Nothin', could be finah

Bobby Richardson, the Yank from Dixie, coaches a hot college team
June 01, 1975

Bobby Richardson. Now there was a second baseman. He did not smoke, drink, curse, fight or make headlines like Billy Martin (page 70), his predecessor with the Yankees, but then it was not his Southern Baptist nature to do so. As two detectives shadowing the high-spirited team learned one evening in Detroit, Richardson's nights on the town began with a bag of popcorn and ended with a Ping-Pong game at the YMCA. Fittingly, when he retired in 1966 after 10 full seasons, seven World Series, five Gold Glove Awards and seven All-Star Game nominations, his farewell gifts included 1,000 New Testaments.

Today Bobby Richardson is the baseball coach at the No. 2-ranked University of South Carolina near his home town of Sumter, and his image as a moral preceptor remains intact. Irate parents have been filling his mailbox recently with complaints about a commercial featuring Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. Pictured at the bar with mugs uplifted, they describe their qualifications for "The Beer Drinkers Hall of Fame." Although Richardson, a lay preacher, disapproves, he is not about to ruin two friendships over it. Fraternal blood flows thicker than any malt beverage.

Bobby Richardson does not live in the past, but there is little doubt he relishes it. While the Gamecocks were preparing for the NCAA district playoffs in Columbia, S.C. last week, he measured a long batting-practice drive by the distance it would have covered in Yankee Stadium. "The upper deck," he declared exuberantly, picturing the stadium he knew and not the one emerging from the current renovation.

His office is chock full of memorabilia. On the wall behind his desk, Babe Ruth embraces Lou Gehrig. Opposite, a beatific Yogi Berra beams in a picture that once hung in the Yankee lavatory. The "Oustrallian Mongoose" residing in the box in the corner is not really a mongoose at all but a length of squirrel fur. Only you don't know that until Richardson startles you by releasing the spring that sends it flying out.

The Yankee mementos center on the team, its legends and its high jinks, not its short, unassuming second baseman. "I was an average player on a great team," he says modestly.

Richardson realizes that his college players are too young to remember him as a major-leaguer. He is almost 40 now; his hair is thinning, his sideburns graying, his chin sagging and his stomach protruding. But he can still be disappointed as he was last year when an outstanding second-base prospect decided to enroll elsewhere. "I thought for sure he'd want to play for me," he said.

Recruiting, scheduling and budgeting are administrative chores that Richardson detests. He will drive the team bus and pitch batting practice, but he depends on his assistant, former minor league teammate Johnny Hunton, for office work. "When I took this job I thought recruiting was easy," Richardson says. "Then I realized I wasn't going after the good players."

South Carolina's only losing season since Richardson took over in 1970 was the first. The best have been the last two, in which Hunton's assistance has been valuable. Next week they take the Gamecocks to the College World Series in Omaha with a 47-4-1 record.

Richardson's winning strategy is another reminder of his Yankee background. If the Gamecocks do not look like the Bronx Bombers—the pinstripe flannels Richardson once ordered were uncomfortably heavy—at least they can try to play like them. South Carolina rarely bunts, often hits-and-runs and is always looking for the big inning.

With such sluggers as First Baseman Hank Small, the NCAA's alltime home-run leader (47) and one of six Gamecocks batting over .300, it seems a sound formula. The team's pitching star is righthander Earl Bass, who has a 15-0 record, a 1.16 ERA and a six-to-one ratio of strikeouts to bases on balls.

"The biggest thing I've had to learn," says Richardson, "is not to expect too much." But his attitudes on drinking, smoking, drugs and grooming are team policy and he will occasionally arrange group devotionals. Yet he is not overbearing. "If anything," says Bass, "he lets us get away with more than we should."

Richardson does his criticizing in private, a consideration he did not learn from Casey Stengel, who once said, "Look at him. Doesn't drink. Doesn't smoke. Nothing. But he still can't hit .220." The last time Bobby saw Stengel, at a banquet in Kansas City, Casey did not recognize him.

Although Richardson had not anticipated taking a college coaching job when he left the Yankees, his affinity for working with young people makes him well suited to it. "For most of these players it's like a minor league apprenticeship," he says. "There isn't a single one who wouldn't want to play major league ball once he gets out of college, and I love that kind of enthusiasm."

Most of all, however, he enjoys the convenience of being home with his wife and five children. It was his longing to be with them that prompted his premature retirement from Yankee Stadium at age 31. He considered himself out of baseball forever and was working as an insurance company publicist when Paul Dietzel, then the university's athletic director, persuaded him to coach the Gamecocks. Now he is about to sign a four-year extension of his contract, just long enough to span the collegiate career of his oldest son, Robbie, who will enroll at South Carolina in the fall.

Richardson's ties to the school, and even to Sumter, his lifelong home, are not permanent, he insists. But he also realizes he could not do much better elsewhere since his salary is agreeable, his commitments few and the facilities first-rate, including a dog named Rinky Dink that retrieves foul balls.

The Republican Party in the state considers him anything but a rinky dink politically. President Nixon encouraged him to run for Congress last year and a private poll indicated he would have been the favorite. The Sumter townspeople have been behind him ever since he left to play professional baseball—they sent him off at the bus station with a ballpoint pen and $86 in spending money.

Even though his Strom Thurmond conservatism might be attractive in the state, he has private doubts that he is qualified for what he considers a full-time "desk job." All his life he has enjoyed hunting, fishing, praying and baseball. For a while, at least, he will continue doing what he knows and does best.

PHOTOBOBBY WITH YANKEE MEMENTOS IN OFFICE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)