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New York Yankees’ “Milkshake Twins” Kubek and Richardson
By the seventh inning between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway, the Sox are giving the home crowd of 17,318 some hope late in the game. The Yankees lead 7-2 with two away. But the tiring right-handed hurler Rollie Sheldon allows a single to Don Buddin, then walks pinch hitter Russ Nixon before yielding the mound to reliever Luis Arroyo, a southpaw. It’s the end of May 1961.
Two on, two out. Sox batter Curt Schilling grounds to third but makes first base safely. Clete Boyer commits a rare throwing error, which lets Buddin score a run and advances Nixon to third base. Now it’s 7-3, runners on first and third with two away.
Arroyo’s wild pitch to Gary Geiger brings Nixon home for another run. And Schilling advances to second. The score’s now 7-4 in the seventh inning. Geiger grounds to first for the final out of the inning, as first baseman Moose Skowron scoops up the ball and steps on the bag first.
In the bottom of the eighth, Arroyo’s pitching remains less than stable. He’s singled on on a bunt, flied out on to center, gives up a walk, then another single, is grounded on for a single to center that scores one base runner while moving the other one to second. A strikeout, then a grounder to second for the final out on a throw to first ends the inning, but the Red Sox have narrowed the gap to 7-5 with an inning to go.
Arroyo is still pitching in the bottom of the ninth inning. And the Red Sox smell victory. The Yankee pitcher walks the first batter, Rip Repulski. Schilling lines to right field for a single and sends pinch runner Billy Harrell to second. Two on, no outs. Geiger lays down a sacrifice bunt that moves up both base runners. Catcher Elston Howard fields and throws to first for the out. One away, two on.
With the Sox threatening, now having the tying run on base in scoring position and the walk-off winning run at the plate, the fast-fraying Yankee lead stands in imminent danger. Carroll Hardy hits a grounder to second. Normally sure-handed Bobby Richardson commits an error, stopping all Yankee hearts and speeding all Red Sox pulses. The batter’s safe at first base, a run scores, and, with just one out, runners threaten at first and third. It’s now a one-run lead for the visitors.
Yankee manager Ralph Houk goes to the bullpen. Leftie Danny McDevitt takes the hill, facing this dire situation: 7-6 score, two on, one out. Vic Wertz steps up to the plate. Momentum in Fenway Park has decidedly shifted the home team’s way. There’s no rout now, maybe not even a win for the Yankees playing in enemy territory. It’s now or never. Bottom of the ninth.
McDevitt delivers. Wertz grounds to Richardson at second. Schilling heads for home plate. Richardson, recovering his usual form, tosses to shortstop Tony Kubek at second for one out. Kubek throws to Skowron at first for another out. Double play! Threat annihilated! No more runs! Yankees win, 7-6!
The glorious season of 1961 didn’t start out gloriously for the New York Yankees. You wouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion that the Yankees would end the season as world champs with a commanding record. The turning point came as May gave way to June.
Offensively, slugging led by the home run derby that developed between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris factored heavily in the success. But defensively, the team’s middle infield played a critical role in shutting down opponents’ offensive threats. The Yankees’ six-four combo consisted of the “Milkshake Twins,” Tony Kubek at short and Bobby Richardson at second.
The Making of a Moniker
How Richardson and Kubek came to be known as the Milkshake Twins grew out of the combination of a particular event plus Yankees manager Casey Stengel’s gift of gab.
In 1958, New York Yankees general manager George Weiss attributed the team’s late-season slump, 25-28 the final two months of the season, to curfew-breaking and the accompanying misbehavior of some players. Too much drinking and carousing and too little sleep had been a concern of Weiss’s for a long while, despite the Yankees’ strong performance year after year.
Pitcher Don Larsen, of perfect-game fame in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, had started his banner season with a liquor-fueled, predawn joy ride at spring training that had ended with his car wrapped around a telephone pole. Now, in mid-September of ’58, another pitcher, Ryne Duren, got bad and drunk on the train ride from Kansas City, where the Yanks had secured the pennant, to a late-season stand in Detroit.
When he’d been drinking, Duren could turn mean. That night, the inebriated Duren hectored first base coach Ralph Houk, who was seated and enjoying a cigar. Duren tried to “push that cigar you’re smoking right down your throat.” That led to Houk’s self-defensive swat, which accidentally cut Duren’s face with a huge World Series ring. This escalated into a drunk’s fist flying, but was quickly ended.
But it also produced bad press for the new league champs. In truth, the press exaggerated the facts of the minor tussle beyond recognition.
Weiss wanted to get the situation under control. So, he hired private detectives to trail players and send reports on their conduct — a tactic management had used before. Weiss’s prime suspects, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, noticed the not-exactly-incognito hired hands in the Statler-Hilton Hotel lobby in downtown Detroit.
Ford, Mantle, and catcher Darrell Johnson walked out the hotel’s front door, detectives not far behind them. The players jumped into a cab and sped away. The detectives hurried into a car, giving chase. The players’ taxi circled the block and returned to the hotel’s front door, where the Yankee trio reentered the lobby.
Among other Yankees shadowed by private detectives on that Detroit trip, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson, and pitchers Bobby Shantz and Johnny Kucks picked up a tail. These players walked into a movie theater, where they bought popcorn. They knew they were being followed, so the Yankee foursome waited for the tagalongs to buy movie tickets. Then, the ballplayers left the theater, with the detectives stuck holding their tickets. The players went to the YMCA to play ping-pong. They capped off the night of good, clean fun with milkshakes. The shadows duly reported these innocent goings-on to the Yankees front office.
The private detectives’ escapades made the hometown newspapers. Such “wild” conduct by Yankees like Kubek et al. to pass time during away stands earned Kubek and Richardson the name the Milkshake Twins from the press. This incident’s nickname was reinforced by Stengel’s referring to his players who drank no or little alcohol as “milk drinkers.”
The Kubek-Richardson Combo
Milkshakes or not, the two men so labeled brought a powerful combination to the Yankees lineup. Perhaps the best middle infield of their era, close friends, road roommates and teammates Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson set a standard for excellence as New York Yankees. They started out together in minor league ball at Triple A Denver and became the gold standard for infield play during the late 1950s to mid-1960s.
The duo could turn smooth double plays and range the keystone masterfully, providing reliable defense for an A-list pitching rotation led by the “Chairman of the Board” Whitey Ford. Kubek and Richardson each displayed ability all around, such as quickness getting to the baseball, efficiency and smoothness throwing the ball, and being able to hit behind the runner to improve the prospects of runs scoring. Kubek may not have had the grace of some infielders, but his record speaks for itself. He ranked among league leaders in putouts, assists and double plays as shortstop.
Describing the Milkshake Twins’ defensive excellence, Harvey Frommer wrote in Yankee Century and Beyond:
“[In 1961,] Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek collectively manufactured 343 hits. As the keystone combination, they helped the infield turn most of its 180 double plays and anchored a Yankee defense that led the league in fielding percentage and double plays, and committed the fewest errors in the league. The infield of Skowron-Richardson-Kubek-Boyer had no equal defensively.”
The Milkshake Twins played in the big leagues under several managers, but the most impactful on their professional play were Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk.
After his second baseman predecessor Billy Martin was traded in 1957, Richardson was assigned Martin’s number 1 the next season. Martin had been a favorite of skipper Casey Stengel. Case loved Martin’s vocal, aggressive style. Richardson was a quieter, more reserved person, and the contrast with Martin challenged the manager’s ability to adjust.
Stengel barbed Richardson during his trying 1958 season, when the South Carolina native struggled at the plate, contended with the demoralizing platooning of the Old Perfessor, and watched his batting average sag along with his playing time. “Hold that gun” became a too-often-heard and feared phrase when Richardson waited to bat.
Perhaps most biting because it came closer to getting personal, Casey’s criticism, which showed up in the papers, seemed to imply Richardson’s clean living caused his performance to suffer: “Look at him. He [Richardson] doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and he still can’t hit .250.”
All that changed in 1961. Kubek and Richardson were slotted as regulars at their positions. The season after Richardson became the only Most Valuable Player of the World Series to come from the losing team, their former minor league manager Ralph Houk took over from Stengel. The Milkshake Twins started and played daily beside second base.
Regular duties helped Richardson to thrive: He was awarded Gold Gloves every season from 1961 to 1965 at second base. He finished second in league MVP voting in ’62, edged by no less than his friend Mantle.
At 6’3”, Kubek, a Wisconsin native who wore number 10, physically towered over his 5’9” keystone counterpart. Kubek, the 1957 Rookie of the Year in the American League, didn’t suffer quite the same under Stengel’s style. Stengel and Kubek’s father were minor leaguers together, predisposing him to favor Tony. And Tony Kubek could ably play both in the infield and the outfield. His attitude was to meet every challenge head-on.
Richardson and Kubek Baseball Stats
- Tony Kubek Statistics and History - Baseball-Reference.com
Career: 57 HR, .266 BA, 373 RBI, SS/OF/3B, 1957 AL RoY, 4xAllStar, Yankees 1957-1965, b:L/t:R, born in Unite. 1935
- Bobby Richardson Statistics and History - Baseball-Reference.com
Career: 34 HR, .266 BA, 390 RBI, 2B, 8xAllStar, 5xGG, Yankees 1955-1966, b:R/t:R, 1x H Leader, born in Unite. 1935
Clowning Around and Showing Kindness
Despite their different habits and lifestyles from stars like Mantle and Ford, the Milkshake Twins held the respect and affection of their teammates.
Yankee clubhouse gags and comedy included the antics of Kubek and Richardson. One routine, as related by stellar shortstop Phil the Scooter Rizzuto in the March 1964 Boys’ Life magazine, went like this:
Kubek says, “Hey, Rich, tell them your life story.”
Richardson says, “Sure. I was born at a very young age. When I was six, I ran away with the circus, but they made me give it back. I was a bottle baby, but after two years the bottle broke, and I escaped.”
The duo also ribbed their relievers. Steve Hamilton recalled hearing the Milkshake Twins’ cracks while he warmed up on the mound.
Kubek says, “Gee, Bobby, how’s he going to get anyone out with that junk? I mean, he doesn’t have anything today.”
Richardson chimes in, “Yeah, I wonder how much stuff [reliever Pete] Mikkelsen has when he comes in. Let’s hope he has more.”
The duo also showed thoughtfulness toward others. For instance, batboy Frank Prudenti recalled Kubek and Richardson looking out for him during a series in Cleveland. One morning, Prudenti sat in the lobby of the hotel. Kubek got off the elevator and spotted the batboy.
“Did you have breakfast yet?”
“What are you going to do today?”
The batboy answered he was going to sightsee in Cleveland.
“No, come with me and Bobby.”
“The three of us went for breakfast in a coffee shop down the street,” Prudenti said in his memoir. “They showed me some of the sights in Cleveland and we then went to a movie. It was a very pleasant day being with two of the nicest guys.”
On a road trip to Cleveland and Detroit in 1960, Prudenti related how Richardson collected some money from teammates and gave the cash to Prudenti. “You are on this trip with us, and the players want you to have a nice time,” Richardson said. “Go enjoy yourself, here is some spending money.”
Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek contributed mightily to the success of the dynastic New York Yankees of their era. And they did it with unassuming class. Regardless of their Milkshake Twins handle, it’s clear that nice guys can and did finish first, shoulder to shoulder with their better-known teammates like Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris.