometimes but he doesn't sit there and fool around. Personally, I don't know that I'd want to pitch for anyone else."
Frank Lane has a suspicion that Richards is getting mellow with the years. "Still," says Lane, "he's not in danger of getting soft. You'll never take advantage of him. Look at Al Lopez. He's friendly and people like him, but he can get tough, too, and get results. Paul should be more like that."
But Jim Busby, who has played for both men, says that he likes Richards' way best. "You don't always know exactly how you stand with Lopez," says Busby. "With Paul, there's never any doubt."
Richards has only one explanation for his success: he looks upon ballplayers as individuals, and he can understand their problems since he has been down the road himself. "I was all different kinds of ballplayer," he says. "I was a ballplayer who was scared. I was a ballplayer who didn't hustle. I was a ballplayer who played only for myself. Then I began to get a little sense. I lost my fear, I began to hustle. I began to play for the team. So I know how a ballplayer feels.
"This game is changing all the time. Defensive alignments and maneuvers have advanced more than the offense. So you have to change with it. But everybody today knows about the same amount of baseball. Some managers just have a little more patience and ambition to expose their ballplayers to it."
There is a story that Richards planned to become a big league manager even when he was a little boy. "Hah," he says. "I'll tell you when I decided to become a manager. When I found out I wasn't going to be a .300 hitter in the big leagues. Of course," he adds, "I found that out pretty early."
Paul's baseball career began in Waxahachie (pronounced Walks-uh-HATCH-ee—at least in Waxahachie), a town of 13,000 located 28 miles south of Dallas where his father taught school and ran a store. Paul was a third baseman and ambidextrous pitcher on a legendary high school team that won 67 of 67 games and three state championships in three years. The Dodgers signed him for $1,000, and Wilbert Robinson had visions of using Paul at shortstop, where he could throw right-handed to first base and left-handed to third. Uncle Robbie never had a chance to find out. By the time Richards had made the long crawl to the big leagues, through Pittsfield and Crisfield, through Waterbury and Hartford and Muskogee and Macon and Minneapolis, he belonged to somebody else. He had also ceased to be either a third baseman or a two-handed pitcher.
For when Richards arrived at Macon in 1930, he noticed immediately that while the place was swarming with in-fielders, the only catcher in sight was Manager Charley Moore. "I'm a catcher," said Richards. Moore was injured in the opening game and, sure enough, Richards was a catcher. "I'll say this," Moore remarked years later when he learned of the deception. "The first time Paul went behind that plate he was a better catcher than I had ever been."
Richards was good enough to reach the Giants in 1933, where he caught Carl Hubbell in part of the famous left-hander's 46‚Öì-inning scoreless streak. But he had trouble hitting big league pitching and within four years he was back in the minors, with Atlanta. There Earl Mann, who ran the Atlanta club, decided that this stony-faced youngster with the traplike mind was going to be an outstanding manager some day—so why not start him now? In 1938 Richards, at 30, took over the Atlanta ball club.
He promptly won everything in sight: the pennant, the playoffs, the Dixie Series and an award as minor league manager of the year. He won another pennant in Atlanta in '41 and then, after four wartime years back in the big leagues with Detroit, where he hit a bases-loaded double in the seventh game of the 1945 World Series, he won another pennant for Buffalo in '49. League President Frank Shaughnessy called him "the best manager ever to come into the International League," and Frank. Lane decided that he had found the man to end Chicago's long depression.
Richards worked as well with Lane as any manager has ever worked with Lane, and they did not separate in anger. "Frank and I got along all right," says Richards now. "When I managed for him, I managed to 100% of my ability. I knew it and Frank knew it, and we both knew I couldn't do any more." Richards left Chicago after the 1954 season because Baltimore offered him $45,-000 a year and the chance to run things by himself. Richards likes to run things, and he promptly set out to trade away the entire Baltimore club.
In his first season he traded or optioned or sold 75 players, including the one outstanding athlete on the team, Bob Turley, an act that almost got him lynched. Richards said, "I'd rather be hanged for something I did do than for something I didn't do," and kept on trading. By 1957 some 114 different players had appeared on the roster.
In the meantime he was pouring out money for promising kids. In the process he acquired what sometimes seemed to be an inordinate number of lemons, including one who became uncontrollably nervous when asked to pitch before a crowd. Richards also got slapped with a $2,500 fine for the 540,000 undercover signing of Oklahoma A&M star Tom Borland, which, in the opinion of Commissioner Ford Frick, was not only a violation of the bonus rule but "conduct detrimental to baseball."
"Horsefeathers," says Richards. "The only thing I did wrong was get caught."
For a time Richards was on the verge of giving up. Attendance slumped. The bonus players weren't coming through. The double load was a brutal thing to carry, yet when Paul tried to abandon the field manager's job, recommending the hiring of either George Kell or Fred Hutchinson to replace him, the Oriole front office said no. He had a bitter feud with Baltimore writers, particularly with two sports editors, the late Jesse Linthicum of The Sun and the late Rodger Pippen of the News Post. "Go ahead and get me fired," he snarled one day. "I'd be the happiest man in the world if you'd get me fired. But I'll be damned if you can make me quit."
Eventually Richards' hard work began to pay off. The young players began to come through and, satisfied that the farm system was now in good shape, Richards gave up the general manager's job to devote his time to problems on the field. To fill the vacancy, the Orioles hired Lee MacPhail, protégé of the Yankees' George Weiss. The two men have worked well together, although there is little doubt that Richards still runs a large part of the show. Last fall he received a new three-year contract. It called for $50,000 a season, a nickel bonus on every admission over 800,000 (the Orioles drew 1,187,849 in 1960) and some Oriole stock as well. Joe Iglehart, chairman of the board, is a great Richards fan.
Baseball is Richards' trade, and it is hard to separate him from the white-chalk lines and green grass and dusty base paths that formalize this private little world. Sometimes it seems that Paul Richards must have been born in a baseball park, his only home the cool, shadowy dugouts where he perches with one foot on the steps. But Richards has a home away from baseball, too.
In 1932 he married Margie McDonald, despite a remarkable lack of enthusiasm on the part of her father, a Waxahachie plumber, who warned her, "That young fellow can't make much of a living. All he wants to do is play baseball." Today Paul and Margie, a charming, gracious woman who has never booed an umpire in her life, spend most of the off season back in Waxahachie, close to old friends and their 22-year-old daughter Paula, a splendid horsewoman who has been educated at Vassar and Stephens and is now studying drama at the University of Texas. A younger daughter, Lucy, died of a heart condition while Paul was managing the White Sox. In memory of the little girl, Richards gave a gift to the First Baptist Church of Waxahachie. Then when his mother died just a few weeks later, he paid off more than $1,000 indebtedness on the Water Street Baptist Church, where she had been a member.
For 12 years Richards was part owner of the Waxahachie Daily Light, writing a sports column between seasons, often covering news stories, sometimes selling ads. He liked journalism and is proud of the work he did, particularly a story written in 1944 about the capture of an escaped convict who killed a local deputy named Jess White. There is even a rumor that Paul captured the killer himself. "Good Lord, no," he says.
He owns 70 acres of land near town, and although the Baseball Register lists Richards' hobby as farming, this is a joke. "I rode a tractor one day," he says. "but decided there wasn't any future in that." The Richards farm is actually a camouflaged driving range. There is a golf ball under every cotton stalk, two under every peach tree. Protecting the golf balls is Rebel, a great Dane. The dog was a gift to Paul from a Chicago restaurant owner and White Sox fan. Rebel has a vicious temper, which probably comes from eating in Chicago restaurants when he was young. "Please don't feed the puppy," a sign says. "He might take your arm."
Last winter the Richardses moved from the old family place, a two-story white frame house with verandas upstairs and down, into a sprawling, ranch-style home that has all the modern conveniences, including the No. 2 green of the Waxahachie Country Club just outside the door. This is important to Paul, who likes to shoot an occasional round of golf, usually every day. Sometimes he plays 36 holes a day, and he used to play 54 until an old baseball ankle began to give way. Now he rides an electric cart. Richards and Digger Deatherage, the pro at the club, once played 198 holes in five days from San Antonio through Austin back to Waxahachie.
Richards plays to a 3 handicap; he is under 75 more often than above and three times he has scored 66. But betting is his supreme skill. "That old so-and-so," says a Florida golfing companion. "You'll get him down and he'll keep pressing you and sometimes making up his own rules. And first thing you know he knocks in a birdie on the 18th and wins all the dough. I bet Sam Snead never birdied as many 18th holes."
Although everyone in baseball knows about Paul's mania for golf, it is abhorrent to him that it would ever be mentioned in print, especially during the season. But Richards could play golf every morning of the week and shoot a double-header on Sundays, and it would not cause him to work any less hard at his job. For the closer Paul gets to the pennant, the more intense and unswerving he becomes. With all his success—his home and family and friends, the good life he leads and the rare regard in which he is held by the other members of his profession—Richards is not a happy man, and he will not be happy until he wins.
"All this team really needs," he says as the 1961 season begins, "is that one big man. A monster, who can hit 40 home runs and bat in 130 runs for you. I think he's probably in the farm system somewhere right now, maybe only a year or two away. If he gets himself up here, we're set.
"But this is a pretty good ball club just as it is. A good infield, lots of pitching, good defense. Some speed, some hitting. We could win it right now. Stranger things have happened in this game than that."
Several years ago, when things were still dark for the Orioles, Paul made a little speech, full of the hope and bitterness that seem to conflict within the man. "Some day, maybe four or five years from now," he said, "Baltimore will have a fine young team on the field. When that happens, all I ask is that you observe 10 seconds of silence in memory of Paul Richards."
It appears now that when the 10 seconds of silence comes, Paul Richards will be standing in the middle of it. He will have created his monument, his team, almost alone, through his determination and knowledge and skill. No one could have done more.