Quantcast


100 Greatest Phillies: 6 – Richie Ashburn

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, March 21, 2009 04:15 PM | Comments: 27
100 Greatest Phillies, Posts

Richie Ashburn
Outfielder
1948-1959

Career w/Phillies: .311 AVG / 22 HR / 499 RBI / 199 SB

Whitey.

Richie Ashburn typified Philadelphia — a somewhat awkward slice of information considering Ashburn was a Nebraskan-born farm boy. But his brand of humility, wit, character and hustle made him a Philadelphian through and through. The mark he made on Philadelphia baseball isn’t measured easily, but it permeates even today.

The Phillies signed Ashburn as an amateur free agent in early 1945. He made it to Philadelphia in 1948, hitting .333 as a cagey 21-year-old. He also stole a career-high 32 bases and recorded a splendid .410 on-base percentage in 117 games. Already Ashburn’s career was off to a fast start.

Now, Ashburn was not a home run hitter. He was not a run producer. He really wasn’t big on extra-base hits (though he was a regular league leader in triples). But he got on base, he ran, he scored. His 1114 runs scored are good for third in franchise history; his .390 OBP is sixth in club history. Moreover, he patrolled center field like no other, using his speed and expert eye to track down anything that came into his field of vision. Bill James’ range factor statistic measures the ability of a player to participate in outs; Ashburn has three of the top 10 range factor seasons ever in center field and may very well be the most prolific defensive center fielder of all time.

His best season may have been 1951, when Whitey hit an outstanding .344 (221 hits) while driving in a career-high 63. He’d eclipse the 200-hit mark twice more as a Phillie, but consistently stay above 170 hits per season. He’s the 1950s hit leader with 1,875.

Ashburn had another amazing season in 1958, hitting .350 with 13 triples. Sadly, that would be the last outstanding year for Ashburn as a Phillie. After a mediocre 1959 season, Whitey would be traded to the Cubs for John Buzhardt, Alvin Dark and Jim Woods. He’d have two OK seasons in Chicago before signing with the Mets for the 1962 season. That worst team ever (40-120) was his final team.

Of course, Ashburn’s true character had yet to blossom. Whitey started a gig as a broadcaster, and the Phillies brought him back to the city to be Byrum Saam’s partner for Phillies games during the 1960s. Quickly, Ashburn asserted himself as a knowledgeable student of the game, but moreover, a caring man of the people. Soon the Phils brought in a young Harry Kalas to be his partner, and the combination was like peanut butter and jelly. Kalas’ gravelly drawl depicted the scene while Ashburn’s quips and cuff reactions flavored the moment. Through it all was laughter, stories, a love of free food and “Birthday wishes to Ethel Gorman of Norristown. Eighty-two years young today.” Richie Ashburn was our uncle every summer day and night.

In 1995 Ashburn was elected to the Hall of Fame, joining the Hall with Phillie legend Mike Schmidt. A sea of red greeted the two in Cooperstown — 25,000 people (at the time the largest assembling in Cooperstown history); probably, all of those 25,000 were there for Whitey.

On September 9, 1997, Ashburn and Kalas called a Phillies-Mets game at Shea Stadium. Like usual, the two signed off by telling fans to join them the next night for another Phils game. Ashburn never made it, dying from a heart attack after the broadcast. His death set off a wave of mourning throughout the Philadelphia era; truly, nobody was loved quite like Whitey. And he really did typify Philadelphia.

Comment: Even if Ashburn wasn’t a beloved man, his numbers spoke for themselves. He was a pure hitter with blinding speed and terrific defense. A true baseball legend. And a great man.

Avatar of Tim Malcolm

About Tim Malcolm

Tim Malcolm has written 1947 articles on Phillies Nation.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 MDefl

    I still miss hearing Whitey call the games. Everytime a team employs the “safety squeeze”, I think of Ashburn and how he must be rolling over in his grave.

     
  • Posts: 0 Brian

    I must agree, he will be missed as an announcer. I am not old enough to have ever seen him play, but remember hearing he and Harry K every game while growing up. What a guy! Very good choice to be in the top 10!

     
  • Posts: 0 Phil

    i am actually surprised he didnt make tims top 5. i personally think chuck klein and richie allen were better but you cant go wrong with any of these guys

     
  • Posts: 0 Joe O'Phillie

    “Hard to believe Harry.” He was the greatest baseball color man ever and I miss him to this day. RIP Your Whiteness

     
  • Posts: 0 Gavin

    He’s actually my #1 Phillie because of his game but because of what he gave to us all after his baseball career ended which can’t be measured by stats.

     
  • Posts: 0 BurrGundy

    I have lived in several cities for work after graduation from college. I listened to broadcasters from the Reds, Cubs and Red Sox at various intervals. However, I always looked for a station that could pick up the Phillies games. I really enjoyed Whiter and Harry K. Ashburn is the color commentator I enjoyed most and I still remember Harry K teasing “His Whiteness” about how frugal he was. It was great theater on the air.

     
  • Posts: 0 Ryk

    My lasting memory of his Whiteness would be that same story he told year after year after year. Hitting that lady in the head with a batted ball, and as she was being led up the stairs for medical treatment, he fouled another off and hit her again! Classic.

     
  • Posts: 0 whizkidfanatic

    Ah, Richie. The Nebraska Comet! I remember so well sitting second level right behind third base in 1948. Richie led off the bottom of the ninth inning in a game that saw the Phils down by one run. He was not a pull hitter but in this at bat he hit one in the right center gap. I watched him approach second base and saw that he was going for a triple. He simply flew around second base and slid, hat flying into third with an easy triple. I remember my feeling that I’d never seen anyone get from home to third that fast in my life! Unfortunately, the next three Phils popped up, struck and popped up stranding Rich on third. I was to learn that this was to be a not uncommon experience for me in the years after 1950. Maybe the baseball gods were trying to forewarn a young fan.

    Richies oft invoked dislike of pitchers was not contrived…he really didn’t like them. He got on them mercilessly from the dugout and it is a little known secret that the HOF Veterans Committee had a pitcher or two that weren’t helpful in Richies selection process. It is rumored that one big name pitcher finally came around and that opened the door for Rich.

    How ironic that he is remembered more as an announcer than as a player. He was a terrific talent; great speed, a contact hitter who drove pitchers up the wall and an excellent baserunner who was always a threat to score from first base on anything down the lines or in the gaps.

    He forced a lot of opposition errors when he was on base. Defensively he was better (yes I said better, except for his arm, which wasn’t near as bad as they said) than Mays, Snider or any other National League center fielder. He made catches look routine that were highlight stuff by Mays . His secret besides his natural speed was that he knew his pitchers stuff and opposing hitter tendencies long before these things were charted. He got a great jump on the ball and caught near everything that stayed in the park.

    Richie was a gamer; a politician, a hustler, a parttime con man (only in the humerous sense) and great company!

     
  • Posts: 0 Greg V.

    My favorite Ashburn memory was the game in 1993 that got rain delayed and ended at like 4:30 in the morning. For whatever reason, knowing I had to be at school in a few hours, I watched it and Ashburn’s commentary was priceless (talking about how the game needs to end soon because his tee off time is a few hours away). Classic stuff. Best thing was, he always kept it real.

     
  • Posts: 0 Ryan

    Not to change the topc…But Im guessing its too late to sign up for the fantasy baseball?

     
  • Posts: 0 ryan

    too low. i had whitey at number 3.

     
  • Posts: 0 Jason B.

    There is a story of Whitey and Wheeler that typfied the man. Whitey would give a shout out to Cabrisi’s pizza on the air, and after hearing the shout out, Cabrisi would send a delivery driver to the Vet to drop of a couple of free pies in exchange for the free advertisment. Whitey was told that another pizza place was now sponsoring the Phils and he could no longer mention Cabrisi’s on the air. No mention, no free pizza. One day, Whitey and Wheels were in the booth and got hungry. And during the broadcast Whitey says ” I want to say Happy Birthday to the Cabrisi twins… Plain and Pepperoni Cabrisi Happy Birthday. 15 minutes later, the delivery man dropped off two free pizzas for the broadcast team.

     
  • Posts: 0 Jason B.

    Who else remembers the puff puff puff of the pipe as Harry was calling the game. You could always hear it loud and clear. Whitey you were loved and now you are missed.

     
  • Posts: 0 James Kay

    One of Ashburn’s frequent complaints from the broadcast booth was that he was not enshrined in the HOF when such obviously lesser players like his contemporary “Pee Wee Reese” were. This went on sporadically for decades. I always liked hearing his firmly delivered statistical arguments as well as the self-promotion of his great baseball talents. He spoke convincingly and from the heart. He made a believer out of me even though I only vaguely remember him as a player with the Cubs and the Mets (1962 Mets MVP). The satisfaction he exhibited at his induction was boundless. He well represents the Phillies in the HOF and is a definite top 10 selection (behind Allen & Klein).

     
  • Posts: 0 Fred Baughman

    Four times in his playing career Whitey caught 500 flyballs in a season. No one else has done it more than once.

     
  • Posts: 0 James Kay

    Check out Ashburn’s exaggerated choke on the bat in the clip from the following link. He must have been played intensely to be able to consistently hit .300 with a stroke like that. Kind of resembles Larry Bowa trying to hit left handed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOkOyrN7QpQ

     
  • Posts: 0 Bruce

    As an old timer (smile), Richie was my first and only baseball hero when following the Phillies in my early teen years during the 1950′s. He along with Robin Roberts provided about the only excitement for me during those mediocre years (the 50′s) for the team. How appropriate that these two greats are in the Hall of Fame.

    I thought I add a little known info about Richie that has not been mentioned by anyone here (or Tim). In his teen years (including American Legion ball) his position was as a catcher.

    He played so outstandingly that he was signed by a Phillies scout. He was assigned to the Utica Blue Sox in the Class A Eastern League for the 1945 season as a CATCHER! The Phillies organization took note of his great speed and didn’t want him to put strain on his legs, so they switched him to the outfield during this season. From that time on, he was able to take advantage of his speed and tremendous talent that brought him eventually to the Majors in 1948 at age 21.

    I also noticed no one here has provided the story behind Ashburn’s early nickname “Putt-Putt”. Ted Williams gave Ashburn that nickname “Putt-Putt.” The Red Sox slugger joked that Ashburn ran as though he had twin motors in his pants. (chuckles)

     
  • Posts: 0 Don M

    I think I had Ashburn as my #1 …. To me, he is “The Philadelphia Phillies”.. he gave it everything he had, maybe not the greatest hitter ever, but better than most, and an excellent defender

     
  • Posts: 0 AshburnStadium

    Don Richard Ashburn wore #1 on his uniform, and is still #1 in the hearts of Phillies fans everywhere!

    Too bad the Phillies management caved into a foreign-owned bank and named their ballpark “Citizens Bank Park”.

    It should have been named “Richie Ashburn Stadium”, or at least, in the spirit of the dual name of Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, it should have been named “Rich Ashburn Stadium at Citizens Bank Park”.

    Only Connie Mack had a longer-term influence on Philadelphia baseball than Whitey, and Shibe Park was renamed in his honor.

    I’d like to offer special birthday wishes to the Celebre’s twins, Plain and Pepperoni! ;-)

    Has anyone here tried Celebre’s at 15th & Packer? Their pizza ROCKS!

    Bill in Bucks County

     
  • Posts: 0 Joe O'Phillie

    Great post whizkidfanatic!

     
  • Posts: 0 mplant

    I was just starting my senior year in high school when Whitey died. I remember a teacher breaking the news to me in school, and I damn near broke down on the spot. I went to the next home game when they had the memorial tribute. Not a dry eye in the house when Harry read his poem dedicated to His Whiteness

     
  • Posts: 0 mplant

    @AshburnStadium,

    I have had Celebre’s Pizza on numerous occasions and it does indeed rock!

     
  • Posts: 0 ashmidt

    whitey was a hall of fame player, he was a hall of fame announcer and he was a pretty damn good writer for the old bulliton. i really enjoyed his coloums, how could you not, the one i really think about was when he slid into jackie robinson at 2nd base and spiked him, and jackie robinson looked down where he was bleeding and looked at richie and didnt say anything. when richie got back to the dugout all the phillies were patting him on the back and saying way to go you got him. and richie said he was ashamed because jackie bled red just like everyone. thats how they played back then. robinson was a marked man.

     
  • Posts: 0 T.Ashburn

    Stories About Ashburn Family Baseball -

    Don Richard “Richie” Ashburn (March 19, 1927 – September 9, 1997), Richie aka “Whitey” Ashburn because of his white, blond hair, is/was a distant cousin of my Dad, who was 9 years older than Richie and played “Semi-Pro” baseball in the Atlanta, GA area prior to 1937, and a little bit in college until he graduated in 1941, just in time to be commissioned as an officer in the Navy for WWII.

    That is why I became a little bit of a Phillies fan as a teenager in Coastal South GA. I was also with the baseball team, at the same college as my Dad, in the mid 1960′s where my knowledge and appreciation for the game grew. I follow somewhat 4 teams: The Phillies, The Atlanta Braves, The Detroit Tigers and the Colorado Rockies.

    The Phillies because of Richie
    The Braves because Dad’s Sister, my all-time favorite Aunt, who lived in Atlanta until her death 17 years after Dad, was The Braves biggest at-home fan. We even buried her with her family Bible and her Braves baseball cap in her casket.
    The Tigers because of Ernie Harwell, their announcer, and a friend of Dad’s
    The Rockies because our Daughter, her husband & 4 of out 8 Grandchildren live in Denver.

    I coached our Son in Little League, but he did not continue with baseball after that.

    I am not sure if I believe in reincarnation, but our 7 year old Grandson told our daughter when he was barely 4 years old “Mommy don’t you remember when we were together before, and I was a professional baseball player?”
    When she told him she did not remember, he then told her “Don’t worry Mommy, after we both die, we’ll be together again and I’ll be in your tummy again then.”
    The irony – I saw him in T-ball the last 2 years, and he exhibits an uncanny and advanced skills level, and an understanding of the game & the fundamentals. He was born 12 years after my Dad, and 5 years & 5 days to the day after Richie died on 9-9-1997.
    Perhaps the family and family name tradition will be carried on in his generation.

    If you’re not totally bored with my baseball stories, you may find this next one of interest:
    As an adult, I lived for 2 years in Chicago, and then 6 years in Detroit, before then moving back to the South. I still notice but am not a “fan” of the Cubs or the White Sox. My favorite baseball name of all times is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson of the “Black Sox Scandal”.

    I do have more interest in the Tigers, because the announcer for the Tigers, Ernie Harwell was a friend of and played semi-pro baseball with my Dad in Atlanta.
    When Mother & Dad would come to visit in Detroit during the season, Mr. Harwell would give us his tickets behind home plate & the visitor’s dugout. Whenever I called he would always have 2, 4 or even 6 tickets waiting for me at the will-call window, sometimes I paid and other times they were “Comps”.
    I always “Liked” Mr. Harwell. Due to one instance the Like turned to “Loved” Ernie Harwell.

    Dad was almost always late for everything. The exception was his funeral. As the oldest child, I was in charge, and he showed up dressed and on time for both the visitation & the funeral. Several of the members from his church remarked afterward that it was one of the few times he had ever been on time.

    Anyway, my much younger “baby” Sister came to visit in Detroit with Mother & Dad, but only wanted to go to one “Special” baseball game with us. The Tigers were playing Baltimore and she had a huge young teenage crush on Brooks Robinson. Ernie Harwell had arranged for her to meet Brooks Robinson, but as usual we were late. As we sat down in the seats, Ernie was “Interviewing” Brooks Robinson in front of their dugout. He pointed us out, and Brooks pointed at and waved to Priscilla. Figuratively you could almost see her heart jumping in her chest.

    That evening we met Mr. & Mrs. Harwell at their favorite Italian Restaurant, Mario’s on 2nd Avenue. I had often entertained customers there and it was a favortie of mine as well. We had a private dining room, and Mario himself supervised our service. Not many people are aware that Mr. Harwell also wrote songs and had several famous ones sung by several stars.

    Well, after dinner while we enjoyed our coffee, Ernie picked up from the floor a brown paper bag he had with him, and said he wanted us to listen to a recording of a new song and tell him what we thought. He pulled a tape recorder out of the bag, placed it on the table and pushed the start button.

    Rather than a song we heard – ” Hi Priscilla, this is Brooks Robinson and I am so sorry I did not get a chance to meet you in person at the game today. Mr. Harwell tells me you are a big fan. I asked Ernie to give you something I was going to give you if we had met. I had all of the members of our team autograph a baseball for you. I also autographed one myself as a special thanks to a special fan.”

    When Ernie handed her the 2 baseballs the corners of her mouth touched her 2 ears, the smile was so wide. You’ll never see either of those baseballs for sale on the internet. She has since gotten rid of 2 husbands, but she has not thrown out those 2 treasures.

    Batter Up,

     
  • Posts: 0 Harry the hat

    Is there any truth that when Richie Ashburne played with the Phillies against Jackie Robinson that a black cat was put on the field

     
  • Posts: 0 Ken

    Most singles in Phillies’ history.
    Most hits by any MLB player during the 1950′s.
    Number 30 in list of all-time singles in MLB history.
    The one Phillie that even Mets fans like! (Don’t forget: “Yo La Tengo”)

    Go Phils! Beat the Yanks!

     
  • Posts: 0 Artie A.

    I’m a Met fan. Always will be. For my birthday, my son got me an orange Met t-shirt with “1″ on the back, on top of which is “Ashburn.”

    My Dad took me to my first Met game on June 17, 1962 at the Polo Grounds. I was in shock at how green the grass was, and how red the infield dirt. TV was black and white. . . I was thinking the grass there should be grey. :)

    Mets vs. Cubs in a double header.

    First Met batter was Richie. When he laid down a bunt that bounced on homeplate to lead off the game, and like lightning beat that ball to first base. . . well, I had my favorite player right there.

    Richie was the greatest, but sorry gang: to me, even though it was his last year, and it was for a laughable team, to me Richie was, and will always be, my favorite Met. ;)

    Go Richie.

     
 
Leave a Comment

>> Create a new Phillies Nation account.
>> Already registered with Phillies Nation? Log in here.
>> Comment without logging in:






Please ensure your comments comply with our Comment Policy.