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Dan Levy/Billy Penn

Ultimate Phillies Final Four: The Case for Whitey

The Ultimate Phillies bracket is down to the Final Four, and while the participants from two of the remaining regions are a bit of a surprise—Chase Utley upset Mike Schmidt to represent the infielders and Carlos Ruiz upset Bob Boone, Darren Daulton and Tug McGraw to advance out of the catchers and relievers—the semifinals are set with four extremely important players from the team’s long history in Philadelphia.

Richie Ashburn. Chase Utley. Steve Carlton. Carlos Ruiz.

You can vote below in the semifinals. Depending on how you define “Ultimate”, a case can be made for any of these players—yes, even Chooch—to win this tournament. And with that, a case will be made for each. First up, Richie Ashburn, with guest presenter…my mom.

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The Case For Whitey: by Susan C. Levy, Dan’s Mom

Richie Ashburn has been my favorite Phillie since I was a little girl. My father would take me to Phillies games and I always knew Richie would get a few hits. I also liked the fact that he was so fast. I was on the track team at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School—I even ran at the Penn Relays—so I could really identify with Richie when he stole a base or ran to make a great catch in centerfield.

Many years later, when he was a broadcaster, my husband and I were sitting at a game in Bill Giles’ box at the Vet. I mentioned to Bill that Richie was my favorite player and that I always wanted to get his autograph but never did. Bill made a quick phone call and minutes later, in walked Richie Ashburn! I was so excited, I felt like a little kid again. We talked for a while and he was nice enough to send me a great autographed picture.

A few weeks later, I was delighted when he wished me a happy birthday during a broadcast. That was the best birthday present I got that year.

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My mom failed to mention one key part to that story, and maybe the biggest reason why Whitey should be considered for the Ultimate Phillie. When my parents met Whitey, he said to my dad, “I see you married a much younger woman.” Considering they are a year apart in age, it was a pretty good burn at the time, but Ashburn couldn’t resist getting him again.

I was just a kid when Whitey and Harry wished my mom happy birthday on the game telecast, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The team had an off day on April 19th that year, so one day before my mom’s birthday it came as a surprise to hear Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn talking about my parents. The exchange went something like this:

Harry (do the Harry voice in your head): Happy birthday to that Susan Levy, 46 years young today. Whitey, we met Susan and her husband, Maury, not long ago. Very nice people.

Whitey: Yep, Harry. I don’t know what she sees in him!

Now, to be fair this was about a quarter century ago, back before we had DVR, so Harry’s words are close, though surely not a direct quote. But I will never, ever, in my life forget the day that Richie Ashburn wished my mom a happy birthday by totally sticking it to my dad.

If that’s not reason enough to vote for him for the Ultimate Phillie, I don’t know what is…other than his Hall of Fame career, of course.

Whitey was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, selected by the Veteran’s Committee after years and years of waiting. He passed away two years later, on September 9, 1997, while preparing for a game against the Mets, the last of his 34-years in the broadcast booth for the Phillies which began in 1963, the year after his retirement as a player.

Ashburn played in the majors for 15 years, 12 with the Phillies before two seasons with the Cubs and one with the expansion Mets. He made the All-Star team four times with the Phillies, finishing as high as seventh in MVP voting twice. A career .308 batter, he hit .311 with the Phillies with an on-base percentage of .394, leading the league in OBP four times in his career. He won the batting title in 1955 (.338) and 1958 (.350) and led the league in hits three times and walks four times.

Ashburn made the World Series just once in his career—helping the Whiz Kids reach the 1950 Series—but struggled in the four-game loss to the Yankees, registering just three hits in 17 at bats.

Per Baseball Reference, Ashburn’s highest-paid season in the majors was his last in Philadelphia, where the centerfielder earned $38,439.

It’s hard to quantify what Ashburn meant to the Phillies franchise, both as a player and a broadcaster, though the Alley named after him at Citizens Bank Park does a pretty good job.

Ashburn may not be the best Phillie in history, but he could be the ultimate.

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