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A Review of New York Yankee Bobby Richardson’s Autobiography Impact Player
How would you sum up your life, looking back on more than seven decades that encompassed your role in one of America’s most storied baseball teams during its “dynasty” years?
Bobby Richardson, second baseman for the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 1960s, takes on that task in his autobiography Impact Player, published in 2012 (Tyndale House Publishers).
Impact Player recounts Richardson’s journey through life, which carried him from small-town South Carolina in the 1930s to a pro baseball career with the Yankees during one the team’s heydays. But more than that story, as interesting as it is, follows the rest of his story — what Richardson has done since leaving pro ball.
You get a complete look at Bobby Richardson. Impact Player opens up parts of his life that had to be uncomfortable to put into print. But the honesty combined with hoary perspective makes this book well worth reading.
In Impact Player, Richardson recalls his father, a quiet small businessman in Sumter, conveyed his dream that his only son embraced: a professional baseball career. His mentor, local teenage baseball standout Harry Stokes, invested himself in the eager protégé, despite being about ten years older than young Robert.
Pro scouts noticed Richardson and, upon high school graduation in 1953, he signed with the Yankees. A week later, he traveled to New York to work out with the team in Yankee Stadium. There, he first met manager Casey Stengel, the young star Mickey Mantle, and coach Frank Crosetti. That first impression has lasted with Richardson ever since. Crosetti gave him a new pair of cleats and was the person who hit him some fielding practice. Mantle encouraged the hesitant rookie to step into the batter’s cage and take a turn — an intimidating thing for a teenager when he’d be getting in front of Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, and other established stars.
His relationship with manager Ralph Houk began at Denver, where Richardson came to respect and trust “the Major.” He also teamed up with Tony Kubek in Triple A, both as career-long roommates and becoming the middle infield keystone that would anchor the Yankees of the first half of the 1960s. This is when he met his future wife, Betsy, back in Sumter during the offseason.
The brief call-up in August of 1955 isn’t the “crisis” it seemed in the first autobiographical account. Richardson filled in for injured Gil McDougald. When the regular recuperated, he came back into the lineup and Richardson went back down.
Richardson talks about Stengel’s platooning and how not playing regularly tended to hinder his own performance. Then there’s 1959, when Richardson personally played high-caliber ball and batted better than .300 average. And when Houk took over as manager in 1961, the changes he made gave Richardson just what he needed to become the reliable Gold Glove at second the Yankees needed for the remarkable successes of those seasons.
- Richardson’s relationship with his rival at second base, Billy Martin
- How Richardson and Kubek earned the moniker the “Milkshake Twins”
- Becoming the only MVP of the World Series from the losing team
- Lots and lots of World Series stories, with clutch plays and costly errors
- The Yankees’ great ’63 season (104-57 record, pennant by 10 1/2 games) spoiled by Sandy Koufax’s devastating pitching in the World Series
- The stresses on a marriage and a young family from baseball’s travel demands, and how the pattern affected their marriage decades after retiring
- Bobby Richardson Day at Yankee Stadium
- Building the baseball program at the University of South Carolina
- Running for Congress once and losing by 4,007 votes
Bobby Richardson's Book
His first autobiography, The Bobby Richardson Story, came out in 1965, the next to last year of his baseball playing career. It reflects the perspective of a young man, still in the arena and with much life yet to be lived. That book details more from his early life than does the second autobiography.
It begins with a crisis early in Richardson’s career. He had just been with the big-league team a couple of weeks, called up from Triple A Denver, and was now being sent back down to the minors. That fed doubts and sparked questions about whether he should even stick with professional baseball.
By contrast, Impact Player starts out well after Richardson’s retirement. It opens with the scene of retired Yankee greats at the funeral of his teammate and friend, Mickey Mantle. Rather than personal crisis impacting his own career, Richardson’s crisis that day was nervousness before he gave a eulogy to a packed church and national TV audience. But Bobby Richardson had reassuring news to deliver that day, “and I couldn’t wait to share it.”
Richardson's Personal Recollections
The personal reflections make Impact Player an especially good read. How his teammates had Richardson’s back, like when Yankees including Clete Boyer, Elston Howard, and Mantle started toward the mound when Eli Grba beaned Richardson with a pitch in 1962, testifies to the unity of that “tightly knit” squad.
The fatherly kindness and frolic the Yankee clubhouse showed the young Richardson kids share sides of Maris (“. . . Roger was the most dedicated family man I knew in baseball. . . . When he interacted with my sons in the locker room, it was obvious that he missed having his kids around during the season. It was evident how caring a father he was too.”), Mantle (“Mickey had a way, without trying, of drawing people to him — my kids included. Mickey was like an uncle to my sons.”), and others not widely portrayed.
The reason Boyer, “a quiet man . . . especially close to Roger Maris,” made remarks at Maris’s funeral is Richardson kind of forced him to. And the hard-drinking Boyer, in his declining years, got together more and more with the Richardsons, where hunting and friendship led Boyer eventually to embrace Bobby’s and Betsy’s Christianity.
Richardson recounts teammate Elston Howard, the first African-American New York Yankee. A white Southerner, Richardson was no Dixie Walker, who’d taunted Dodger teammate Jackie Robinson and organized a petition against him. The Howard and Richardson children played together in the clubhouse, Howard helped gather up those who wanted to attend Richardson’s team chapel services, and the teammates never got crossed up. “I’m sure that being the Yankees’ first African American was tougher than Ellie let on at the time. . . . But he never brought up those issues in the locker room or on our train rides and flights. Dignity is a word that comes to mind when I think about how Ellie handled the pressure. Ellie was a true gentleman” [italics in original].
About the most fascinating are the two chapters devoted to Mickey Mantle. Mantle and Richardson lived pretty much opposite lifestyles. Yet, these men shared “a friendship like no other I would ever have.” Years later, the generous Mantle put on a batting exposition, along with Kubek, in Sumter to raise funds for the YMCA. Despite his dislike for signing bats, “Mickey must have signed two to three hundred bats for fans” that day, having volunteered to do so.
Bobby had talked to Mickey about eternal things off and on for years. Mick hadn’t shown much interest. But it was the Richardsons whom Mantle wanted there during his hospitalizations during his final days. And it was Richardson whom Mantle told at the hospital in Dallas as soon as Bobby walked in that he’d become a Christian. That’s what Richardson shared with the congregation at Mantle’s funeral soon after.
All in all, Impact Player gives a retrospective look on a baseball standout’s own life. Bobby Richardson shares his ups and downs, his achievements and his foibles. A picture emerges of a genuine, humble man who, at 77, counts his blessings while acknowledging his human shortcomings.
At its heart, this book tells the story of the “dynasty” Yankees of the ‘50s and ‘60s, along with Richardson’s role in that story, both personal and professional. But it also indicates the impact this colleague had on his team and teammates. It’s no accident that the unassuming teammate has eulogized so many of his passing colleagues, including Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Enos Slaughter. And it’s no accident that many of those sensing a need for something more in their lives eventually called on Richardson to talk about deeper matters.
Impact Player shows a New York Yankee great as a three-dimensional person. The Richardson of quiet, steady, courteous demeanor has proven to be as much an anchor in the lives of his teammates and many, many others after baseball as he’d been as part of the 4-6 combo with Tony Kubek.
If you like the storied baseball of half a century ago and enjoy getting to know its characters, then Impact Player is for you.