Richards a candidate on Vets ballot
Former Major League manager joins 26 others up for election
Paul Richards' name will be forever synonymous with the cerebral approach to baseball. A sharp intellect intent on honing younger players, Richards made his mark not in grandiose changes, but in refining the intricate and mental aspects of the game.
His name appears on the 2007 Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot for his role in molding inexperienced players into true competitors. Results of the 2007 election will be announced on Feb. 27, and the induction ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Richards is probably best known for implementing the oversized mitt used by catchers today, but baseball historian Warren Corbett said that creation was relatively minor compared to some of Richards' other contributions.
"The glove is indicative of a broader theme in his career," Corbett said. "He was a teacher and an innovator, the glove was just the best example of something tangible."
Richards found his niche with the intangibles, Corbett said. Richards was the first manager known to keep track of pitch counts. During times when managers would let their young arms routinely throw 100-plus pitches per outing, Richards limited his to 80.
A stickler for the intricacies of the baseball rule book, one of the first things Richards did after being named manager of the Orioles in 1955 was to call an organization-wide meeting to read and discuss the manual. One of the few managers to continue teaching players once they'd reached the big-league level, Richards found no fault in calling special practices after games to work out the kinks.
His win percentage -- .501 over 12 seasons (1951-61, 1976) with the White Sox and Orioles -- wasn't outstanding, but Corbett said the statistics may betray the actual contribution.
"Richards' record was because he took on lost causes," he said. "He made winners out of the White Sox, and built the foundation for the Orioles teams that Earl Weaver managed that were so successful."
Richards had inherited a winning White Sox team in 1951 (81-73), but in his last season with the team before taking the managing job with the Orioles, Chicago had pushed its win total to 94. Five years later, the club won the pennant.
With five starters 22 years old or younger under his command, Baltimore's "Kiddie Korps" finished second in the AL in 1960 with an 89-65 record. After Richards had left the team to become general manager of the Houston Colt .45s, the Orioles had two division championships, two pennants and two World Series titles over the next 13 years.
And he built up these teams with then unheard-of tactics, such as urging his runner on first to get struck with the ball in order to break up a double play. This, of course, resulted in a rule change. After becoming exasperated with the number of passed balls his catchers suffered while trying to control Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm's floating knuckler, he saw that the rule book contained restrictions on the size of a first baseman's glove, but not a catcher's. And so, the Big Mitt was born.
August Busch Jr.
"He pushed the envelope," Corbett said. "He was always looking for an edge. He would skate up to edge of rule. Sometimes he would skate over the rule."
The unconventional approach to the game was coupled with a no-nonsense attitude. Hall of Famer George Kell once claimed Richards got up every morning and said, "I'm Paul Richards and I'm tough." This may not be so far-fetched: Richards wasn't intimidated easily. Known for his choice battle words, Richards once said, "I never hurt anybody's feelings unintentionally," and it showed -- he was ejected from a higher percentage of games than any other manager in history.
"He was prickly, to say the least," Corbett said. "He didn't care if his players liked him, he wanted respect. He alienated a whole lot of people."
But there were very few who showed disrespect. Tony La Russa, manager of the World Series champion Cardinals and considered one of the greatest thinking managers of the modern era, credits Richards with much. La Russa, known widely as a manager who focuses on matchup-related pitching, seems to have taken a page from a grizzled vet. Richards would move his pitcher to play third base for one batter in favor of another hurler, and send his starter back to the mound for the next at-bat, long before the times of one-out relief pitching.
"He was one of Tony La Russa's most important teachers," Corbett said. "La Russa has said time and time again how he learned so much from him."
Richards broke into the big leagues as a backup catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 at the age of 23. He played eight seasons in the Majors over the next 15 years, but never appeared in more than 100 games each year, allowing him plenty of time to sit and analyze the game. He held a career batting average of .227 with a .305 on-base percentage, 15 home runs and 155 RBIs in 523 games.
Richards collected four RBIs to help the Tigers win Game 7 of the 1945 World Series, but his most significant contributions came well after his playing career was over.
"He really was one of baseball's great teachers and innovators, and one of the greatest thinkers about the game," Corbett said. "He wrote an instructional book in the 1950s that is so dense I can hardly follow it. He was so into the minutiae.
"Richards was a very famous figure in his time and tremendously outspoken. It was because he didn't do things the conventional way."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.