Bill Richardson

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Bill Richardson grew up in an Indiana farming community where his father was a laborer. He married a woman from the western Indiana coal country and settled in her hometown. When his baseball career ended he worked in the mines. He was blue-collar and kept a low profile. That attitude carried into his baseball career. Bill put on his uniform, checked the lineup card to see if he was catching or playing first base, and then gave it his best. He loved the game and endeavored not to make waves. Only once in his career was he embroiled in controversy that led to headlines.

William Henry Richardson was the middle child of James F. and Catherine Richardson. He joined his older sister, Victoria, on January 24, 1878, in Salem, Indiana. Brother George completed the family a year later. The children all attended school through the eighth grade. Salem is located about 40 miles northwest of Louisville, Kentucky. Richardson caught for the Salem team, which had a good reputation. His talents brought him offers to play with Indiana teams in Bedford and New Albany.1

He was recruited to play for the Galveston Sand Crabs in the Class C Texas League in 1898.  Richardson played 10 games mostly at third base, and batted eighth in the lineup before the franchise folded on May 15. He returned to Indiana to play semi-pro ball.  The following year he returned to the Texas League signing with the Austin Senators. One of the youngest men on the team he played first base, caught, played outfield and even put in time at second base. The Senators needed his bat in the lineup. He led the team (for players with 100 or more at bats) in batting at .309 and slugging at .426.

Richardson was a slugger. He banged out 23 extra-base hits in 60 games for the Senators. He was never very fast but did steal double digit bases on occasion. Labeled with the nicknames “Jumbo” and “Piano Legs” he stood 5-foot-11-inches tall and weighed 200 pounds. He was able to handle the bat and lay down a bunt but because of his long-ball potential he was rarely called upon  to sacrifice a runner. Richardson never posted large home run totals because he played in the deadball era on fields with distant fences. Both his major league home runs were inside-the-park blows.

Richardson signed with the Newport News Shipbuilders in the Class D Virginia League in 1900. He opened the season as their catcher and batted third. The team was in a chaotic state and he was forced into action in the infield. After six games he was transferred to the Hampton Crabs. He took over first base for Hampton, but was also used at third, outfield and shortstop. He played 10 games for Hampton before returning to Indiana.

The following year found Richardson with the Terre Haute Hottentots in the Class D Three-I League. Manager Bill Krieg planned to use Richardson and Doc Greenwald as his catchers. Plans changed on May 10 as Richardson went to first base and George Starnagle took over behind the plate where he played a whopping 111 games.

The Hottentots captured the pennant behind the pitching of Mordecai Brown and Jim Hackett. Richardson’s average of .250 trailed only outfielder George Wilkinson for teammates with 300 at bats. The team stayed together through September and played exhibitions with Evansville, Omaha, St. Louis and other teams to earn additional money.2

Richardson did not close the campaign with the Tots. St. Louis was impressed with his talent and signed him after their exhibition games. Bill joined the Cardinals on September 19 in St. Louis. No games were played that day as the country took time off for the burial of President William McKinley.

Manager Patsy Donovan sent Dan McGann to the bench and used Richardson at first base for the final 15 games of the season. McGann was one of many Cardinals to jump to the American League in 1902. Richardson’s first action was against Brooklyn. He went one-for-four on September 20 in an 8-2 loss.

The highlight of Richardson’s tenure came on September 25. The local paper said it was a game “played indifferently by indifferent players before an indifferent crowd.”3 That may well have been true until Richardson blasted an 11th inning offering from Vic Willis deep into centerfield. The ball, pursued by Boston outfielders, rolled all the way to the “bulletin board.”4 Far from being a “walk-off” homer, Richardson had to circle the bases lickety-split to cross the plate before the relay throw could arrive in the 2-1 win.

Richardson launched another home run in a 3-2 win over Dummy Taylor and the Giants on September 29. His two home runs tied him for fourth on the team; Jesse Burkett’s 10 dingers led the squad. Over the winter issues arose with Richardson’s contract, or lack thereof, with St. Louis. It was one of the few times that Richardson’s name appeared in headlines. St. Louis signed Bill to a contract for 1902, but it was conditional on his release being bought from Terre Haute. When the Browns “dragged their feet” in making the deal final, Richardson signed with Terre Haute.5

Richardson happily returned to Terre Haute for the 1902 campaign. He had married Maude Duckworth of Shelburn, Indiana on October 23. Shelburn is in Sullivan County near the border with Illinois and is 20 miles south of Terre Haute. The couple lived in Shelburn the rest of their lives. He spent the early spring working in Terre Haute on the construction of their new grandstand.6

The 1902 Terre Haute squad returned only four players-- Richardson, Hackett, Starnagle and infielder James Baird, from the pennant winners. The III League was now classified as a B League. The Hottentots contended but finished second to Rockford. Richardson played 94 games at first where he led the league in errors. He also caught 29 games. Offensively Richardson trailed Tot’s second baseman Lew Walters by three points in batting average, finishing at .273. Both men finished in the league top 10 for batters with 400 at bats or more. Richardson displayed his power by finishing second in the league in total bases with 203. The Tots were a running ballclub with Richardson contributing 12 steals.7

Terre Haute returned about half their players for 1903 but moved to the Class B Central League. Against the stiffer competition their roster (Baseball-Reference lists 47 players) was in a constant state of flux; they even tried a young catcher named Branch Rickey for a game. Leadership was equally chaotic as they employed six managers. Richardson played in 93 games posting a .304 batting average which put him in the top 10 for players with 300 or more at bats. Terre Haute finished deep in the second division.

The following season Gabby Street joined the club at catcher and outhit first baseman Richardson .293 to .289. The two men were the lone bright spots as Terre Haute finished dead last. Richardson opened the 1905 season as catcher. Once again, the Hottentots were destined for the cellar. Their lineup was constantly changing as they went through more than 40 players again. Richardson ended up playing more first base than catcher.

On August 7, Richardson drove home two runs in a 7-4 win over South Bend. After the game he was dealt to South Bend for first baseman Charles Andrews.8 Suddenly he was in the pennant race, batting clean-up and catching. The Greens fell short of the pennant as Richardson played in a combined 126 games and batted .255. He returned to the Greens in 1906 along with much of the previous roster. The manager was the same, many of the players were the same, but the results were far different as the Greens finished seventh. On July 2, Richardson was one of three players released by South Bend. That move was perfect timing for the Dayton Veterans because their catcher, Frank Cross, was battling a sore arm.

With Dayton, Richardson split time at first base and catcher for the fourth-place squad. He was forced to play catcher in August despite his aches and pains. His bad leg was not as severe as Cross’s arm issues. He had 11 passed balls in 63 games, many during the August period when his mobility was hampered. The bumps and bruises effected his hitting as his average dropped to .236.9

Richardson returned to Shelburn for the off-season. The local team recruited him and pitcher Fred Smith from Terre Haute to play in the county championship. Shelburn was the defending champion and the series was tied three games apiece. Smith allowed a single run, Richardson scored twice and turned a nifty unassisted double play.10Shelburn won over Sullivan 9-4.

Richardson spent his final two seasons with Dayton. In 1907 he served as back-up for catcher Red Munson appearing in 38 games there. He played 78 games at first and batted .246. In early August, he replaced Ed McKean as manager serving briefly until Malachi Kittridge was hired and took over on August 13. The following year Dayton brought in Bade Myers to manage and play first. Richardson went behind the plate for 97 games plus 15 at first base. His average dropped to .223 and he decided to call it a career.

Retirement did not stop him from playing baseball. The Shelburn team was vying for the amateur title of the state in 1908 and added Richardson at first base for their series against Hymera. Despite Richardson and four minor leaguers in action, Shelburn lost the series. In 1909 Shelburn joined the Wabash Trolley League with Richardson playing first base and catcher.

The following season Richardson was joined by Maude’s brother John on the Shelburn Grays. John, who was divorced, and his two sons lived with the Richardsons for about a decade. Richardson stopped playing baseball after a few years. He held various jobs including working in an ammunition depot during the First World War.

After the war, Bill went to work for the mining company. During the Depression he left the mines and found work with the county road crew. Maude passed away in December 1945. Richardson was hospitalized in 1949 with gangrene and blood clots, which led to his death on November 6, 1949. He was buried alongside Maude in the Little Flock Cemetery in Shelburn. In life Bill avoided the limelight. He did the same in death — no obituaries seem to exist for Maude or Bill.11

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Notes

1 “Colonels Will Be Back Wednesday,” Louisville Courier-Journal, August 22, 1898: 6.

2 “It is All Over Now,” The Decatur Herald, September 10, 1901: 2.

3 “Richardson’s Homer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 26, 1901: 12.

4 Ibid.

5 “Richardson’s Return, The Sporting Life, January 11, 1902: 6.

6 “News and Gossip,” The Sporting Life, March 29, 1902: 7.

7 Francis C. Richter, ed., Reach’s Official American League Base Ball Guide for 1903, (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach Publishing, 1903): 246-252. He had pilfered 27 bases in 1901.

8 “Won the Last Game,” The Tribune Gazette (Terre Haute, Indiana), August 8, 1905: 6.

9 Baseball-Reference lists Richardson with Hornell, NY in the Interstate League. The Richardson playing in Hornell was a shortstop and played for them in June/July at the same time Bill was in South Bend and then Dayton.

10 “Shelburn Team is Champion,” Sullivan Daily Times (Sullivan, Indiana), October 1, 1906: 1.

11 Thank you to Donna Adams at the Sullivan County library for checking genealogy and newspaper records. There was a brief funeral announcement in the Terre Haute newspaper that was devoid of details about Bill. The baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown only has Richardson’s death notice in their file.