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Al Richter

Al Richter

Position(s):
SS
Born:
February 7, 1927
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
5' 11"
Weight:
165 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-23-1951 with BOS

Al Richter had a memorable debut, though it wasn’t the kind anyone would want to remember: He was asked to pinch-hit for Les Moss in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was September 23, 1951, facing the New York Yankees. Richter hit into a double play. The Red Sox lost the game, 6-1, to Vic Raschi, who recorded his 20th win. Four days later, the Red Sox were eliminated from the race, and the day after that, the Yankees clinched by sweeping a doubleheader from the Red Sox, the first game being a no-hitter thrown by Allie Reynolds. Richter’s only at-bat came in the second game, again pinch-hitting for Moss. This time, he fouled out. The next day, September 29, the Red Sox faced another doubleheader with the Yankees and Richter was the leadoff batter in both games. The Sox were swept again, and Richter was 0-for-3 in the first game and 0-for-2 in the second. He did walk three times. On the last day of September, Richter started again, this time collecting a single in four at-bats. It was his only major-league hit. He ended the year batting .091.

But he didn’t strike out once, and with those three bases on balls, he recorded a respectable on-base percentage of .286. “Good eye,” he said in a September 9, 2009, interview. “I didn’t strike out much, if you look at my record. If I was up 400 or 450 times or whatever, I’d probably strike out maybe 18 times. I said, ‘Ted Williams and I had the great eye’ – I hit one home run a year, you know – I said, ‘Ted and I had a great eye. We can know when it’s a ball or a strike.’ But I don’t swing and miss. I don’t care who’s throwing and whatever kind of pitch they’re throwing, and so I used to kid the guys on the bench. And if I would swing and miss one time, I would look back over at the dugout and see if they were laughing at me. They used to kid me. They said, ‘Allen, your problem is you used to stand too close to the ball after you hit it.’ That’s my problem. I couldn’t hit a long ball.” [Interview with Allen Richter, September 9, 2009. Unless otherwise attributed, all quotations from Allen Richter come from this interview and a follow-up conversation on October 9, 2009.]

Rarely in the headlines, Richter appeared in only one other major-league game, also for the Red Sox, about a year and a half later, on April 21, 1953, coming in to play shortstop in the bottom of the eighth after Milt Bolling had been taken out for pinch-runner Billy Consolo. He made one putout and earned one assist, never batted, and then was sent down to Louisville.

Allen Gordon Richter was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on February 7, 1927. He took to sports right away. There was a grammar school playground right next to the apartment in which the Richter family lived. “Whatever was in season, I was playing. So if it was basketball or football or baseball, I was out on that athletic field. When I went on to school, I was kind of small for football at the time. I played a couple of years in football, but mostly my concentration was basketball and baseball. Then, you know, I was a member of a synagogue and we had little teams in the synagogue, activities such as that as far as basketball and baseball or softball. It wasn’t in the league or anything. We played on weekends and played against each other. Just for fun.” Norfolk also had a strong community league program for athletics and Allen played the same three sports with them, as well as American Legion baseball.

Richter’s father, Sol (for Solomon), was a justice of the peace – a police judge, with an office in the police station in Norfolk. “He didn’t marry people. He would write bail bonds or warrants and so forth for arrests or whatever. Anybody didn’t pay for furniture, for example. … Things like that, they need to get a warrant before they could take their furniture back. They call it a justice of the peace. Mother, in her early years, worked for a cousin of ours in a haberdashery store on one of the streets in Norfolk, but when she started having children, she stayed at home. She was working for a cousin of ours on Bousch Street in Norfolk in a haberdashery store.” Flora Richter had two daughters, and then Allen.  

The family lost daughter Millie to strep throat in 1941, at age 21, in the days before penicillin. Allen’s other sister was Bebe (Beatrice). She worked in sales and got married at an early age to Sam Kaufman in Richmond, who owned a clothing store. She helped out there until she had children and then stayed home to raise them. The Richter family attended Temple Beth El in Norfolk. “We were conservative Jews.”

The man in charge of all the community leagues in Norfolk in sports was Paul Decker, and Richter said, “He was sort of a scout. He was closer to the Red Sox organization than he was to any of the others. I mean, he allowed other scouts to come in and so forth. The best offer I had was from the Red Sox. And I was about to go in the service, World War II. (It was) at the end of World War II. I did sign before I went in. I played three games at Roanoke, Virginia, with the Red Sox organization and then I went right in the service.”

The actual signing was by George “Specs” Toporcer, head of the Red Sox farm system. He came to Norfolk to meet the 18-year-old Richter and signed him to a Louisville contract with a $7,500 bonus. Richter had just finished high school. The war in Europe had ended, and the war in Japan was winding down. Richter volunteered for the Army Air Corps, but the Red Sox showed long-term interest, and belief in him as a prospect, and signed him nonetheless. He was assigned to the Roanoke Red Sox in the Class B Piedmont League, though it turned out to be just for those three games. Richter doesn’t remember the results of the three games at Roanoke, other than to say “nothing spectacular.”

For the next 17 months, he was in the service. He had basic training at Keesler Field in Mississippi. He signed up for photography school and was sent to Camp Lowry in Colorado, and then was shipped overseas to Germany where he served in the Army of Occupation, as he put it, “to take care of what the boys and girls had won over there.”

He was assigned Special Services work, stationed in Wiesbaden, and – at age 18 – was given charge as coach of a baseball team to travel around the area to play ball and help entertain the troops. “Among other scheduled duties, I picked up movie film in Frankfurt, Germany, about 40 miles from Wiesbaden. I would drive there two or three times a week. Frankfurt was flattened out by our Air Corps, but they still had offices there, and that’s where I picked up movie film for our troops to see movies at night. In taking care of our clay tennis courts, we had POWs – prisoners of war – that would take care of the tennis courts, rolling them and keeping them in good shape.” When mustered out, he was a private first class.

In 1947, his military duties completed, Richter reported to the Red Sox and was placed with the Oneonta Red Sox of the Canadian-American League (Class C), where he played shortstop – the only position he ever played, at any level of organized baseball. Richter was right-handed, 5 feet 11 inches tall, and had a playing weight of 165 pounds. After he had played in 24 games, hitting .256, they moved him up to Class B baseball with the New England League’s Lynn Red Sox. There, he hit .238 in 86 games, and took in a few night games at nearby Fenway Park; 1947 was the first year that Fenway had installed lighting and could offer night games.

Come 1948, Richter moved up another rung on the ladder, playing Class A ball for the Scranton Red Sox in the Eastern League, hitting an even .250 that year and then .273 in 1949. He was progressing, and given a taste of Triple-A ball in 15 games with the Louisville Colonels in 1949. He hit .225 at the higher level. He was clearly prized for his defense; far from a power hitter, he had hit only one home run up to that point in his professional career and just six triples.

Richter spent 1950 and 1951 with Louisville as well, playing under Mike Ryba. He improved each year, hitting .252 (and collecting his second home run) in 1950, but then blossomed to bat .321 in 1951 over the span of 511 at-bats. That earned him a call-up to the major leagues on September 15, 1951 – one of nine players called up from various Red Sox farm clubs, joined by Sammy White, Jimmy Piersall, and Tom Wright. Catcher Bob Scherbarth, outfielder Wright, and Richter were the three called up from the Colonels. His debut is recounted above. He’d stepped into bit of a pennant race. On the 15th, the Red Sox were in third place, only 3½ games behind the league-leading Cleveland Indians. There were 15 games left on the schedule. The Sox dropped 12 of their last 13 games, and every one of the last nine. They wound up 11 games out of first place, which had been claimed by the New York Yankees.

There was one obstacle to Richter’s sticking with the Boston Red Sox: It was Johnny Pesky. The Red Sox already had a solid, experienced, talented shortstop. Though Pesky had played most of 1948 through 1950 at third base to make room at short for Junior Stephens, it wasn’t his best position and he was moved back to short for 1951 (with Stephens switching to third). Richter took spring training with Boston in 1952 for the first time, and for a time he filled in for Stephens, but Stephens returned to action, and Richter understood the situation: “I couldn’t break in, and they wanted me to play every day instead of sitting on the bench. I didn’t want to go back to Louisville, so they optioned me out. They had a working agreement with San Diego and I went there and played in 1952.” It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to go back to Louisville; when Lou Boudreau told him he was being sent back to the Colonels, he said he wanted to talk with GM Joe Cronin first.

It worked out well for Richter personally. “San Diego was really a godsend. It was terrific out there. I enjoyed playing there. Stayed about one week in each town mostly, and great cities all along the coast right up to Seattle. Terrific places to play – Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, Hollywood….” He didn’t hit as well, batting .248, but acquitted himself well enough in Pacific Coast League play and was invited back to spring training with Boston in 1953. Pesky had been traded to the Tigers in 1952, and the light-hitting Johnny Lipon had taken his place at short. There might have been an opening, though Milt Bolling was coming along nicely. Richter broke with the big-league team out of Grapefruit League play, and came north to Boston where he took part in the City Series games against the Braves (the recently relocated Milwaukee Braves). He stayed long enough to get into one game, on April 21 – the sixth game of the season, purely on defense late in the game.

Bolling had won the position. He’d hit for practically the same average as Richter in 1952, but with eight homers to Richter’s annual one. Bolling got the nod over Richter, who was asked to return to Louisville again, and this time agreed. Why did he go back there after the year in San Diego? “Well, I figured I wanted to keep playing. Maybe I could get traded or something. See, then, you had the reserve clause and somebody wanted me to play for another club and wanted to buy my contract, you couldn’t go. The Red Sox or whatever club you signed with owned you for life, like a slave. If they didn’t want to let you go, you were just tied up with one club and that was it. So I said, well, maybe I’ll get traded which I did, to the Cardinal organization.” Before the trade, though, he got in a full season with the Colonels, playing under Pinky Higgins. He hit for a .263 average and collected his fourth home run (he’d had his third with the Padres).

On September 11, 1953,  Richter was one of an even dozen Red Sox prospects formally called up from the minors, but in reality, the Hartford Courant reported, they were all ordered to report to Boston in the spring, but were staying with their current clubs, as all the clubs were involved in playoff activity. 

After the 1953 season concluded, there was a trade or transaction that brought Richter to the Rochester Red Wings, in the St. Louis Cardinals system. “I don’t know if it was a dollar trade or if there was any other ballplayer involved. Great, great organization and wonderful people. I played for Rochester for two years, their number one farm club.” He was a popular player in Rochester, and fans presented him the gift of an automobile. It was his second; fans in Scranton had given him a car there a few years earlier.

After the two years with the Red Wings, Richter decided to retire. He had hit .260 in 1954 and then .277 in 1955, but he hurt his arm. “I’d played nine years of pro ball. Time to go on with your life. You’re playing in the majors, that’s the place to be. And I hurt my arm – when you’re a shortstop, you’ve got to have a great arm –  when I went to the University of Miami. I guess that was 1953. I was playing jai alai one day in the afternoon, just practicing, and I felt a jolt in my arm. My arm wasn’t as strong as it had been. I figured I could play second base, but I didn’t want to hang around too long to play and decided that it was time to get back home and start a new life.”

Richter graduated in business administration from the University of Miami in 1955. He’d started college as soon as he came out of the service, at Virginia Tech. They were on the quarter system, and started in mid to late September, so he had taken courses after the baseball season was over, soon transferring to Miami. He didn’t play baseball there, other than for enjoyment and to keep fit. “I’d try to keep in shape and work out. I played for my fraternity down there. We had intramural … like college fraternity games and sports there.”

After graduation, he moved back to Norfolk and threw himself into a number of successful business ventures. Initially, he went into the real-estate business, in partnership with someone already in the field. It was primarily commercial real estate and he enjoyed the work greatly, but then found himself getting heavily involved in food merchandising. There was a connection to baseball there. “In spring training in Sarasota for the Red Sox, there was a salesman, Ray Butwin, who came around that sold warm-up jackets. Sold them to the Red Sox. Different kinds of jackets, sweatshirts, and so forth and sweat jackets. I met him. He was from Minnesota.” Butwin owned three McDonald’s-type restaurants named Henry’s. This gentleman was approached by a meatpacker named Sam Goldberger, who told him, “I don’t care what hamburger you’re using. I’ve got the best hamburger in the nation, and your business will increase 25 percent especially in the winters in Minnesota where it’s so cold.”

Richter amplified, “In those days there was no inside seating for the drive-in restaurants like McDonald’s. [Goldberger said] business will increase 25 to 30 percent. You will have a hamburger especially in the cold winter when they come up to the window and they’ll take a hamburger and eat it in the car or go home with it or take it back to the office, and that hamburger will stay juicy and soft and have great flavor even if they eat it 20 minutes later.” So Richter took it on. “Goldberger was looking for somebody in the East to carry his line. The best hamburger in the nation. That’s how Manny Rossen and I started, as brokers. We got Hardee’s, Shoney’s, Big Boy. We sold Cracker Barrel, we sold Kresge’s department stores and K-Mart and all the hamburgers around the nation. Disney World. We sold MGM down there. We really had a great product. We had other products that they started to produce. Breaded veal. Chuck wagon. Meatloaf. Pot roast. So we had a full line of product. We sold Hardee’s all the hamburger that Hardee’s used when they first started out; they had 12 places. Until they had about 1,000 places, we sold them. I stayed with Goldberger Foods for over 35 years.” He dropped out of real estate. He didn’t have enough time, being on the road calling on all the various restaurant chains.

As if that wasn’t enough, Richter hosted a Sunday television show for six years, Spotlight on Sports. When he moved back to Norfolk, he came to know the host of the show on Channel 3, the CBS affiliate. “He’d been on the air for years. One day when I was being interviewed by him, he said, ‘Allen, I’ll tell you. I’m going to move to the western part of Virginia and I’m going to be the manager of a radio station there. If you’re interested, I’d like for you to take over my program.’ Wow. Before I knew it, I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ After I walked out of there, I said, ‘What do I do?’ I took over the show, a 15-minute show before the Game of the Day –  before the baseball game of the day or the Redskins. We had a terrific sports club – and still do – and if Ted Williams was in to speak, or DiMaggio – he came in one time and I interviewed him – I would tape the show and use it on Sunday. It worked out fine. Sam Huff of the Redskins came in. Anybody that would speak at the sports club, I‘d usually get an interview with them.”

He hadn’t been in any rush to raise a family, but settled down after he turned 40 in 1967. “I was dating a lot of different girls. I didn’t want to get tied down.” A friend of mine recommended he drop by and meet a woman, Ann, who worked downtown, so he did – not expecting anything different. He dropped by after 5 o’clock when she got off work and just stayed in the office and kept talking. “That started it. That was the love of my life, and progressed into our marriage. We’re still married, and it’s 42 years now.” They went to England, Europe, and Israel for their honeymoon, arriving in Israel not long after the Six Day War. He still recalls seeing Arab tanks strewn along the roadsides, blown up and just pushed off the road.

The couple had a daughter, Jennifer, some years later. At the time of the interview in 2009, they were living in Virginia Beach across the street from the ocean, and enjoying the area, mostly retired but still managing some property. He keeps busy, working out, playing tennis except in the hottest months. “I work out at the rec center about two or three times [a week]. I like to keep in shape. I’ve been in physical shape since grammar school almost. I didn’t want to stop that. I don’t play golf, so I just work out at the rec center.

“You want to stay busy. I’ve seen so many that don’t know what to do with themselves in retirement. Friends of mine. And the wives want to get them out of the house! Do something. I enjoy facilitating a group of about 15 or 20 men in a church. Teach them … I really like the study of the Bible, as a guideline to how we can be better human beings. Better men, better husbands with our wives. I meet a couple of [times a month] with them to bring up subjects worth talking about. I have to study some, so I can bring up subjects worth while to talk about. Keeps me busy.”

Ann Richter had planned to convert to Judaism, but found herself unable to deny that Jesus was the Messiah. Alan assured her that they need not both have the same faith. In the early 1980s, Alan decided to convert to Christianity. “My close friend, Herman Weisberg, from high school had become a Christian. I’m open to listening to different ideas, searching, both in religion and politics. I began to go with him to discussions about the Bible. Art Katz, an evangelist and Jewish believer, had come to appear on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club in Virginia Beach and stayed at my house. He introduced me to a group in Washington of about 25 Jews who had converted to Christianity. I started hearing about people being healed supernaturally, about miracles, and it was exciting to me. I pray now for my Jewish brethren who are not Christians, to start studying the Scriptures.”

As a former ballplayer in both the Red Sox and Cardinals systems, was he conflicted when the two teams played each other in the 2004 World Series? Not really. “I was for the Red Sox. They hadn’t won in so long. Of course, in a matter of four years, they won twice. The miracle finish, in the first year, beating the Yankees four games in a row. That was unbelievable. Eight games in a row, including the World Series.” 

Sources

For this story, the author relied heavily on a long interview with Allen Richter, and in several newspaper accounts, mentioned explicitly within the text.This biography can also be found on the SABR Bioproject.

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