The Ultimate Phillie tournament came down to two legends: Whitey and Lefty. In the end, the most dominant player in Phillies history was bested, as Steve Carlton fell in final round to our winner, Richie Ashburn.
Ashburn won the outfielders region with easy victories over beloved Phillies Lenny Dykstra (90 percent) and Pat Burrell (85.1 percent) then toppled fellow Hall of Famer Chuck Klein (72.9 percent) to reach the Final Four.
It looked as if Ashburn would only get that far, as Mike Schmidt—the greatest position player in franchise history—should have been looming in the semifinals. Alas, Schmidt didn’t even make it that far, as he lost to Chase Utley in the infielders region one round earlier.
We outsourced pitches for the semifinals round, allowing some of the biggest fans of each player to make a case to advance. Making the case for Richie Ashburn was the biggest Whitey fan we could find: my mom, while the case for Utley was made by ABC News anchor and noted Chase enthusiast Karen Travers.
On the other side of the bracket were the pitchers and catchers, and making the case for Lefty was ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi, while the case for Chooch—a surprise semifinalist to say the least—was made by social media maven FanSince09.
While Carlton won easily in the semifinals, Ashburn barely squeaked by Utley, winning with just 52 percent of the vote. It looked like Carlton was in line for a tournament victory.
Until he wasn’t.
Whitey took the final round with relative ease, earning 62.9 percent of the vote over Lefty—officially (and, let’s be honest, rightly) named our Ultimate Phillie. This excerpt from his Baseball Hall of Fame biography, says so much about Ashburn’s game, and his legacy:
A fleet-footed baseball player that used his athletic gifts to get on base and chase down fly balls on the field, then a broadcaster that used his oratory skills to become a much beloved voice off the field, Richie Ashburn would become a fixture on the Philadelphia sports scene for a half century.
Because he played in an era that featured such stalwart center fielders as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider, Ashburn was sometimes overlooked by fans of the game. But during a 15-year big league career, the lefty swinging Ashburn twice won the National League batting title, finished second three times, and nine times batted over .300. A lifetime .308 hitter, his 1,198 walks and 2,574 hits helped him finish with a .397 on-base percentage.
“Ashburn is the fastest man I’ve ever seen getting down to first base,” said Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in 1948. “He’s even faster than Pete Reiser in his prime. Anybody who’s faster than Ashburn isn’t running. He’s flying.”
Ashburn was a really good player, but he may have won this tournament as much for what he did after he retired than while he was playing. Who else has been this prominent a part of the Phillies franchise for nearly 70 years? Who else, nearly 20 years after his death, is still thought of by thousands of fans at every home game?
Whitey played 1,794 of his career 2,189 games with the Phillies, finishing his career with the Cubs and Mets from 1960-62 before retiring and taking a job in the broadcast booth for the Fightins, where he shined for three and a half decades before his death in 1997.
Former Phillies catcher and national broadcaster Tim McCarver explained Ashburn’s relationship with the city by saying, “He has such a powerful connection with the city of Philadelphia because he not only played there but broadcast there for so long. But I think the reason for the warmth fans felt for him was that everyone had a chance to experience his wonderful sense of humor.”
Most of us never saw Ashburn play, but for 34 years in the booth he was still one of our favorite players. Even those too young to remember Ashburn as a player or a broadcaster can still understand what he meant to the franchise, and continue to be a part of his on-going legacy, each time they stroll down Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park.
This tournament may have taken some unlikely turns during the middle stages of voting, but in the end, it seems the system worked.
There weren’t many surprises in the first two rounds, with very few upsets in Round 1 or Round 2. But in the Elite Eight, things changed, and players from the 2008 team beat out those from the 1980 team, including the best player in Phillies history going down before the semifinals. When Michael Jack Schmidt lost to Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz beat Tug McGraw, anything could have happened in the semifinals. But when Ashburn and Carlton prevailed, it set up a wonderful title round, won by the newly-minted Ultimate Phillie: Whitey.
Here is a look at the full bracket, presented by SuperPretzel soft pretzels (click to enlarge). For full biographical capsules on every player, visit our original write-up.