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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.