Whitey. Lefty. Two of the greatest players in Phillies history are the last two left in our search to find the Ultimate Phillie.
This tournament started out without many surprises in the first two rounds, as there were very few upsets in Round 1 or Round 2. But in the Elite 8, things changed, and players from the 2008 team beat out those from the 1980 team. When Michael Jack Schmidt lost to Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz beat Tug McGraw, it proved anything could have happened in the semifinals.
We outsourced our pitches for the penultimate round, allowing some of the biggest fans of each semifinalist to make a case for that player to advance. Making the case for Richie Ashburn was the biggest Whitey fan we could find: My mom. Making the case for Lefty was ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi. Making the case for Utley was ABC News political reporter and noted Chase enthusiast Karen Travers. Last, making the case for Chooch was social media maven FanSince09.
One of the Final Four votes was extremely close, while the other was….not. Richie Ashburn pulled off the win over Chase Utley with just 52 percent of the tally, while Steve Carlton defeated Carlos Ruiz with 75.6 percent of that vote. Sadly, Chooch’s unpredictable run has come to an end, but it leaves us with one fantastic finale.
Vote now in the final round of the Ultimate Phillie bracket, presented by SuperPretzel Soft Pretzels!
Here is a look at the full bracket (click to enlarge). For full biographical capsules on every player, visit our original write-up.
Remember, this tournament is the search for the Ultimate Phillies player, not just the best Phillies player. Frankly, if we were looking for the best, despite being a Hall of Famer, there’s little chance Ashburn would have gotten this far. And yet, in a tournament like this, you can only play who is next, and with Utley’s surprise win over Schmidt in the quarterfinals, Ashburn was able to beat out Utley in the semis.
That’s not to suggest Whitey doesn’t deserve to be in the finals. Whether he wins this vote or not, Ashburn may truly be the ultimate Philadelphia Phillie. Who else has been this prominent a part of the Phillies franchise for nearly 70 years? Who else, almost 20 years after his death, is still remembered by thousands of fans at every home game?
Ashburn made his debut for the Phillies on April 20, 1948. He hit .333 that season, leading the league in stolen bases, while finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting after making the All-Star team. Ashburn won two batting titles in his time in Philly, playing some of the best centerfield in the majors at the time. Along with Del Ennis and Robin Roberts, Ashburn helped lead the 1950 Phillies to the World Series.
He was a career .311 hitter in Philly with a .394 on base percentage, playing 1,794 of his career 2,189 games with the Phillies before finishing his career with the Cubs and Mets from 1960-62. After his retirement, Ashburn took a job in the broadcast booth for the Fightins, where he shined for three and a half decades before his death in 1997.
As the memory of Richie Ashburn the player fades, the Phillies made certain his legacy never will. When the team moved to Citizens Bank Park, they made sure Ashburn would remain as much a part of the gameday experience as possible. Ashburn Alley, which stretches from left field to the deepest parts of center, is one of the coolest features of any ballpark in the majors; a true destination for both die-hard fans and those coming to the stadium for the first time. Ashburn is as much a part of the Phillies for this generation of fans to celebrate as he was leading the Whiz Kids in the ’50s, or covering games with Harry Kalas in the booth all those years after he retired.
Whitey advanced to the finals with 90 percent of the vote over Lenny Dykstra in the first round and, 85.1 percent over Pat Burrell in Round 2. In the Elite 8, Ashburn beat out fellow Hall of Famer Chuck Klein with 72.9 percent of the vote before toppling Utley with 52 percent of the semifinal vote. Now he faces his toughest competition yet.
It would have been fascinating to see Schmidt going against Carlton in the finals: the greatest Phillies slugger ever going up against the team’s greatest pitcher. Alas, when Utley ruined that, it changed the entire tournament—and certainly the finale—into something different. Now the finale is asking a more simple question than who was the better player. This is asking who means more to the fans, and the franchise? In other words, who was the better Phillie?
Carlton is surely the best Phillies pitcher ever, and is probably the franchise’s best player. He won his first round vote with 97.3 percent and beat out Cole Hamels in the second round—lefty vs. lefty—with 78.8 percent of the vote. In the quarterfinals he won over Robin Roberts, certainly the team’s second-best pitcher ever, with 73.2 percent of the vote. He toppled Chooch with 75.6 percent of the vote. There hasn’t been one round that was even close for Lefty, because he’s just that damn good.
Carlton is one of the two best left-handed pitchers to ever play the game. He won the Cy Young Award four times and was a 10-time All Star. In his first year in Philadelphia he won 27 games with a 1.97 ERA that included 30 complete games in 41 starts with 310 strikeouts, all league best marks. As Negandhi pointed out in his pitch for Lefty, the 1972 Phillies only won 59 games that season, and 29 of them came in Carlton starts.
Carlton gave up more than four runs in just one of his 10 losses that season, and was saddled with two losses in games he pitched 10 scoreless innings and a complete 11-inning game in which he only gave up two runs. The 1972 season was one of the single best pitching performances in history, given Carlton’s numbers and just how terrible the team was that year. And a case can be made Carlton got better after that.
He won four Cy Young awards in Philly, leading the NL in wins in each of those seasons. In 1980 he not only won the Cy Young, but led the Phillies to the World Series, earning the win in three of his four postseason starts while striking out 23 batters in 27.1 innings.
He won his last Cy Young award in 1982 and, after a down year for him in 1983, was lights out in the NLCS, winning two games while giving up just one run in 13.2 innings to lead the Phillies over the Dodgers to get back to the World Series.
Carlton began his career in St. Louis, playing there seven seasons, including two trips to the World Series with the Cardinals. But a hold out for more money—he wanted $65,000—led the Cardinals to trade Carlton to the Phillies for Rick Wise. They rest is, well, you know. Carlton stayed with the Phillies through his prime, turning the franchise into a bona fide contender during that time, until the team released him in June of 1986.
Rather than retire, which he probably should have done two seasons prior, Carlton hitched on with the Giants. For one month. After San Francisco released him, he signed with the White Sox. The next season, at age 42, he was signed by Cleveland before they traded him to the Twins later that summer. He stayed with Minnesota, after being released and re-signed, until April 1988, ending his 23-year career in the majors.
Carlton wouldn’t talk to the media for stints during his career, something that certainly continued after he retired. Carlton became something of a recluse, and a conspiracy theorist, not participating in many team-organized activities over the years. There is no questioning his greatness on the mound, but everything off the mound as it pertains to the Phillies’ faithful, may have this vote leaning away from Lefty, and more to Whitey.
Both men are in Cooperstown. Which will be the winner here? It’s as simple as how each voter defines “ultimate.”