Bobby Richardson was a princely player back when baseball was king.
Richardson, a native of Sumter, was the slick and steady second baseman for the New York Yankees from 1955 to 1966. He was named to the American League All-Star team eight times. He won World Series championships with New York in 1958, 1961 and 1962. He also was named the most valuable player of the 1960 World Series, although New York lost that championship to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Richardson still holds the Major League record for playing in 30 consecutive World Series games.
“All that means is (Mickey) Mantle missed one, Yogi (Berra) missed one and I didn’t miss any,” Richardson said with a laugh Thursday night before speaking at the Furman University Upstate Diamond Classic in Downtown Greenville.
Richardson retired from Major League Baseball when he was 30 years old. He said through the 49 years since, he has observed baseball’s gradual descent from the summit of sports.
“When I was coming along, every young boy wanted to play Little League Baseball. It was indeed the national pastime,” Richardson said. “Now, you’ve got so many choices. You have wrestling. You have soccer. You have football and basketball. There are so many ways they can go now.”
Richardson, who coached at the University of South Carolina from 1970 to 1976, also attributed baseball’s decline in popularity to the decelerating pace of play.
“Ball games take too long. It’s almost three and four hours a game,” Richardson said. “You have to speed up the game. Young people, they’d rather play or watch something that keeps them right in the game all the time.”
During the last MLB season, the average duration of a regulation game was three hours and eight minutes, according to figures compiled by USA TODAY. Last month, the league, under new commissioner Rob Manfred, proposed shorter breaks between half-innings that could shorten games by 10 to 15 minutes. Yet, Richardson estimated that still is much longer than the games he remembers playing. He said there were no commercial breaks then and there were fewer pitching changes.
“We had a lot of two-hour games,” he said. “We didn’t have the middle reliever. We didn’t have a closer. Most pitchers would go at least seven innings. It was just faster ball. There are some things you can get back to that would help out. But still, there are a lot of folks that love baseball.”
Richardson spoke to nearly 500 such folks Thursday night in support of the Furman baseball team, which will open its season today against the University of Akron. Furman coach Ron Smith has organized the Upstate Diamond Classic fundraiser for 18 consecutive years.
“To have Bobby Richardson, a man of his integrity, is an extraordinary pleasure for us,” Smith said. “Obviously, I’d love to see baseball grow even more, and if we had more people like Bobby Richardson running around, it would.”