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Richie Ashburn

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Richie Ashburn
Richie Ashburn
Center fielder
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB Debut
April 20, 1948 for the Philadelphia Phillies
Final game
September 30, 1962 for the New York Mets
Career Statistics
AVG     .308
Hits     2,574
RBI     586
Teams
Career Highlights and Awards

Don Richard "Richie" Ashburn (March 19 1927September 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.

Ashburn spent 12 of his 15 major-league seasons as the Phillies' center fielder (from 1948 through 1959, one of the famous "Whiz Kids"), during which he led the National League twice in batting average (.308 lifetime batting average) 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 home run to clinch the pennant. Unusual for an outfielder, he was known as a singles hitter rather than a slugger, accumulating over 2,500 hits in 15 years against only 29 home runs. Ashburn had the most hits (1,875) of any batter during the 1950s. He also played in the most major league games during the 1950's (all with the Phillies).

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.

He was traded to the Chicago Cubs for three players, and anchored center field for the North Siders in 1960 and 1961. Anticipating his 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, but 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 baseball history (with a record of 40-120). He retired at the end of the season when offered a broadcasting job by the Philadelphia Phillies.

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 in 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?" The band Yo La Tengo takes its name from this anecdote.

In his last five seasons, Ashburn had played for the 8th-place Phillies, the 7th-place Cubs and the 10th place Mets. The infamous first-year Mets club only won 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.

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 announcer By Saam. In 1971, 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.

Ashburn was selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Hall's Veterans Committee in 1995 along with Negro League player Leon Day, NL founder William Hulbert, and 19th century manager Ned Hanlon and was inducted in the same ceremony with Phillies great Mike Schmidt, who was elected. that year by the BBWAA> Over 25,000 fans, mostly from Philadelphia, traveled to Cooperstown for the ceremony.

Ashburn died unexpectedly of a heart attack in New York City at age 70, after broadcasting a Phillies-Mets game at Shea Stadium. This was painfully reminiscent of Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, who died in his hotel room in 1993 after broadcasting a Los Angeles Dodger road game in Montreal 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, at Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.

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 what is now known as Citizens Bank Park in Ashburn's honor due to his nearly half-century of service to the team.

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