South Carolinas successful run in college baseball started before the 1970 season, when athletics director Paul Dietzel convinced Bobby Richardson to serve as the teams first full-time head coach.
Richardson, the Sumter native and former New York Yankees second baseman, had turned down two of Dietzels previous offers because he was under contract to the Yankees as a special assignment scout. But the third time Dietzel came calling, Richardson could not resist.
Although Richardson rejected Dietzels initial financial offer as too low, the two came to terms on a deal, a move that led to USC becoming a powerhouse program. By Richardsons fifth season in 1974, the Gamecocks reached the NCAA tournament for the first time. A year later, they made it to the College World Series championship game.
Coach Dietzel asked me to be a part of coaching. That worked out tremendously, said Richardson, who later brought in both the Yankees and New York Mets for exhibition games against the Gamecocks.
Richardson even drove the school bus that picked up both teams from the airport.
That story is recounted in Richardsons new book, Impact Player, a memoir written with author David Thomas that encompasses Richardsons life from his upbringing in Sumter to his 12 seasons as a seven-time All-Star with the Yankees and finally his post-playing days sharing his strong Christian faith as a speaker and evangelist.
He calls the book part of his legacy for his family.
I wanted my children and my grandchildren to have something that talked about my baseball career certainly, but at the same time growing up, living my life, coaching and what all I did, how the Lord played a part in my life, he said.
Richardson, 77, who will be signing copies of the new book Saturday at Addams University Bookstore on Assembly Street, tells the many stories in a remarkable life.
He grew up wanting to play for the Yankees, major league baseballs most storied franchise, as a young player at Edmunds High in Sumter. When they made him an offer along with 11 other teams in the pre-draft days of the early 1950s Richardsons decision was easy. He was going to wear pinstripes.
By the time he was 19, he had reached the major leagues, becoming a regular in 1957, the first of seven America League pennant-winning teams that he would play on. Three of those teams claimed World Series titles, and he won the MVP award in the 1960 World Series for his .367 average and 12 RBIs, even though the Yankees lost that one to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He played alongside legends such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford while creating friendships that would last a lifetime. Richardsons stories of his relationships with his Yankee teammates come through in the book, as he offers insights into how a devout Christian stayed true to himself around a hard-living, fun-loving bunch that included Mantle and Ford.
But the mutual respect they had for each other on the field carried off the field as well. Richardson devotes a chapter to his relationship with Mantle, which included time spent together at the hospital in the Hall of Fame sluggers final days. He wrote about Mantles funeral, as he also did about the funerals of several former teammates.
He did a publicity swing for the book earlier this week in the New York City area, as the Yankees paved the way for interviews and a book signing at Yankee Stadium, even though the Tuesday night game was rained out.
I was amazed after all these years that they reach out and even consider doing that for me, Richardson said.
Hes excited about retelling the many tales in the book of his longtime Sumter mentor and friend, Harry Stokes; his rapid rise through the minor leagues; his relationship with longtime double-play partner, shortstop Tony Kubek; the difficulty of facing Hall of Fame left-hander Sandy Koufax in his prime; coaching Fords son, Eddie, a shortstop for the Gamecocks; his departure from USC that resulted in a failed race for U.S. Congress; his stints at Coastal Carolina and Liberty; and his unwavering dedication to Christian ministries.
When I look back, I just cant believe the Lord put it all together, he said. It was a wonderful time.