Richie Ashburn: Wikis

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Richie Ashburn
Outfielder
Born: March 19, 1927(1927-03-19)
Tilden, Nebraska
Died: September 9, 1997 (aged 70)
New York, New York
Batted: Left Threw: Right 
MLB debut
April 20, 1948 for the Philadelphia Phillies
Last MLB appearance
September 30, 1962 for the New York Mets
Career statistics
Batting average     .308
Hits     2,574
Runs batted in     586
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction     1995
Election Method     Veteran's Committee

Don Richard "Richie" Ashburn (March 19, 1927 – September 9, 1997), also known by the nickname "Whitey" due to his light-blond hair, was an American center fielder in Major League Baseball. He was born in Tilden, Nebraska (some sources give his full middle name as "Richie"). From his youth on a farm, he grew up to become a professional outfielder and veteran broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies and one of the most beloved sports figures in Philadelphia history. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.

Contents

Playing career

One of the famous "Whiz Kids" of the National League champion 1950 Phillies, Ashburn spent 12 of his 15 major-league seasons as the Phillies' center fielder (from 1948 through 1959). He sported a .308 lifetime batting average, leading the National League twice, and routinely led the league in fielding percentage. In 1950, in the last game of the regular season, he threw Dodgers' runner Cal Abrams out at home plate to preserve a 1–1 tie and set the stage for Dick Sisler's pennant-clinching home run.

The following year, Ashburn displayed his fielding skill on the national stage in the All-Star Game in Detroit. The Associated Press reported, "Richie Ashburn, fleet footed Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, brought the huge Briggs Stadium crowd of 52,075 to its feet with a brilliant leaping catch in the sixth inning to rob Wertz of a near homer. Ashburn caught the ball in front of the right centerfield screen 400 feet distant after a long run."[1]

Ashburn was a singles hitter rather than a slugger, accumulating over 2,500 hits in 15 years against only 29 home runs. In his day he was regarded as the archetypal "spray hitter," stroking the ball equally well to all fields, thus making him harder to defend against. Ashburn accumulated the most hits (1,875) of any batter during the 1950s.[2]

During an August 17, 1957 game, Ashburn hit a foul ball into the stands that struck spectator Alice Roth, wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, breaking her nose. When play resumed, Ashburn fouled off another ball that struck Roth while she was being carried off in a stretcher.[3] Ashburn and Roth would maintain a friendship for many years and her son later served as a Phillies batboy.

After the 1959 season, Ashburn was traded to the Chicago Cubs for three players and went on to anchor center field for the North Siders in 1960 and 1961. Anticipating a future career behind a microphone, Ashburn sometimes conducted a post-game baseball instruction clinic at Wrigley Field for the benefit of the youngsters in the WGN-TV viewing audience.

Ashburn was drafted by the expansion New York Mets for the 1962 season. He had a good year offensively, batting .306, and was the team's first-ever All-Star Game representative. However, it was a frustrating year for the polished professional, who had begun his career with a winner and found himself playing for the losingest team in modern baseball history (with a record of 40-120). He retired at the end of the season.

One oft-told story is that on short flies to center or left-center, center fielder Ashburn would collide with shortstop Elio Chacón. Chacón, from Venezuela, spoke little English and had difficulty understanding when Ashburn was calling him off the ball. To remedy matters, someone in the Mets organization taught Ashburn to say "Yo la tengo," Spanish for "I’ve got it." When Ashburn first used this phrase, it worked fine, keeping Chacón from running into him. But then left fielder Frank Thomas, who didn't speak a word of Spanish, slammed into Ashburn. After getting up, Thomas asked Ashburn "What the heck is a Yellow Tango?"

In his last five seasons, Ashburn played for the 8th-place Phillies, the 7th-place Cubs, and the 10th place Mets. The infamous first-year Mets club won only a quarter of its games, and Ashburn decided to retire from active play. The last straw might have been during the Mets' 120th loss, when Ashburn was one of the three Mets victims in a triple play pulled off by his former teammates, the 9th-place Cubs.

Post-career

Starting in 1963, Ashburn became a radio and TV color commentator for his original big-league team, the Phillies. He first worked with long-time Phillies announcers Bill Campbell and Byrum Saam. In 1971, Campbell retired and Harry Kalas joined the team. Ashburn worked with these two future winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for the next few years. Saam retired in 1976, and Ashburn continued working with Kalas for the next two decades, the two becoming best friends. Ashburn also regularly wrote for The Philadelphia Bulletin and, later, The Philadelphia Daily News.

According to his mother, Ashburn planned on retiring from broadcasting at the end of the 1997 season. He died of a heart attack in New York City after broadcasting a Phillies-Mets game at Shea Stadium. A large crowd of fans paid tribute to him, passing by his coffin in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. He is interred in the Gladwyne Methodist Church Cemetery, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.

Awards and honors

The Phillies retired Richie Ashburn's number in 1979.
See also: List of Major League Baseball retired numbers #List of retired numbers

Ashburn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Hall's Veterans Committee in 1995, accompanying Phillies great Mike Schmidt, who was inducted in the same ceremony. Over 25,000 fans, mostly from Philadelphia, traveled to Cooperstown for the ceremony.

Ashburn was posthumously inducted into the inaugural class of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.[4]

The center-field entertainment area at the Phillies current stadium, Citizens Bank Park, is named Ashburn Alley in his honor in response to the demand of numerous fans requesting that the Phillies name the stadium in Ashburn's honor.

At Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies' radio-broadcast booth is named "The Richie 'Whitey' Ashburn Broadcast Booth". It is directly next to the TV-broadcast booth, which was renamed "The Harry Kalas Broadcast Booth" after Kalas's death in 2009.

Miscellaneous

Ruben Amaro, Jr., current general manager of the Phillies and son and namesake of Rubén Amaro, Sr., Phillies shortstop from the sixties and coach, co-founded the Richie Ashburn Foundation, which provides free baseball camp for 1,100 underprivileged children in the Delaware Valley and awards grants to area schools and colleges.

See also

References

External links

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