Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson: A Most Unusual Friendship

Mickey Mantle and Bob - Yankee Teammatesby Richardson

Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson were teammates on those great Yankee teams of the early 1960s. It could have ended there, but somehow the bond only grew.

Mickey Mantle, the strapping kid with a body formed by working on Oklahoma oil rigs, and Bobby Richardson from the Bible Belt in Sumpter, NC, both played for the New York Yankees during one of the team’s extended assaults on the major leagues in the early 1960s.

While Mickey Mantle gained immediate recognition and notoriety as the heir to the iconic Joe DiMaggio, Richardson quietly followed second-baseman Jerry Coleman as a regular on the Yankees in 1959, on a run that continued until 1966.

Mantle and Richardson – Teammates Plus

Professional sports teams are unique in how they bring together 25 men plus coaches who hail from the far reaches of the United States, and today even the far corners of our planet.

They talk about “team chemistry” as though it was something in a science lab class made simple by a proper mix of Na (sodium) and Cl (chloride), and the result – voila – is common table salt.

But in a major league clubhouse, it’s never quite that precise. So, there is an element of mystery attached to the friendship, so well described by Kevin Kernan in a story for the New York Post, between Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson.

The Only Number 7 - Mickey Mantle (Photo: pinterest)
The Only Number 7 – Mickey Mantle (Photo: Pinterest)

Context is everything in the complexities of a friendship, which, if not for the fact they wore the same uniform, didn’t have a chance in hell of flourishing or even forming.

In the beginning, it was Mantle who came to “the kid”, putting an arm around Bobby Richardson, encouraging him to take his swings in the batting practice cage with the regulars.

Surprised, Richardson eagerly accepted the extended hand.

Diverging Lifestyles

But as the years went on, there was a clear separation between the teammates and the private lives of both men.

Baseball fans are well aware of the lifestyle enjoyed and immortalized by Mickey Mantle. If only half the stories you’ve heard are true, case closed. Mantle was an alcoholic and womanizer who roamed the streets of New York by night and hit home runs by day.

Meanwhile, Bobby Richardson led the clean life, even to the point of becoming a pastor in his church.

Meeting Bobby Richardson, The Person

A sidebar here attests to that point. In my teens, I caught up with a news note that Bobby Richardson would appear at a church in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York. Whoa – I’ve got to be there!

Bobby Richardson poised for his introduction at Yankees Old Timer's Day (Photo: Paul J. Bereswill)
Bobby Richardson poised for his introduction at Yankees Old Timer’s Day (Photo: Paul J. Bereswill)

And so I was. But what I saw as Richardson walked down the aisle to the altar was not the second-baseman of the New York Yankees.

Still, a transformed minister of God interested only in expanding and orating about his heartfelt beliefs.

Sad to say perhaps, the only reason I was there was to have a brief face to face with “Bobby” and to have him sign a ball I brought to the event. It happened, but the relic is long gone.

And for the most part, I suspect that Mickey Mantle’s encounter and even friendship with Bobby Richardson naturally ended following the retirement of both players.

In later years though, the two men would reconnect when Mantle was faced with recognizing he was, after all, mortal and facing certain death.

His haunting words from year’s past said half in jest, “If I’d a known I was gonna live this long, I’d a taken better care of myself”, laid bare the costs of being – “Mickey Mantle: – boyhood hero.

So Many Years Later

It now became Richardson’s chance to return the kindness The Mick had extended to him in his first days as a Yankee.

Summoned to Dallas, Texas, Bobby Richardson found himself presented with a repentant shell of the muscle-bound, fleet-footed, boyish, and fun-loving kid from Oklahoma.

Richardson now recalls:

“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.

Too little too late? We cannot be the judge of that. But what we do know is that there are teammates and then there are Teammates.

An odd couple of sorts, Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson, “connected” in ways that didn’t waste time or energy judging the other man’s character or choice of lifestyle.

Sometimes, I suppose there is a way of putting a square peg in a round hole.

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.