The LuLac Edition #300, Sept. 9th, 2007
PHOTO INDEX: THE LATE RICHIE ASHBURN WITH BLOG EDITOR, CIRCA MID 80s, AND KENT
Ten years ago today, Richie Ashburn was found dead in a New York hotel room. Ashburn was the Hall of Fame center fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies throughout most of his career. Ashburn came from Nebraska and was a fleet of foot center fielder who led the 1950 Whiz Kids to a National League pennant. In the fifties, he was a big deal, one of the premiere center fielders on the east coast. From YOU TUBE, check out this vintage commercial.
I first became aware of Ashburn as a third grader. He was picked in the expansion draft and was playing for the newly minted New York Mets. Being a moronic grade schooler, I took great delight in strolling the neighborhood saying, “my Richie Ashburns, my Ashburns”. Yeah, I was a bit of an idiot. As I got older, my dad and uncles would tell me what a great defensive player he was and while not a home run threat, he’d always find a way to win a game. During the 1964 Phillies season that I followed virtually every minute, Ashburn was one of the voices that I’d hear to recount the celebrations, the defeats, the highs and the lows. I remember one game when Ed Roebuck, a Phillies reliever saved a game over the Cubs for Jim Bunning. Bunning left the game with the bases loaded, no outs. He got three batters out on a ground out to the mound which forced the run at home, and two full count strikeouts. After the win, 4 to 3, on the radio as the crowd cheered, Ashburn simply said, “If I were Jim Bunning, I’d buy Eddie Roebuck a steak. A big one. Phillies win, 4 to 3”. Then he cut to a commercial. An uncle said he didn’t have the greatest voice in the world, but knew the game. Indeed he did.
Through the years, Ashburn delighted Phillies fans with stories, good humor and anecdotes that enriched the baseball culture. During my time in broadcasting and newspapers, I must admit that when I met someone famous, I’d initially be a tad nervous. With my numerous encounters with Ashburn, I can say that never was the case. At the Vet in the runway as he strolled talking easily about the virtues of a Von Hayes (which wasn’t easy sometimes) or in the broadcast booth where he accepted a huge home baked caked made by former Pittston Postmaster Art Prandy and presented to Richie from Art’s son Barry, he was a study in calm. His knowledge was never lorded over you, but shared. At a card show, hosted by Bob Biscontini of Hanover Twp., I had a long time to interview Ashburn. When we talked baseball, he’d begin with, “and as you know” or “I’m sure you realize this but…”, the fact is I knew or realized neither. But Ashburn gave me, as a fan and writer the respect and that benefit of the doubt. He lost a child but never publicly told the story of that pain. Many wanted him to run for office but the self effacing Ashburn quietly declined without bombast or fanfare.
When he died, the Mayor of the city, Ed Rendell talked about his relationship with Ashburn and the transistor radio. As a baseball fan in the 60s, they went together like bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. Thousands passed by his coffin including Curt Schilling in full uniform. Since his death, they named an alley for him at Citizen’s Bank Park, honored him in many ways to preserve his memory and put his name on the broadcast booth he worked in joyously for so long. Despite all that, there has been a tremendous hole in the Phillies organization since his death. While that gap will never be filled, one thing does help. Every baseball fan I know has a Richie Ashburn story. It’s either about a play he made on the field, a comment he made in the broadcast booth or an act of kindness some were witness to in person. While the honors the Phils bestowed on him are proper and fitting, what will keep Richie Ashburn alive, even after ten years, are those stories of his people, the fans. They miss him but will always remember Whitey. The name itself, the memory brings an easy going smile to the faces of those who remember. And you have to know somewhere, Whitey is smiling back.
A CLASS ACT
I don’t know why Kent Westling is quitting the Yankees. Maybe he does want to spend time with his family and do other things. But after 19 years, gee that seems like such an odd number to me. Westling, like Ashburn was a constant in the fans who followed minor league baseball around these parts. First with the Red Barons, then with the Yankees, Westling could always be counted on to be fair, accurate and interesting. Perhaps we’ll never know the real reason, people quit and get severance packages so they won’t talk. Not my business anyway. Maybe Westling was soured because he got passed over by the Phillies organization for a top job with them. Again, not my business. But the new regime is going to be hard pressed to find someone of his caliber. Prior to joining the triple A team, Westling worked at WARM and and WYOU. His last broadcast was Saturday Afternoon after the Yankees kicked away a chance at advancing to the playoffs. He thanked all those associated with the old WICK and the new owners of The Game, Fox Sports Radio, thanked the organizations, his producers and board ops. He went out as a class act. The best we can do is follow his lead and say many, many "thank yous" to him for 19 golden years. Thanks, Kent! You were the best!