Three great passions shaped Gordon Richardson’s career in baseball: his family, his southwest Georgia farm, and his dream of becoming a big-league pitcher.
Richardson (nicknamed Gordie) once characterized his fastball as “not overpowering.” Instead he was a control specialist with good breaking stuff and an excellent change-up.1 He acknowledged that he had to hit his “spots” or he could quickly be in big trouble. “Baseball is a cat-and-mouse game,” Richardson once said. “You have to outsmart the hitter.”2
After seven years pitching in the minors, Richardson joined the 1964 Cardinals in late July. He stayed with the team the rest of the season, contributing to several key victories during the pennant race, and pitched in the World Series. He subsequently spent two years with the New York Mets before retiring in 1966.
Gordon Clark Richardson was born on July 19, 1939, in Colquitt, Georgia. Colquitt is a small town (population 1,934 in 2009) in Miller County in southwestern Georgia. Farming is important to the area’s economy and Gordie’s father was a farmer. Richardson recalled that he started pitching because his father managed a “cow pasture” team in a Sunday League. He said he was the “only left-hander around.”
Richardson graduated in 1957 from Miller County High School, where he played baseball, basketball, and football, and played American Legion ball. He said he did not get much attention from scouts; only the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago White Sox, and the Cardinals showed any interest.
Cardinals scout Mercer Harris signed the 6-foot-1,185-pound Richardson to a contract in 1957. Richardson jokingly remembered that he got no signing bonus from the Cardinals, just a “pat on the back” and a “you can do it, kid” pep talk.
The Cardinals initially assigned the 18-year-old to their Wytheville (Virginia) team in the short-season Appalachian League, where he went 5-5 with a 3.73 earned-run average. Late in the season they moved him to the nearby Albany (Georgia) team in the Class D Georgia-Florida League, where he pitched 13 innings and went 0-1. At Albany in 1958 he won 13 games and lost 4 with a 2.93 ERA. One of his Albany teammates was 17-year-old Mike Shannon, who also played on the 1964 Cardinals. At the end of July the Cardinals promoted Richardson to Houston in the Texas League, where he pitched in just two games before coming down with back trouble that required him to go on the disabled list for the remainder of the season.3 After the season he played for the Cardinals’ team in the Florida West Coast Instructional League.4
The Georgian spent all of the 1959 season pitching for Winston-Salem in the Class B Carolina League, where he won 11 games and lost eight. On January 16, 1960, he married Patsy Kimbrel. 5
Richardson moved up to Double A Tulsa in the Texas League in 1960. Under manager Vern Benson, the Oilers won the Texas League playoffs and the subsequent Pan-Am Playoffs. (Benson was the third-base coach for the 1964 Cardinals.)6 Richardson posted an 8-7 record and a 4.50 ERA. He experienced control problems, however, walking 89 in 140 innings. He was back with Tulsa in 1961, posting a 10-8 record with a 3.38 ERA. He cuts his walks to 78 in 165 innings while striking out 114. He ended his season early (August 24) after signing up for a six-month hitch in the Army.
Richardson returned to the Oilers in 1962 and led the Texas League in several key pitching categories. He had nine complete games and posted a league-best winning percentage 13-6 (.684) and ERA (3.18). He made the league All-Star team and the Double-A All-Star team, and was voted the Texas League’s 1962 pitcher of the year. He established two career highs by pitching 198 innings and striking out 153 batters. In the major-league draft after the season the Los Angeles Angels drafted Richardson. He went to spring training with the Angels but ended up idle for most of it, pitching only six innings. The Angels wanted to send Richardon back to the minors, but the Cardinals exercised their right to buy him back, and assigned him to Atlanta then sent him back to Tulsa. Though he may have been disappointed at not starting the 1963 season in the major leagues with the Angels, Richardson nevertheless took up where he left off in 1962. On May 5, perhaps wanting to show both teams they had made a mistake, he pitched a two-hit masterpiece, winning 1-0. For the season he pitched 187 innings and posted a 12-8 record with a 3.85 ERA and 171 strikeouts.
At the start of the 1964 season, the Cardinals sent Richardson to their Jacksonville Suns affiliate in the Triple-A International League. This was to be a pivotal season for him. He gave himself a deadline. If he wasn’t a major-league pitcher by the time he was 25, he would retire to the family farm in Georgia. In July 1964 he would turn 25.
Richardson got off to a great start at Jacksonville. “I learned a lot from (Suns manager) Harry Walker, either you do or you don’t. You give it your best shot,” he said. In early July he pitched a four-hit shutout over Columbus, making his record 9-3 with a 1.55 ERA in 116 innings, and got the call-up from the Cardinals.7
“We’re counting on Richardson as a starter right now,” said Cardinals manager Johnny Keane as Richardson arrived in St. Louis. “He’ll start in one game of Sunday’s doubleheader.”8 And on July 26 Richardson made his first major-league appearance, starting for the Cardinals against the league-leading Philadelphia Phillies in the first game of a doubleheader at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. He was nervous at the start as he walked leadoff hitter Tony Gonzalez. He was missing the strike zone, a bad sign for a control pitcher. Ken Boyer then made a key intervention. After Richardson went 2-0 on Cookie Rojas, Boyer went to the mound and told him to simply “calm down.” Richardson got Rojas to pop up to short. Gonzalez was then caught trying to steal second. Johnny Callison ended the inning by popping to first base. Richardson ended up pitching a complete game 6-1 victory, allowing five hits, walking three and striking out five.
The Phillies were not impressed. “I had to see that kid beat us to believe it,” Philadelphia manager Gene Mauch quipped after the game. “Ugh,” said Phillies star Callison. “He didn’t throw hard at all and his curve wasn’t much.”9
Richardson was ecstatic. “It’s a dream come true,” he gushed after the game. “The seven years in the minors was pretty distressing at times, but it was worth all the heartaches and troubles and moving the family around.” He credited the Cardinals defense. “The fielding helped too,” he said. “You don’t have defense like this behind you in the minor leagues.”10
Richardson significantly contributed to the Cardinals’ pennant push in late September. On the 25th at Pittsburgh he started and won, 5-3, helping the Cardinals move up from 3½ games behind the Phillies to 2½. On September 30 he recorded a save against the Phillies to help the Cards move to first place for the first time in the season. From the end of July to the end of the season, Richardson pitched 47 innings and posted a 4-2 record with a 2.30 ERA.
While the Cardinals won the 1964 World Series, Richardson did not fare well. He pitched in two games. In Game Two he entered in the top of the ninth inning and gave up two runs in a third of an inning as the Cardinals lost, 8-3. In Game Six, he entered in the top of the eighth inning and gave up a grand-slam to Joe Pepitone. For the Series, he finished with an astronomical 40.50 ERA. His Cardinals teammates awarded him a three-quarters share ($6,486.64) of their World Series player pool money.11
The Cardinals asked Richardson to pitch winter ball in the Dominican League. At first he agreed, but he and his wife were expecting their second child in December, and the doctor advised him not to leave. So Richardson told the Cardinals he could not play winter ball. The baby was born on December 4. Three days later, Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam called Richardson and told him the Cardinals had traded him to the New York Mets.12
Before 1965 spring training, the Mets greatly reduced Gordie’s chances of becoming a starting pitcher by purchasing Warren Spahn. Then, during spring training he injured his leg and the Mets sent him to their Triple-A club in Buffalo. Shortly before leaving the Mets’ camp, he and Gary Kroll combined to pitch an exhibition game no-hitter.
Initially the Bisons used Richardson as both a starter and a reliever. He got off to a poor start. His usual good control eluded him. He wasn’t walking a lot of hitters but he wasn’t hitting his spots. The results were bad. As the season progressed, Buffalo began using Richardson exclusively in relief. He responded with outstanding pitching. The Mets took notice and called him up on July 8. In his last 20 relief appearances for Buffalo, he had posted a 1.17 earned-run average. Reflecting his early struggles, his Buffalo record shows that he pitched 87 innings, posting a 2-8 record with a 3.31 ERA.
Back in the big leagues, Richardson continued exclusively as a relief pitcher. After he made six strong relief appearances in eight days (July 25-August 1), acting manager Wes Westrum praised him for his endurance, calling him “rubber-armed.” When asked about the tag, Richardson drawled, “I guess if I had to, I could work every day.”13
For the 1965 Mets, Richardson pitched 52⅓ innings all in relief, posting a 2-2 record with a 3.78 ERA.
Richardson started 1966 with the Mets. He impressed Westrum in spring training. “If you really want to know,” he said, “Richardson was the best pitcher down here.” For the first time in his career, Richardson went north with a major-league team after spring training. When a reporter asked him how it felt going north, he quipped, “I don’t know. I’ve never gone north before.” 14
For the 1966 Mets, Richardson posted an 0-2 record in 18⅔ innings with a 9.16 ERA. On June 5 he entered a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh inning. In what would be his last major-league game, he gave up six runs on six hits. Soon after, the Mets sent him to Triple-A Jacksonville.15 In his three-year major-league career, he pitched 118 innings and posted a 6-6 record with a 4.04 ERA.
At Jacksonville for the rest of 1966, Richardson pitched 61 innings, finishing 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA. At the end of the season he retired. He was 32 years old. His first child was ready for school and the itinerant nature of baseball life would not make it easy on her. The 750-acre family farm, which raised soybeans, peanuts, and cotton, also needed him. Richardson rented out the farm while he played baseball. After examining his options, he decided to take over.
With their expanding family, Patsy and Gordie decided to build a new house on the farm in 1968. They eventually added a swimming pool, tennis courts, and an indoor garden. The grounds also included a small pond. Richardson enjoyed quail hunting. All six family members worked on the farm. The family later added a meat-packing business.
Summing up his professional ball playing experience, Richardson once reminisced, “I don’t regret playing and I don’t regret quitting. I enjoyed it and got to see a lot of places a country boy wouldn’t have been able to.”16
1 Neal Russo, “Richardson Applies Balm, Cards’ Shell-Shocked Hill Staff Recoils,” The Sporting News, August 8, 1964.
2 Gordon Richardson Clippings File, National Baseball Hall of Fame
3 “Erickson Sets Oilers Hill Mark,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1958
4 Fred Lieb, “Gem by Cardinals Features Opening of Florida League,” The Sporting News, October 22, 1958
5 The Sporting News Baseball Register, 1965
6 John Ferguson, “Young Hurlers Lead Oilers to Texas Loop Playoff Title,” The Sporting News, September 28, 1960
7 Richardson Clippings File
8 “Help! Redbirds Send for Southpaw Hurler,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 23, 1964
9 Richardson Clippings File; “Et tu, Gordon Richardson?” George Kiseda, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 2, 1964
10 Russo, “Richardson Applies Balm”
11 The Sporting News, November 7, 1964
12 Richardson Clippings File
13 Barney Kremenko, “Workhorse Gordie Pulls Mets Out of Jams,” The Sporting News, August 14, 1965
14 Richardson Clippings File; “Going North at Last,” Vic Ziegel, April 10, 1966
15 “A Team That Can Make a Man Cry,” Sports Illustrated, June 27, 1966. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1078702/index.htm)
16 Richardson Clippings File; “Family Is Richardson’s First Priority,” The Sporting News, April 3, 1965