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When Phillies’ Legend Richie Ashburn Played the Game: Fan Rewind
The Philadelphia Phillies signed Don Richard Ashburn as an amateur free agent in 1945. By the spring of 1948, he had made it to the major leagues.
Even though 'Richie' only appeared in 117 games, he finished third in that year's Rookie of the Year award voting. From there, he went on to become one of the best players in franchise history and one the most beloved people in Philadelphia.
Ashburn carried the Midwestern football mentality from his home in Tilden, Neb. to the baseball diamond.
Just two seasons after breaking into the big leagues, he was part of the Phillies second-ever World Series team.
The team's centerfielder and leadoff hitter had speed to burn and took a fine glove with him to the field.
That young squad was swept by the New York Yankees in the 1950 Fall Classic. But, those 'Whiz Kids' are still fondly remembered for many reasons, with Ashburn being chief among them.
The 1951 season became one of Ashburn's best.
He led the National League with 221 hits and also scored 92 runs, had 31 doubles, stole 29 bases, had a .344 batting average and an .819 OPS. His efforts earned him an All-Star appearance and a seventh place finish in the Most Valuable Player Award voting.
In 1954, he lead the League with 125 walks and a .441 on-base percentage.
In 1955, he lead the League with a .338 batting average and a .449 on-base percentage.
The 1958 season was arguably Ashburn's most productive, as he lead the League in six offensive categories. Those impressive numbers were: 725 plate appearances, 215 hits, 13 triples, 97 walks, a .350 batting average and a .440 on-base percentage.
Once again his efforts earned him an All-Star appearance and a seventh place MVP finish.
By his mid-30s
The Phillies traded Ashburn after the 1959 season to the Chicago Cubs, where he played for two seasons.
The upstart New York Mets purchased Ashburn after the 1961 season and he instantly became their most dynamic player. But, the rest of that famously woebegone group only won 40 games for manager Casey Stengel.
'Whitey' was 35-years-old when he left the game after that 1962 season.
He played for 15 years, had a .308 lifetime batting average, 2,574 hits and five All-Star berths listed on the back of his baseball card.
A baseball orchestra
Many years passed after Ashburn became eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame. As each one did, it seemed to become less likely that he would actually gain entrance.
Along the way, he had teamed with Harry Kalas to narrate the Phillies golden age from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s. After that, except for 1993, their comments became the high points of most games.
Listening to them perform was similar to hearing an orchestra begin with Bach, transition to Brahms and bring the crowd to its feet with a medley of Mozart.
Called to the Hall and then home
The Veteran's Committee called Ashburn to the Hall of Fame for its 1995 induction ceremonies. Fittingly, Mike Schmidt joined him in Cooperstown at exactly the same time.
Just two years later, after a road game against the Mets in September, Ashburn was called home after completing 70 outstanding seasons on this planet.
When our other friend Harry left us in 2009, the end of an era was uncontested.
But, every offseason we can still tune in memory's voice and hear their optimism encouraging us toward life's spring renewal.
After earning a Communications degree from Penn State in 1990, Sean started his career in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons front office. At that time they were the Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A farm team. He has written professionally for over two decades. Read his Sports Blog: Insight and follow him on Twitter @ SeanyOB
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