Bobby Richardson opens up about 1960s Yankees, Mickey Mantle bond

Bobby Richardson opens up about 1960s Yankees, Mickey Mantle bond

Sixty years.

How do you begin to tell Bobby Richardson’s story, a story that includes some of the biggest names and moments, viewed from behind the scenes, in Yankees history.

Start with the crushing home run by the other second baseman, Bill Mazeroski, one of the most iconic moments in baseball. Mazeroski’s bottom-of-the-ninth home run lifted the Pirates to a stunning 10-9 victory at Forbes Field in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.

Ralph Terry was on the mound that October day 60 years ago. Mickey Mantle was in center, Yogi Berra in left and Roger Maris in right. Richardson was at second. His longtime middle-infield partner, Tony Kubek, was not at shortstop, having been hit in the throat in the eighth inning by a bad-hop single off the bat of Bill Virdon.

The moment Mazeroski hit the 1-0 pitch, “I looked at Yogi and I could tell that ball would be out of the park,’’ Richardson told The Post this past week from his home in Sumter, S.C. “I grabbed my hat and took off because I knew those fans would be on the field.

“One thing stood out to me,’’ Richardson said. “After the Mazeroski home run, we went into our clubhouse, we were really down, in particular Mantle was down and he was shedding some tears and he just said, ‘Man, we had a better team and we let them beat us.’ That’s what I remember most.’’

Bobby Richardson at a Yankees Old Timer’s Day.Bill Kostroun

From that moment of baseball sorrow, resolve was born.

“We came back in ’61 and ’62 and won world championships,’’ Richardson said of those beloved M&M Boys Yankees.

In the heartbreaking loss to the Pirates, it was Richardson who was named the World Series MVP. In the 1961 World Series win over the Reds in five games, Richardson batted .391.

In 1962, Richardson led the AL in hits with 209 and ended the Game 7 World Series 1-0 win over the Giants by snagging Willie McCovey’s laser line drive with runners on second and third, saving the day for the Yankees.

Terry, who surrendered Mazeroski’s home run in 1960, pitched a shutout to gain World Series redemption.

Check YouTube on that final play and you will see Richardson making the catch then rushing to give his cap to second base umpire Al Barlick before joining the celebration.

“Right before the last pitch of the game, the National League umpire asked, ‘Hey Rich, can I have your cap for my little cousin?’ Well, I caught the ball, turned around and gave him my cap. I was thinking about that before McCovey hit the ball.’’

Richardson, 84, who retired at the age of 31 after the 1966 season, appeared in seven World Series, winning three and batting .305 over 36 games. Five of the seven World Series went to seven games, and three of those the Yankees lost. Richardson, an eight-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner, came that close to winning six rings.

From the time Richardson first showed up at Yankee Stadium, it was Mantle who protected him.

“Most people don’t realize, but when I was 17 years old I was given a four-day trip to New York to work out with the Yankees,’’ Richardson said.

Twelve of the 16 major league teams at the time had wanted to sign Richardson.

“I chose the Yankees,’’ he said, “because when I was 14 I saw the film ‘Pride of the Yankees.’ When I came up to New York at 17, I put on a uniform and [longtime coach] Frank Crosetti gave me a pair of spikes, saying my high school spikes would not do.’’

After taking ground balls, Richardson was told to take a few swings in the cage.

“I wasn’t about to step into the cage in front of Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer or anybody like that,’’ Richardson said. “And Mickey Mantle came up from behind, put his arm around me and said, ‘C’mon kid, step in here and take some swings.’

“That started a friendship that lasted a lifetime. I came back up at 19 [for 11 games in 1955] and on that first day, Mantle came over to me and said, ‘I’m going to show you something. I’m going to make like I’m showing you around Yankee Stadium and I guarantee you tomorrow they’ll have pictures in the New York newspapers with me showing you around.’

Bobby Richardson and Mickey MantleAP

“It wasn’t two minutes and it was click, click, click, and the next day the papers had pictures of Mickey showing me around Yankee Stadium.’’

Mantle’s carousing was legendary but in Richardson, a lay pastor, Mickey found an understanding soul, who in the end, delivered Mickey back to his religious roots.

Mantle retired following the 1968 season. That last season he hit .237, dropping his lifetime average from .301 to .298. If he had retired after the 1967 season, Mantle would have owned a lifetime average above the magic .300 mark.

“Mantle played a little too long, and that’s something I wish had not happened,’’ Richardson said. “I know [hitting .300] meant a lot to Mickey, and yet the ballclub kind of made him play those last couple of years because it needed him for publicity and so forth.

“Most of the players I started out with have gone on to be with the Lord. Kubek, Ralph Terry and myself are all the same age, and we talk to each other once or twice a month.’’

Mantle passed away Aug. 13, 1995. Ten years earlier at Maris’ funeral, where Richardson gave the eulogy, Mickey said to Bobby: “I want you to have my funeral.’’

Noted Richardson, “He never let me forget that, and in the last few days he called and we spent some valuable time together. We had a wonderful relationship.

“Those last days he was trying to get connected with the Lord again. Remember that amazing interview [at Baylor University Hospital]. I gave Mickey the [white All-Star] cap he was wearing and it took so much courage for him to say, ‘I’m no hero … I still have a void in my heart.’

“Mickey found that peace in his last days. I remember he called at 5 in the morning and told my wife, ‘Betsy, I want Bobby to pray for me.’

“We shared one verse that meant a lot to him, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord. Find your joy in Him at all times,’ ’’ Richardson recalled. “In those last days, he told the doctors he was ready. Mickey was not afraid to die. He was at peace.

“I had his funeral and it was on national television,’’ Richardson said of the service at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas. “I had to make all the arrangements and Bob Costas did the eulogy and did a wonderful job. I got Roy Clark to sing. He and Mickey had played golf together and Roy had promised Mickey he would sing ‘Yesterday When I was Young’ and ‘Amazing Grace.’

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