Don Richard "Richie" Ashburn (1927 - 1997)

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Birthplace: Tilden, NE, USA
Death: Died in New York, NY, USA
Occupation: baseball player -- Phillies (Mets)
Managed by: Doug Robinson
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Don Richard "Richie" Ashburn

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richie_Ashburn

Don Richard "Richie" Ashburn (March 19, 1927 – September 9, 1997), also known by the nicknames, "Putt-Putt", "The Tilden Flash", and "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.

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 at Tiger Stadium 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." He was also the last Phillies player to collect eight hits in a double-header when he singled eight times in a twinbill at Pittsburgh on May 20, 1951.

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.

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. 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 was let go by the Phillies 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. Kalas often referred to Ashburn as "His Whiteness", a nickname Kalas would use for the rest of his life for the man he so openly adored. 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.[5] 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, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Awards and honors

Ashburn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Hall's Veterans Committee in 1995 after a long fan campaign to induct him which included bumper stickers that read, "Richie Ashburn: Why The Hall Not?" He accompanied 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.

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, due to Ashburn's 47 seasons of service to the Phillies organization, which was second in length in Philadelphia baseball history only to Connie Mack, who was so honored with the renaming of Shibe Park in 1953.

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

Ashburn was well-known for his dry humor as a broadcaster. On one occasion, he was talking to Harry Kalas about his superstitions during his playing days, and said that he once had a habit of keeping a successful baseball bat in bed with him between games, not trusting the clubhouse crew to give him the same bat the next day. Ashburn told Kalas that he had "slept with a lot of old bats" in his day.

When calling late innings, Ashburn would occasionally ask on-air if the staff of Celebre's Pizza, a nearby pizzeria in South Philly, was listening to the radio. Pizza would then arrive at the radio booth 15–20 minutes later. The Phillies requested that Ashburn discontinue the practice, as Celebre's was not a Phillies sponsor, and it was considered free advertising.

Ashburn was allowed to make on-air birthday and anniversary wishes during Phillies games. To circumvent the Phillies' request, he started to say, "I'd like to send out a special birthday wish to the Celebre's twins - Plain & Pepperoni!" Harry Kalas was heard on radio in 2007 making a similar wish.

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.

Ted Williams gave Ashburn the nickname "Putt-Putt" because he ran so fast you would think he had twin motors in his pants. The origin of the nickname has also been attributed to Stan Musial.

The book "Richie Ashburn: Why The Hall Not?" is about Richie's journey to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

-------------------- Ashburn, Don Richard (Richie)

Born: March 19, 1927, in Tilden, Nebraska

Died: September 9, 1997, in New York, New York

Vocation: Athlete, Broadcaster and Sportswriter

Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County; Gladwyne, Montgomery County

Keywords: Baseball Hall of Fame; batting champion; Chicago Cubs; Major League all-star; New York Mets; The Philadelphia Daily News; Philadelphia Phillies

Abstract: Born in Nebraska in 1927, Don Richard Ashburn was one of the most prolific lead-off hitters in Major League Baseball history. He batted at least a .300 average nine times accumulating 2,574 hits. He won two batting titles and led the National League in hits, walks and on-base percentage over several seasons. Throughout his career he played in five All-Star games before retiring from the game and becoming a sportswriter and broadcaster in the Philadelphia area. Ashburn died in 1997.

Biography:

Don Richard Ashburn was born on March 19, 1927, in Tilden, Nebraska. Nicknamed “Richie,” Ashburn was the son of Neil Ashburn, a hardworking blacksmith and baseball enthusiast, and Genevieve Ashburn. Both resided in Tilden for most of their lives until they followed their son to Philadelphia. He shared being the youngest of four children with his twin sister, Donna. His other siblings were Betty and Bob.

Ashburn’s athleticism early in life foreshadowed his future success. At age 8, he participated in the area’s midget baseball league overcoming the taunts from fellow players poking fun at his small stature. These criticisms failed to deter the young player. He became the league’s premier catcher, and later was promoted to an American Legion Junior team in neighboring Neligh. It was after a few years in the American Legion league that professional scouts began to notice the sure-footed catcher. Organizations in Cleveland and Chicago attempted to sign Ashburn to a minor league contract; however, stipulations set forth by the league nullified both contracts leading him to nearly abandon his dream of playing professional baseball. Fortunately, in his final year on the Neligh team, Ashburn was chosen to represent the West in the East-West All-star game in New York. During the game, played at the Polo Grounds, he awed spectators, and impressed those icons in attendance such as Connie Mack and Mel Ott.

Ashburn’s performance in New York put to rest the criticisms concerning his size. The Philadelphia Phillies inked the young catcher to a minor league deal with the Utica Blue Sox. It was in Utica that Ashburn was moved from the catching position to center field because of the strain being placed on his legs. In his first year, he led the team in stolen bases and in batting with a .312 average. At the conclusion of his first season, Utica’s star outfielder learned that he was drafted into the armed forces. Following a one year stint of military service, primarily in Alaska, he returned to Utica where he exploded back on to the scene scoring 107 runs, batting an extraordinary .362 and stealing 27 bases. Statistics like these caught the attention of then Phillies manager Ben Chapman who would summon Ashburn to Phillies training camp in Clearwater, Florida.

In his rookie year with the Phillies, Ashburn was named the outstanding rookie of 1948 by Sporting News, was elected to the all-star game, and ultimately, was honored as Rookie of the Year. As if these accomplishments were not enough, he and his girlfriend, Herberta, were married after the season came to an end. Two years later, in 1950, he was the starting center fielder and lead-off hitter of the pennant-winning team known affectionately as the “Whiz Kids.” His endless hustle on the field and quiet demeanor off instantly made him a fan favorite in Philadelphia lasting for almost twelve seasons.

In 1951, Ashburn competed in the batting race for the first time finishing second while eclipsing 200 hits to lead the league. In 1954, he led the league in on-base percentage as well as walks. The following year proved to be a benchmark year for the gritty center fielder. He won the first of two batting titles with a .338 batting average. His second batting crown came in 1958 when he hit an astounding .350 average for the season. Ashburn also happened to lead the National League in walks during the year. Unfortunately, this success would not last in Philadelphia. In 1959, as Ashburn slumped considerably, the Phillies traded the veteran outfielder to the Chicago Cubs. After resurrecting his swing slightly in the following years, he moved once again, this time to the expansion New York Mets in 1962. Despite the team’s terrible play, he managed to bat over the .300 mark, and for the last time, made the all-star team. Finally, at the end of the 1962 season, a frustrated Ashburn retired from the game he so loved.

Don Richard Ashburn retired with a career batting average above .300 meaning he hit safely in roughly one in every three attempts. He batted an average of .300 or greater in nine seasons accumulating 2,574 hits the majority of which were singles. He won two batting titles and led the National League in hits, walks, and on-base percentage over several seasons. Overall, he played in five all-star games. Largely overlooked, Ashburn’s defensive prowess set many records within the league. He set a major league record for the most seasons leading the league in outfield chances and put-outs with nine. The scrappy outfielder’s influence on baseball would not end with retirement. He would later write a sports column for The Philadelphia Daily News, and also team up with the venerable Harry Kalas to broadcast Phillies games for more than three decades. In 1995, Ashburn’s boyhood dream was realized. The Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame elected him into their ranks. Kalas said of Ashburn, “Anybody who saw him play loves him because he was a bust-tail ballplayer who hated to lose.”

On September 9, 1997, Ashburn died at the age of 71 in New York, New York. His body was returned to the Philadelphia area that he so adored to be buried at the Gladwyne United Methodist Church. His retired number “1” will forever be immortalized gracing the outfield wall of the Philadelphia ballpark. Also, a bronze statue of Ashburn was erected in the new stadium where the concourse surrounding centerfield was dedicated as “Ashburn Alley.”

Sources:

   * Archibald, Joe. The Richie Ashburn Story. New York: J. Messner, 1960.
   * Gennaria, Mike. “Vet Memories: Richie Ashburn.” The Official Site of the Philadelphia Phillies. 22 Mar. 2005. 24 Oct. 2007. <http://www.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20030911& content_id=521165&vkey=news_phi&fext=.jsp&c_id=phi>.
   * “Richie Ashburn.” National Baseball Hall of Fame. 2007. 26 Sept. 2007. <http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers/detail.jsp?playerId=110349>.
   * Yuhasz, Dennis. Richie Ashburn Biography. 2005. 25 Sept. 2007. <http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/richie_ashburn_ biography.shtml>.

This biography was prepared by Josh Young, Fall 2007. -------------------- Ashburn, Don Richard (Richie)

Born: March 19, 1927, in Tilden, Nebraska

Died: September 9, 1997, in New York, New York

Vocation: Athlete, Broadcaster and Sportswriter

Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County; Gladwyne, Montgomery County

Keywords: Baseball Hall of Fame; batting champion; Chicago Cubs; Major League all-star; New York Mets; The Philadelphia Daily News; Philadelphia Phillies

Abstract: Born in Nebraska in 1927, Don Richard Ashburn was one of the most prolific lead-off hitters in Major League Baseball history. He batted at least a .300 average nine times accumulating 2,574 hits. He won two batting titles and led the National League in hits, walks and on-base percentage over several seasons. Throughout his career he played in five All-Star games before retiring from the game and becoming a sportswriter and broadcaster in the Philadelphia area. Ashburn died in 1997.

Biography:

Don Richard Ashburn was born on March 19, 1927, in Tilden, Nebraska. Nicknamed “Richie,” Ashburn was the son of Neil Ashburn, a hardworking blacksmith and baseball enthusiast, and Genevieve Ashburn. Both resided in Tilden for most of their lives until they followed their son to Philadelphia. He shared being the youngest of four children with his twin sister, Donna. His other siblings were Betty and Bob.

Ashburn’s athleticism early in life foreshadowed his future success. At age 8, he participated in the area’s midget baseball league overcoming the taunts from fellow players poking fun at his small stature. These criticisms failed to deter the young player. He became the league’s premier catcher, and later was promoted to an American Legion Junior team in neighboring Neligh. It was after a few years in the American Legion league that professional scouts began to notice the sure-footed catcher. Organizations in Cleveland and Chicago attempted to sign Ashburn to a minor league contract; however, stipulations set forth by the league nullified both contracts leading him to nearly abandon his dream of playing professional baseball. Fortunately, in his final year on the Neligh team, Ashburn was chosen to represent the West in the East-West All-star game in New York. During the game, played at the Polo Grounds, he awed spectators, and impressed those icons in attendance such as Connie Mack and Mel Ott.

Ashburn’s performance in New York put to rest the criticisms concerning his size. The Philadelphia Phillies inked the young catcher to a minor league deal with the Utica Blue Sox. It was in Utica that Ashburn was moved from the catching position to center field because of the strain being placed on his legs. In his first year, he led the team in stolen bases and in batting with a .312 average. At the conclusion of his first season, Utica’s star outfielder learned that he was drafted into the armed forces. Following a one year stint of military service, primarily in Alaska, he returned to Utica where he exploded back on to the scene scoring 107 runs, batting an extraordinary .362 and stealing 27 bases. Statistics like these caught the attention of then Phillies manager Ben Chapman who would summon Ashburn to Phillies training camp in Clearwater, Florida.

In his rookie year with the Phillies, Ashburn was named the outstanding rookie of 1948 by Sporting News, was elected to the all-star game, and ultimately, was honored as Rookie of the Year. As if these accomplishments were not enough, he and his girlfriend, Herberta, were married after the season came to an end. Two years later, in 1950, he was the starting center fielder and lead-off hitter of the pennant-winning team known affectionately as the “Whiz Kids.” His endless hustle on the field and quiet demeanor off instantly made him a fan favorite in Philadelphia lasting for almost twelve seasons.

In 1951, Ashburn competed in the batting race for the first time finishing second while eclipsing 200 hits to lead the league. In 1954, he led the league in on-base percentage as well as walks. The following year proved to be a benchmark year for the gritty center fielder. He won the first of two batting titles with a .338 batting average. His second batting crown came in 1958 when he hit an astounding .350 average for the season. Ashburn also happened to lead the National League in walks during the year. Unfortunately, this success would not last in Philadelphia. In 1959, as Ashburn slumped considerably, the Phillies traded the veteran outfielder to the Chicago Cubs. After resurrecting his swing slightly in the following years, he moved once again, this time to the expansion New York Mets in 1962. Despite the team’s terrible play, he managed to bat over the .300 mark, and for the last time, made the all-star team. Finally, at the end of the 1962 season, a frustrated Ashburn retired from the game he so loved.

Don Richard Ashburn retired with a career batting average above .300 meaning he hit safely in roughly one in every three attempts. He batted an average of .300 or greater in nine seasons accumulating 2,574 hits the majority of which were singles. He won two batting titles and led the National League in hits, walks, and on-base percentage over several seasons. Overall, he played in five all-star games. Largely overlooked, Ashburn’s defensive prowess set many records within the league. He set a major league record for the most seasons leading the league in outfield chances and put-outs with nine. The scrappy outfielder’s influence on baseball would not end with retirement. He would later write a sports column for The Philadelphia Daily News, and also team up with the venerable Harry Kalas to broadcast Phillies games for more than three decades. In 1995, Ashburn’s boyhood dream was realized. The Veterans Committee of the National Baseball Hall of Fame elected him into their ranks. Kalas said of Ashburn, “Anybody who saw him play loves him because he was a bust-tail ballplayer who hated to lose.”

On September 9, 1997, Ashburn died at the age of 71 in New York, New York. His body was returned to the Philadelphia area that he so adored to be buried at the Gladwyne United Methodist Church. His retired number “1” will forever be immortalized gracing the outfield wall of the Philadelphia ballpark. Also, a bronze statue of Ashburn was erected in the new stadium where the concourse surrounding centerfield was dedicated as “Ashburn Alley.”

Sources:

   * Archibald, Joe. The Richie Ashburn Story. New York: J. Messner, 1960.
   * Gennaria, Mike. “Vet Memories: Richie Ashburn.” The Official Site of the Philadelphia Phillies. 22 Mar. 2005. 24 Oct. 2007. <http://www.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20030911& content_id=521165&vkey=news_phi&fext=.jsp&c_id=phi>.
   * “Richie Ashburn.” National Baseball Hall of Fame. 2007. 26 Sept. 2007. <http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers/detail.jsp?playerId=110349>.
   * Yuhasz, Dennis. Richie Ashburn Biography. 2005. 25 Sept. 2007. <http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/richie_ashburn_ biography.shtml>.

This biography was prepared by Josh Young, Fall 2007.

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Richie Ashburn's Timeline

1927
March 19, 1927
Tilden, NE, USA
1948
1948
Age 20
1997
September 9, 1997
Age 70
New York, NY, USA
????
Philadelphia, PA, USA