A Random Tribute to Phillies Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn

 

Twenty-nine home runs in a 14-year career? Is that it? Well, no. Not by a long shot. If there was one thing Richie Ashburn didn’t do too much (hit a lot of homers), there were a million things he did quite often (steal bases relentlessly, hit for average, drive in runs, range-rove the outfield, snap a witty one-liner).

The late Phillies announcer, Harry Kalas, once said of Ashburn, “Anybody who ever saw him play loves him because he was a bust-tail player who hated to lose.” Possibly the only description that suited him better was the nickname Whitey, which paid tribute to his trademark, nearly-white hair.

424231b39bfed45cab9f96e985dc9a81Ashburn busted his tail as a rookie in 1948 to the tune of a .333 batting average with 154 hits, 17 doubles, and a whopping 32 stolen bases. He was the only rookie elected to the NL All-Star team that season. Whitey had broken onto the scene in a big way.

After a two year absence from the Midsummer Classic despite pretty steady numbers, the young veteran went back into “bust-tail” mode, putting together a season that solidified his hero status in a very tough sports town.

Whitey was the only spark in on an otherwise lifeless ’51 Phillies squad. He smacked a career-high 221 hits, while batting .344 (second in all of baseball, only to Stan Musial’s .351), and he had 31 doubles, many of them created by sheer hustle. Added to that were his 29 stolen bases and 63 RBI as a leadoff man. He only hit four home runs, but the Phils were more than willing to look past that. It was clear, after his offensive outburst in ‘51, that Whitey would be keeping his Philadelphia address for quite some time to come.

He spent 12 seasons manning centerfield for the Phils and blazing a trail to Cooperstown. During that time he made five All Star appearances, led the league in hitting twice, and bested NL outfielders in put-outs nine times. He smacked 2,574 hits, and registered a lifetime .308 average. Ashburn’s #1 was retired by the Phillies in 1979 and he was inducted into the Hall in 1995.

63288c88c68d209d7b41e5962583d422People rarely remember that Whitey finished his career in New York when the Mets selected him in the first-ever expansion draft. But Whitey would reclaim his Philly address shortly after hanging up the spikes. He spent 27 seasons calling the Phillies alongside legendary announcer, Harry Kalas. The two arguably made up one of the greatest broadcasting tandems in baseball history. The always-insightful banter between Harry and Whitey combined with the slow, drawling crescendo of Kalas’s famous home run calls were even enough to keep fans interested in a club that’s spent most of the last two decades in the league’s basement.

Whitey died from a heart attack in 1997 at the age of 70. He left us with the memories of a sparkling Hall of Fame career, both on the field and in the booth, and his never-say-die, bust-tail spirit that won him the hearts of all Philadelphians. Perhaps Harry Kalas best reflected the sentiments of an entire city in remembering Ashburn:

“Whitey was as good a friend as I ever had,” Kalas said, “I think of him every day with warmth in his heart and a smile on his face.”

7 thoughts on “A Random Tribute to Phillies Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn

  1. Excellent column about an overlooked player in many regards. You might be right in that we don’t remember him as kindly in this era because of his lack of power. However, back then it wasn’t all about the home run. Baseball valued different skills in his day.

    The real fans know/knew about Richie Ashburn. One day I took the train to Wrigley Field to see the Phillies at the Cubs circa 1995. I wore my Phillies Lenny Dykstra jersey and an older couple started talking to me. Somehow we started talking about the Phils and they said they were from Nebraska. I must have remembered that Ashburn was from Neb and of course they had become Phillies fans because of Ashburn’s background. They traveled all the way to Chicago to support the Phils. Needless to say, they swore by Ashburn and continued their loyalty to Phila for decades because of him.

    Great tribute to #1!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an amazing story about the couple from Nebraska. Thanks for sharing that. Whitey is easily one of my favorite players of all time despite the fact I never had a chance to see him play live. My father always told me about him and we used to sit in Section 326 at the Vet and he’d tell me stories about Whitey and how I should always model myself as a player after him. Later on, I took it upon myself to read up on and watch every available clip about this man. That’s when I realized the impact Richie Ashburn truly had on the Phillies organization.

      And his exploits in the booth were legendary. I’d trade away many, many things for the opportunity to listen to one more game with Whitey and Harry on the mics and me and dad talking stick and drinking beers out in the old garage. Good times.

      Liked by 1 person

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