I grew up in Philadelphia in an era where rooting for the Phillies was painful. That cherry red hat with the white frilly italicized “P” on the front symbolized a team that was almost guaranteed to lose more games than they won each year. And their red pinstripe uniforms looked more like pajamas, befitting a team that played like it had just rolled out of bed. There were only two star caliber players on the team of my early youth, the fleet-footed center fielder Richie Ashburn and the bionic armed starting pitcher Robin Roberts. Perhaps more on Roberts another day, but the player I idolized was the one I was guaranteed to see any time my father took me to Connie Mack Stadium, and that was Ashburn. I put a bid on an Ashburn collage at the auction at the ballpark last week, but I didn’t pursue it aggressively because the Rite Aid logo cheapened it a bit for me. I noticed the same print available online through eBay at a more reasonable cost, and I still fancy it because it has the reproduction of all of his cards rimming the exterior a fine watercolor rendering of the most effective leadoff hitter in the Phillies 134 year history.
The collage begins on the upper left with Ashburn’s card from 1948. I couldn’t find it online, other than as part of this commemorative set – it’s the card on your far right.
Here is a Mitchell & Ness reproduction of the 1948 uniform that Ashburn wore, breaking in that year with his signature #1 that he wore his entire career.
Interestingly the first time the Phillies brought back those vintage 1948 uniforms was as an alternate jersey for daytime home games in 2008, and it clearly brought them luck in winning only their second World Series in franchise history. Here is a shot of Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels modeling those spiffy red, white and blue uniforms.
Richie’s 1950 Bowman card is pictured here, with a graphic design look and a plain appearance that they would wear to a four games to one World Series sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees that year.
Ashburn’s 1951 card shows the transition to the red pinstripe look that he would wear until through the 1959 season.
And here are the rest of Richie’s playing years in chronological cards, beginning with a 1951 Topps through the early ’60s when he was jettisoned (in 1960) to the Chicago Cubs in return for John Buzhardt, Alvin Dark, Jim Woods – about as productive a package as a box of Wrigley’s gum. (Richie had a great year in 1960, tailed off in 1961, and then bounced back with a nice year in 1962 when the Mets bought him to spearhead their new team. He retired after that year.)
When Richie retired in 1962 as a Met, at age 35, he posted a .306 batting average with a phenomenal .424 on base percentage, numbers that most current leadoff hitters can only dream of. The Mets expected him back in 1963, and his card was printed for that year, but he had the courage to exit the game when he was still on top.
It’s safe to say that Richie will be remembered as one of the ultimate Phillies, unique in entering the broadcasting booth after retiring and ultimately pairing with the incomparable incomparable Harry Kalas. Ashburn Alley bears his name in center field in Citizens Bank Park, in honor of the fluidity with which he patrolled the position in Connie Mack Stadium.
Each spring on Clearwater Beach I’m reminded of how Richie held court in and around Heilman’s Beachcomber and Jack Russell Stadium. But mostly I’m reminded of how he motored around the bases as an idol of my youth.