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.
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."