From baseball phenom to Colorado group leader_ The life and legacy of William ‘Bay Bay’ Richardson

For many years William Richardson touched the lives of tons of of younger folks in his close-knit Colorado group, however a lot of them had no concept that earlier than then their longtime coach and mentor had already made his mark on Black historical past, American historical past and sports activities historical past.

For a time even his personal kids had been unaware of all that he’d achieved and the sacrifices he’d made in his younger grownup years to play the sport he cherished — baseball.

In honor of Black Historical past Month, this never-before-told story chronicles Richardon’s journey from a pitcher within the Negro Baseball Leagues, sports activities leagues born out of America’s racial segregation period, to a Colorado group chief.

‘You performed for one purpose — you really liked baseball’

“He performed all or elements of 4 seasons within the Negro Leagues and he form of epitomized what Negro League baseball was all about,” mentioned Dr. Layton Revel, founding father of the Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham, Alabama. “Within the Negro Leagues, you did not make some huge cash. You did not play for endorsement contracts with a shoe firm or to be a nationwide superstar or anything. You performed for one purpose — you really liked baseball.”

Dr. Revel says the Negro League helped kind the muse for Main League Baseball (MLB) at the moment. Richardson would ultimately deliver what he’d realized within the sport to his work with kids in Northeast Denver.

“He was an outstanding function mannequin for the youngsters that he coached and taught,” mentioned Dr. Revel. “And he was what an athlete must be, whether or not they’re taking part in within the main leagues at the moment for the New York Yankees or they had been taking part in for the Lynch Jewelers in Denver, Colorado.”

The Negro Leagues ran primarily between 1920 and the late Forties, however many groups continued nicely into the Fifties, nicely earlier than and even after Black baseball phenom Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier within the sport in April of 1947.

“Main League Baseball had an unofficial gentleman’s settlement, which says that no Black gamers might be allowed in white Main League Baseball throughout the time period of Commissioner Choose Kennesaw Mountain Landis,” mentioned Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas Metropolis, Missouri. “He was the commissioner of baseball and he banned Black folks from taking part in within the white majors. He tried to ban all-Black groups from taking part in all-white groups.”

Lester, who has written, co-authored and edited 9 books in regards to the NBL, says establishing the League marked a serious milestone for African People.

“Negro League Baseball was based in 1920 and it gave alternative to Black athletes who didn’t have the chance to play within the white main leagues; and so it crammed that void,” Lester mentioned. “Let’s word Black ball gamers began taking part in ball all the way in which again to the Civil Struggle, and now with the Twenties, we’ve the Harlem Renaissance, it is a new age, new dynamics amongst Black folks, we’re popping out of World Struggle I and Black persons are saying if they will not settle for us in mainstream, let’s begin our personal companies, create our personal establishments, haircare merchandise, life insurance coverage, eating places, different companies and one enterprise was baseball. Let’s begin a baseball league — the Negro Nationwide League — which was based by Rube Foster in 1920. They created alternative the place alternative didn’t exist within the white mainstream.”

Richardson’s path to the NBL was a outstanding one

Born in 1934 within the small Alabama city of Vinesville, close to Birmingham, he fell in love with sports activities as a child. He particularly loved taking part in baseball and soccer. In his teenage years, he made a reputation for himself taking part in within the native beginner baseball leagues. Dr. Revel says Richardson wasn’t the one baseball standout in his group. He grew to become shut mates with a neighbor and fellow embellished athlete named Willie Mays.

“Willie Mays is an effective instance of the 5 best ball gamers of all time,” mentioned Dr. Revel, who can also be the founder and govt director for the Middle for Negro League Baseball Analysis. “Everyone thinks about him with the San Francisco Giants, the New York Giants. He made the Nationwide Baseball Corridor of Fame. Properly, the fact was he began taking part in baseball in Fairfield, Alabama with the Fairfield Stars.”

William Richardson made Black historical past, American historical past and sports activities historical past pitching for 2 Negro Baseball League groups.

In a videotaped interview with two of his sons and granddaughter at his Denver dwelling in 2009, Richardson recalled the particular relationship he shared with Mays, towards whom he usually competed whereas in highschool.

“Willie grew up about two blocks from the place I lived,” Richardson mentioned within the recorded interview. “Early on, I used to be actually impressed with him as an athlete and we grew to become actual good mates. Actually, we palled round collectively and I’ve all the time admired his athletic potential. I assumed then, at the same time as kids rising up, that he was the best athlete that I might ever seen.”

Richardson himself had earned a strong repute for being an distinctive baseball participant, however as a younger grownup the possibility to play one other sport would ultimately present him with a possibility to enterprise away from his hometown and obtain a free training.

He accepted a soccer scholarship and performed quarterback at traditionally Black Clark School, now often known as Clark Atlanta College. He didn’t quit his baseball goals altogether although. He tried out for and later signed a contract with the Negro Baseball League crew, the Birmingham Black Barons.

“Through the summers when he was out of faculty in ’54 and ’55, he performed with the Birmingham Black Barons,” Dr. Revel mentioned.

‘The local weather was contentious, considerably overwhelming … they needed to be artistic’

Within the interview along with his household, Richardson, whose baseball nickname was “Bay Bay,” remembered nicely the racial rigidity that was perpetually in play even at Negro League video games.

“Race relations had been very fascinating throughout that individual time due to the truth that in every metropolis, there was a Black crew and a white crew,” he mentioned. “The factor that was very noticeable to me, even at a really younger age, even earlier than my profession started, is that I observed that on the white video games, all of the Black folks sat method out within the bleachers and through our video games that we had whites sat on the primary final analysis and the third final analysis on a regular basis.”

Baseball historian Lester says the Black NBL gamers confronted rampant racism on and off the baseball discipline.

“The local weather was contentious, considerably overwhelming, once they’re not accepted on the highway to remain in lodges or eat in some eating places; they needed to be artistic,” Lester mentioned. “So, they’d carry lunches on the bus with them, some gamers would carry a fishing pole in case they got here by a stream, they’d catch some fish, pores and skin it, fry it, eat it. Then, after all, that they had the Inexperienced Ebook, which might inform them what lodges they may keep at and they’d use no matter means essential to get from city to city to play both a minor league crew or a serious league crew.”

Nonetheless, Richardson and his fellow Negro League colleagues remained steadfast and decided to play the sport that they cherished. Their ardour was largely fueled by the numerous memorable moments they shared on the baseball discipline. In his interview along with his household, Richardson recalled his most memorable recreation: July 4, 1953, in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I got here in and relieved in in regards to the seventh or eighth inning and obtained the victory and it was extraordinarily scorching day that day, like 102,” Richardson recalled. “We was simply chilling out, ready for the second recreation to start out within the double header and Horace Walker got here as much as me and mentioned, ‘You’re beginning that subsequent recreation.’ Man, I used to be utterly drained. The Memphis Purple Sox, that was a crew that was our opposition that individual day. The supervisor advised them to not swing at any pitches, simply let him put on himself out pitching. By the third inning, man, I used to be accomplished. It is like I had misplaced about 15 or 20 kilos.”

Richardson’s pitching potential ultimately caught the eye of one other NBL crew; one a lot farther from dwelling in Detroit, Michigan.

“In 1957, he performed with the Detroit Stars,” mentioned Dr. Revel. “So, he performed all or elements of 4 seasons within the Negro leagues with the Black Barons, the Detroit Stars.”

‘He was a supplier of hope’

Richardson and his buddy Mays had remained shut for many of their youth, however his resolution so far Mays’ cousin, Loretta Thomas, ultimately drove a lifelong wedge between them as younger adults. The couple married in January 1957 and instantly began their household.

Richardson graduated along with his bachelor’s diploma the identical yr, however remained in Atlanta whereas his spouse accomplished her research on the similar school. At the moment, he additionally launched his profession off the baseball discipline taking a job working with younger folks on the Butler Avenue YMCA, a leisure heart in Atlanta that served the Black group.

His work there ultimately resulted in a giant supply that led Richardson to relocate his younger household to Colorado in 1962. Richardson accepted a job main bodily training on the Glenarm YMCA in Denver, one of many few leisure facilities in Colorado on the time that was out there to Black patrons.

Alabama native turned Denverite William E. Richardson coached and mentored youth on the traditionally Black Glenarm and East Denver YMCA recreation facilities.

One in every of his longtime mentees, Terry Patton, says he first met Richardson as a younger youngster on the East Denver YMCA after Richardson had been promoted to the function of govt director, a place he would maintain for practically three a long time. Patton, who referred to Richardson merely as “dad,” remembers him as a superb function mannequin who impressed many.

“He made so many issues attainable; he made it in order that we didn’t need to be in these streets,” mentioned Patton, now a private coach in Arizona. “He stored us employed to maintain us out of bother. He made us perceive that something was attainable on this life, but it surely needed to be earned. It was not gonna be given. It is like, man, if he made it, I could make it too. He was a supplier of hope.”

Richardson continued working with younger folks on the East Denver YMCA and even with an ever-expanding household, nonetheless discovered time to play baseball recreationally. Then got here what arguably sounded just like the supply of a lifetime. Dr. Revel says in his in-person interview with Richardson within the early 2000s, Richardson advised him whereas in Denver he was supplied the chance to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a white crew in Main League Baseball.

“I can bear in mind speaking to him about it, and it actually was very significant to me as a result of an opportunity to get a contract is each younger baseball participant’s dream, as a result of you have to get signed with a purpose to play within the minor leagues, hoping to make it to the foremost leagues,” mentioned Dr. Revel. “And what William was involved with is he had what he thought of his dream job working with the YMCA.”

Dr. Revel says he was shocked to study that Richardson turned down the supply.

“I requested him. I mentioned, ‘Properly, was that arduous to surrender?’ And he mentioned, nicely, God had blessed him with quite a lot of abilities, athletically, adequate soccer participant to [receive] a university scholarship and get a great training,” he mentioned. “He was a adequate baseball participant to play professionally within the Negro Leagues and he acknowledged the significance that sports activities had performed in his life, and he felt it was his accountability to provide again. One of the simplest ways for him to do this was working with younger folks and no higher place than the YMCA.”

Richardson remained on the East Denver YMCA for greater than twenty years. Two of the six kids he shared along with his spouse Loretta, Dr. Terri Richardson and Marcus Richardson, each of metro Denver, say that underneath his management the Black youngsters rising up on the East Denver YMCA realized to swim in an Olympic-sized pool and educated and performed in a model new gymnasium, all of which Richardson had lobbied and fought for.

For a few years Richardson additionally coached the Little League soccer crew. After coaching with the Toastmasters group early in his profession, he additionally earned a repute as a dynamic public speaker who led many fundraising efforts. Later in life he was named “Man of the Yr” for his group work.

Mentee Patton says his impression on the kids rising up in Northeast Denver within the Seventies by way of the mid-Eighties was a lot greater than teaching them in sports activities.

“Loads of us got here from single-parent properties [and] this is a person and his spouse and his kids and so they’re all good folks,” mentioned Patton. “We should always all endeavor to have that. That is, that is the way in which you do it, the way in which that Mr. Richardson is doing it. He instilled that in us.”

‘He ended up simply the place he wished to be’

Richardson and Loretta divorced in 1991. He later remarried in 1999. Richardson formally retired in 1993 after 34 years with the YMCA group. The East Denver YMCA formally closed in 2004. In retirement, Richardson took on a 3rd act, working 15 years for the JC Penney retailer contained in the City Middle Mall in Aurora.

His son Marcus Richardson says about 4 years in the past, his dad lastly started receiving some compensation for his years taking part in within the NBL, an effort led partly by scholar Lester who advocated for the MLB to provide all residing NBL gamers who’d performed a minimum of 4 years within the league retroactive pensions. He additionally brokered a deal for most of the gamers to obtain a portion of the cash the MLB earned from a well-liked NBL attire line.

Richardson died at a care facility in metro Denver on July 13, 2022, on the age of 87. A small personal funeral was held a number of weeks later.

The kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of William E. Richardson collect at Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery for a non-public memorial service in November 2022.

In November 2022, simply earlier than Thanksgiving, his kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered for an additional personal memorial at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver. They shared private reminiscences of Richardson and unveiled a memorial bench that includes his title alongside his start and loss of life dates.

“We are able to go go to it anytime; it is in a terrific location; to me it simply actually honored him much more than a gravestone,” mentioned daughter Dr. Terri Richardson. “One thing a couple of bench; you suppose [of] a baseball participant and a bench.”

Dr. Revel says wanting again at Richardson’s outstanding life and profession, reinforces the widespread sentiment that Richardson made the suitable selection for his life and profession by selecting to stay in Colorado working with youth.

“He ended up simply the place he wished to be,” mentioned Dr. Revel, who encompasses a baseball signed by Richardson at his museum in Birmingham, Alabama. “You would take a look at the look on his face when he was telling you the story about having the ability to give again to youngsters — having the ability to work with the youth of at the moment — and never simply educating them sports activities, however educating them how one can current themselves to be the very best individual that they might be.”