On this date in 1927, communists and nazis battled ferociously in Berlin. Thousands of miles away, in Tilden, Nebraska, things were much more serene. That was the day and the place that Donald Richard Ashburn was born. He would go on to be a Hall of Fame player and fan favorite in Philadelphia.
In 1948, Ashburn's first season in the majors, he was named to the National League All-Star Team and finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting behind Boston's Al Dark and Cleveland's Gene Bearden. Ironically, in 1960, the Phillies traded Ashburn to the Chicago Cubs, with Dark being one of the three players that they acquired in the deal (John Buzhardt and Jim Woods were the other two). Ashburn would go on to be a six-time all-star and win two batting titles during his 15-year career in the majors. After being dealt to the Cubs, Ashburn played two seasons in Chicago before being purchased by the expansion New York Mets in December, 1962.
That season, which was Ashburn's last in the majors, would go down as a huge debacle for the expansion Mets, who finished with a 40-160 record. Ashburn still put up strong numbers, including batting .306 with a .424 on-base percentage, earning a spot on the NL All-Star Team.
Known for being a contact hitter with a good eye at the plate, Ashburn drew 1,198 walks and struck out just 571 times in nearly 2,200 major league games. Nine times, Ashburn hit over .300 and six times posted an OBP over .400 during his career.
After his career, Ashburn moved right into the broadcast booth with the Phillies, working with broadcast greats Bill Campbell and By Saam. Campbell left and Harry Kalas joined the broadcast team in 1971 and the two would work together until Ashburn's death in 1997, becoming the greatest broadcast team in Philadelphia sports history. The two also became inseparable friends.After his death, it was reported by some sources that Ashburn had decided to retire from broadcasting following the '97 season.
After being passed over for the Hall of Fame for years, Ashburn was finally elected by the Veteran's Committee in 1995 and went into the Hall beside another Phillies great, Mike Schmidt.
When the Phillies built Citizens Bank Park, the centerfield fan area was named Ashburn Alley, commemorating the career and life of Richie Ashburn. The area features a larger than life statue of Ashburn, a focal point of the stadium. There was actually a fan movement to have the entire stadium named Ashburn Park, with fans pointing out that Ashburn's career with the Phillies - spanning 47 seasons - was the second longest in Philadelphia baseball history, second only to Connie Mack, who was honored when Shibe Park was renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953.
- Yes, it's true. Richie Ashburn hit the same woman with a foul ball twice in one at-bat. It was August 17, 1957 during a game in Philadelphia against the New York Giants. The ball hit the woman squarely in the face, causing a delay in the game while medics attended to her. The game resumed as they were taking the fan out on a stretcher and Ashburn hit her again with a second foul fall. What's often not reported about the incident is that the woman was Alice Roth, the wife of Earl Roth, the editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin. After Ashburn's playing days, he wound up writing about baseball for the Bulletin.
- Ashburn and shortstop Elio Chacon had issues with running into each other chasing after fly balls, mainly because of a language barrier. Ashburn was taught the phrase "Yo la tengo," which means "I got it" in Spanish. It worked wonders, with one exception. Left fielder Frank Thomas collided with Ashburn on a fly ball and after the two got back on their feet, asked Ashburn "What's a yellow tango?"
- The last Phillies player to get eight hits in a single day is... Richie Ashburn. In a double-header on May 20, 1951, Ashburn went 4-for-6 in the opening game and 4-for-5 in the nightcap against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Phillies split the double-header.
- It's likely that after collecting those eight hits, Ashburn spent the night sleeping next to the bat that he used. He often did that when he had a good day at the plate, because he was superstitious and didn't trust the clubhouse guy to be sure he got the same bat the next day. When relaying this story on-air to broadcast partner Harry Kalas, Ashburn stated "I slept with a lot of old bats, Harry."
- While Ashburn was known by his nickname "Whitey", or as Kalas called him "His Whiteness," he also had another nickname, given by either Ted Williams or Stan Musial - the facts vary - who gave Ashburn the nickname Putt-Putt. The theory being that Ashburn ran so fast "you would think he had twin motors in his pants."
- Free Pizza! When games would run late or go extra innings, Ashburn and Kalas would sometimes get hungry for a pizza from Celebre's Pizza, near the ballpark in South Philly. Ashburn started to ask if the staff was listening and to prove that they were, they would sent a free pizza to the booth. The Phillies weren't amused, because Celebre's wasn't a sponsor and they didn't like them getting free mentions. Ashburn and Kalas found a way around the problem. The two were encouraged by the Phillies to announce fans birthdays and anniversaries. That led Ashburn to often "wish a happy birthday to the Celebre Twins - plain and pepperoni." The free pizzas continued to arrive!