Paul Rapier Richards (November 21, 1908 – May 4, 1986) was an American professional baseball player, manager, scout and executive in Major League Baseball. During his playing career, he was a catcher and right-handed batter with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1932), New York Giants (1933–35), Philadelphia Athletics (1935) and Detroit Tigers (1943–46). After retiring, he became the manager of the Chicago White Sox (1951–54, 1976) and Baltimore Orioles (1955–61). He also served as the General Manager for the Orioles, the Houston Colt .45s and the Atlanta Braves.
Baseball playing career
Born in Waxahachie, Texas, Richards began his professional baseball career in the minor leagues as an infielder in 1926 at the age of 17. In a baseball oddity, Richards pitched with both hands in a Minor League game on July 23, 1928 for the Muskogee Chiefs of the Class C Western Association against the Topeka Jayhawks. Called to the pitcher's mound from his shortstop position, he pitched both right-handed and left-handed in a brief appearance, including facing a switch-hitter, which briefly resulted in both pitcher and batter switching hands and batter's boxes, respectively, until Richards broke the stalemate by alternating hands with each pitch, regardless of where the batter positioned himself. Later in his minor league career, he became a catcher.
After playing for seven years in the minor leagues, he made his major league debut at the age of 23 with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 17, 1932. Richards' contract was then purchased by the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association in June 1932. In 78 games with Minneapolis, he posted a .361 batting average and, he was subsequently purchased by John McGraw's New York Giants in September 1932.
With the Giants, Richards served as a reserve catcher working behind Gus Mancuso for the 1933 season. Richards' future managing style was influenced by his time spent playing for Giants manager Bill Terry. Terry's no-nonsense style of managing that concentrated on pitching and defense, made an impact on Richards. The Giants went on to win the 1933 World Series however, Richards did not get to play in the post-season. After Richards batted just .160 in 1934, he was traded in May 1935 to Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. He caught the majority of the Athletics' games in 1935 before being traded to the Atlanta Crackers for pitcher Al Williams in November.
Richards was already showing a keen baseball mind as Atlanta's catcher in 1936 when he helped turn around pitcher Dutch Leonard's career. After three seasons in the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Leonard had been sent back to the minor leagues where he played with Richards in Atlanta. Richards encouraged him to throw a knuckleball and, within two years, Leonard was back in the major leagues with the Washington Senators where, he became a twenty-game winner in 1939. Richards played for the Crackers from 1936 to 1942. From 1938 to 1942 he served as a player-manager for the Crackers. Richards led the Crackers to the pennant in 1938 and The Sporting News named him as minor league manager of the year.
When professional baseball experienced a shortage of players during World War II, Richards returned to the major leagues in 1943 with the Detroit Tigers at the age of 34. While his batting average was a relatively low .220 in 100 games played, he led the American League catchers in fielding percentage, range factor, baserunners caught stealing and putouts and, finished second in assists. Richards also served as an unofficial pitching coach for manager Steve O'Neill. His strong defensive play continued in 1944, leading the league's catchers in fielding percentage, range factor and baserunners caught stealing percentage, and finished second in putouts and baserunners caught stealing as, the Tigers lost the pennant on the last day of the season.
In 1945, Richards' batting average improved to career-high .256 and he once again led the league's catchers in fielding percentage and in range factor, as the Tigers won the American League championship, then, defeated the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series. In the deciding Game 7 of the series, he hit 2 doubles and had 4 runs batted in. Richards was the Tigers' starting catcher in six games of the seven-game series and, contributed 6 runs batted in, second only to the 7 produced by Hank Greenberg. Despite his low batting average, he ended the season ranked in 10th place in the 1945 American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, due in part to his handling of the Tigers' pitching staff which led the league in winning percentage, strikeouts, shutouts and finished second in earned run average. Richards was one of the annual The Sporting News All-Stars for 1945
After hitting only .201 in 1946, he returned to the minor leagues, playing three more seasons as a player-manager with the Buffalo Bisons. He led Buffalo to the International League pennant in 1949 before, retiring as a player at the age of 40.
In an eight-year major league career, Richards played in 523 games, accumulating 321 hits in 1,417 at bats for a .227 career batting average along with 15 home runs and 155 runs batted in. In 17 minor league seasons, he posted a career .295 batting average with 171 home runs. While he was a light-hitting player, he excelled as a defensive catcher, ending his career with a .987 fielding percentage. He led American League catchers three times in range factor, twice in fielding percentage and once each in baserunners caught stealing and in caught stealing percentage. Richard's 50.34% career caught stealing percentage ranks 12th all-time among major league catchers.
Managing and executive career
Richards became a successful manager with the Chicago White Sox in 1951. In a baseball era when many teams relied on home runs for much of their offensive production, Richards went against the perceived common wisdom by relying on pitching, good defense, speed and stolen bases to manufacture runs with a strategy now known as small ball. It was during that stint that he once had starting pitcher Billy Pierce play first base for one batter, bringing in a right handed pitcher to face a right handed hitter, taking out the starting first baseman, and then replacing him when Pierce went back to pitch one hitter later. The White Sox led the American League in stolen bases for eleven consecutive years from 1951 to 1961. He managed the White Sox to four winning-record seasons, but his club always finished behind the New York Yankees (1951, 1952, 1953) and the Cleveland Indians in 1954. It was during his tenure as the White Sox manager that he was given the nickname, "The Wizard of Waxahachie."
In 1955, he was hired by the Baltimore Orioles, where he served as both field manager and general manager through 1958, becoming the first man since John McGraw to hold both positions simultaneously. As general manager, he was involved in a 17-player trade with the New York Yankees that remains the biggest trade in baseball history. Richards concentrated on signing good defensive players (such as Brooks Robinson) and hard-throwing young pitchers (such as Steve Barber, Milt Pappas and Chuck Estrada). After Lee MacPhail was hired as the general manager in 1959, Richards served strictly as the Orioles' field manager. The Orioles finally blossomed in 1960 with a second-place finish after five disappointing seasons. The Orioles’ second-place finish was Richards’ best as a manager. Both the Associated Press and United Press International named him the American League Manager of the Year.
The following September, Richards resigned as manager of the Orioles to become general manager of the new Houston Colt .45s National League club. Richards stocked the Houston club (soon renamed the Astros) with young players – including Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, Mike Cuellar, Don Wilson and Rusty Staub – but he was fired after the 1965 season when the on-field results did not match owner Roy Hofheinz' expectations.
The following year, Richards was hired as Director of Player Personnel by the Atlanta Braves – returning to the city where he excelled as a minor league catcher and player-manager for the Southern Association's Atlanta Crackers from 1938 to 1942. By the end of the 1966 season, Richards was given the title of general manager of the Braves. Richards' six years at the helm of the Atlanta organization were in some ways his most successful in baseball. He inherited a strong core of players including Henry Aaron, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, and Rico Carty. He added several young pitchers and position players to the mix and converted knuckleballing reliever Phil Niekro into a successful starter. His 1969 Braves, skippered by his longtime protege Luman Harris, won the National League Western Division title but, that team was swept by the eventual world champion "Miracle Mets" in the first National League Championship Series ever played. The Braves failed to contend in 1970 and 1971 and, Richards was fired in the middle of the 1972 season, replaced by Eddie Robinson.
In 1976, after three and a half years out of the game, Richards was hired by Bill Veeck to return to Chicago as manager of the White Sox. After a losing record, he retired from the field at the end of the season, but stayed in the game as a player personnel advisor with the White Sox, and the Texas Rangers. As a manager, he compiled a 923–901 record in 11 seasons (406-362 with Chicago, 517–539 with Baltimore).
Richards was credited in helping Sherm Lollar become one of the best catchers in the major leagues and, he also helped Gus Triandos become a respectable catcher. He is known for designing the oversized catcher's mitt first used by Triandos to catch Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm. Despite his skills as a motivator, mentor and strategist of the game, Richards never was able to lead a team to a pennant. Sixteen of his players became major league managers.
Paul Richards died of a heart attack in Waxahachie, Texas at the age of 77. In 1996, Richards was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Paul Richards Park in Waxahachie has been named a Texas Historical Landmark.