Idle American: On Choosing the Right Roads…


Undisputed star that he was during the golden era of major league baseball, this player has maintained a spirit of humility that others only dream of.

His name is Bobby Richardson, embodied in a 5-9, 170 frame of baseball greatness. Five words uttered on his recognition day at Yankee Stadium--August 31, 1966--describe his life, which has stretched past 88 years.

The words “To God Be the Glory” are a near-perfect fit for this Christian gentleman now spending retirement years in Sumter, SC, where he grew up. He became a Christian at age eight, guided by parents, Sunday school teachers and friends who took seriously Proverbs 22:6, training up children in the way they should go. For the 80 years since Richardson committed to Christ, he has chosen life’s roads carefully, fulfilling the scriptural instruction….

His “training up” has guided his “living out” twilight years. Two- and- a-half years ago, he became the primary caregiver for Betsy, his beloved wife of 66 years whose life now requires peritoneal dialysis nightly.

The happy couple --again taking the high road--is grateful for suitcase-sized dialysis equipment that allows them to travel as needed.

Their lives are simpler now. On a typical day, Bobby is at a breakfast hangout for banter with  friends,. Come 9 a.m., he’s back home, preparing breakfast for his wife, a major player in his “training up.” Indeed she has, alongside a national sports hero and taking primary responsibility in the early years for rearing three sons and two daughters. (The Richardsons now have 18 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.)…

I wish I knew Bobby better. He’s a good friend of two of my best friends, college chums Bunny Martin (15-year-old yo-yo phenom who won the world title in 1951) and Ray Hildebrand, who wrote and sang “Hey, Paula,” the nation’s favorite popular song for a spell in 1963.

For the trio, their God-given talents, however great, have always been secondary to their service to God.

The Richardson I know is limited to a few phone calls and emails, but in every communication, his humility and absolute art of deflecting praise stand out…..

To write of Bobby Richardson could easily lead one into the deep sea of statistics; few athletes in world history have as many.

Readers who choose to reflect on the numbers are invited to “Google away.”

They’ll encounter more stats than could be stuffed down throats of all attendees at a giraffe convention….

I can’t touch the hem of the garment by writing of this man who has written two books—The Bobby Richardson Story and Leaving a Lasting Legacy: On and Off the Field.

I pray for an eventual visit with him, Bunny and Ray, three Christian giants who have signed millions of autographs. Bobby’s mail includes several requests daily.

He responds as best he can….

The only “stat” I’ll offer shows the depth of respect extended by Yankee teammates, men with whom he starred during ten seasons, including nine World Series trips.

Seven of his teammates are now deceased, with only Richardson and Tony Kubek remaining. Now the statistic: Richardson officiated at funerals of manager Ralph Houk as well as teammates Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Bill (Moose) Skowron and Mickey Mantle.

Many fans remember that Richardson (and NBC sports reporter Bob Costas) eulogized Mantle on national television at his Dallas memorial service in August, 1995….

A few days earlier, Bobby and Betsy were in Dallas for an Old-Timers’ baseball game. Mantle, whose liver was giving way, wanted to talk to Bobby about the salvation plan he’d suggested so many times.

Maybe Mantle also was thinking of “God’s Hall of Fame,” Bobby’s favorite poem he’d recited thousands of times.

Anyway, hours before his death, Mantle asked Bobby and Betsy to visit one more time. They hurried from South Carolina back to Dallas, and were at his bedside when Mantle accepted Christ….