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The freeman's journal. (Cooperstown, N.Y.) 1924-1996, July 30, 1995, Image 13

Image and text provided by New York State Historical Association

Persistent link: http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83031249/1995-07-30/ed-1/seq-13/


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FREEMAN’S JOURNAL ~ BASEBALL July 30. 1995 .13 RICHIE ASHBURN: standii^ At By BILL WOLCOTT Reporter TOP RIGHT: Richie Ashhum Is regarded a s o n e of the heat defensive center fielders to play the game, here snagging a long drive up against the wall. RIGHT: Aahhum hit .362 In 1847, his tiest year at the plate. may hi slowed by time, but tbe once-speedy cenlerfielder has finally caught up to his peers. A defensive whiz, who choked up on the bat for better control, and a high­ er average. Richie Ashbum nevertheless stood in the shadows of the other great centerfield- eie of his era - Mickey Mantle. Willie Mays and Duke Snider - at least in ' the national media. “I never g ave a lot of thought to it.” Ashbum said in a June interview with the Freeman’s Journal. The national exposure didn’t mean that much to me.” As Ashbum gets set to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s ironic that at one time in his life. Ashbum was considering not playing baseball at all. After his contract with the Chicago Cubs was nulli­ fied by the commission­ er’s ofTice, Ashbum decid­ ed to enroll in college to study his second love ■ teaching. “I probably would have been a teacher if I hadn't been a ballplayer, because my sister and brother were teachers,\ he said. So in the fall of 1944, Ashbum enrolled in Norfolk Junior College, 25 miles from his hometown of Tilden, NB. to become an elementary school teacher, Ashbum completed a semester before the Philadelphia Phillies Signed him to minor league contract in February of 1945. Between seasons Ashbum returned to Norfolk and eventually earned his degree and met his future wife Herberta Cox. also studying to b ecom e a teacher. Ashbum started out Ms pro­ fessional career just SO miles up the road a s a catcher with the Uti(^ Blue Sox of the Eastern League in 1945. Aoxjrding to o n e published accxiunt. Phillies teammate Putsy Caballero, who played with Ashbum at Utica, said the 18-year-otd catcher was moved to the outfield after his first 3 0 gam es with the Blue Sox because he talked too much. Not so, said Ashbum. “I was a pretty good catcher, but I could run pretty well,\ he said. “So my manager (Eddie Sawyer) thought my speed would be better utilized in the outfield.\ : °\iii centerfield, chargee ball, picked up on tl and fired it in to hor and who went home, ied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, the Dodger's Cal Abrams reached first with a waik then went to second on a singie by Pee Wee Reese. Duke Snider then lined a shot into shal­ low centerfield and Abrams was off and run­ ning. But Ashbum, who lys played a shallow erfield, charged the the hop I plate. The ball beat Abrams by 15 feet. “It was a very routine play at a crucial time,\ a still modest Ashbum said “I figured if I did what I was supposed to do I would make the play, and I did. But even after the play we were still m a pretty tough bind.” After that, Philadelphia pitcher Robin Roberts set­ tled down, and the Phit's won it on a three-run shot by Dick Sisier in the 10th I But his, and his team's, I hopes were dashed by the j Bronx Bombers, who ! swept them in the World Series. If would be Ashburn’s only World Senes appearance Ashburn's throw typified his style of play, with con­ fidence. whether batting, base running or fielding “I think if you are going to be a professional ath­ lete, you better have some cohfidence.\ he said. \I just utilized what I had. 1 had great speed and I just tried to build my game around that both spring t and he Ashbum finished the season with a .312 batting average, missed all of 1946 becai -362 in 1947. Those numbers earned Ashbum a spot on the Phil’s training roster in 1948. would never leave. Incredibly, the speedy 21- year-old wrenched the starting centerfielder position away from Harry T h e Hat” Walker, the reigning National League batting champion, after Walker was a holdout in a salary dispute with the Phillies. And Ashbum proved Phillies management right. In his rookie year, Ashbum was leading the league in bat­ ting (.333), steals (32) and played in the All-Star Game. before a hand-injury ended his season in August. “I just played, and whatever would h appen, would happen.\ Ashbum said. He was one of the original PhilUes’ Whiz Kids who become popular when they took National League East pen­ nant in I960. But it was the final game of the regular season, where Ashbum helped his team most. Tied with the Brooklyn itop thie in Brooklyn to decide who went Dodgers atop th National League East, the two team s met offensively and defensive­ ly. And It just seemed to Ashbum constantly worked on perfecting his game, whether batting fielding or running “I knew that I really had to work on it. arid 1 did \ said Ashburn. who also said he “envied\ Mantle’s combination of power and ishburn's star shown bnght- ered ovi ers. He had a record 400 more putouts to lead the league in nine seasons. In contrast, Mays, known a s one of the greatest all-time fly-shaggers. led league only once in putouts After 12-years with the Phillies, Ashbum was traded to the Cubs (1960-61) and then moved to the fledgling New York )u know, the spe^ est in the field, where he tow- his fellon jllow centerfield- Mets that still hold the record for the most losses in a season. \I did get some enjoyment out of that season.” he said. “ I made a lot of friends, and I loved (manager) Casey Stengel. But a s much as we lost (120 games), I just didn't want to go through another year like that.\ After the season that set the record for futility, the 35-year-old Ashburn decided to hang up his glove, pack his bags and spend his retirement with his family in Tilden, despite hitting well. “I just thought it was time,” Ashburn said. “If 1 had been with a contending team I probably would have played on a couple more years. But I didn’t want to be hanging around just to make more money ” Ironically, Ashburn's decision may have cost him an early induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame Ashbum finished with a career 2.574 hits, slightly more than 400 hits shy of the benchmark 3,000 that would have enhanced his resume. But his retirement didn’t last Three months later he was given chance to comeback to the Phillies as a radio announc­ er And that is where Ashburn has spent the bulk of his career (33 years), as a color commen­ tator for radio, television and a baseball columnist for two Philadelphia newspapers But that s another story and maybe another Induction Day ■| don t think so.\ Ashbum said “But there was a time I thought that I would be the only player rejected in three separate categories, playing, writing and broadcasting.\ Editor s note Ashbum is cur­ rently working for WPHL, a inde- pendant cable sports channel in Philadelphia and has recently Signed a three-year contract that will carry him into 1998 Mets in 1963 You k THE 1995 COOPERSTOWN COLLECTION Alice Busch Opera Theatre 14sa Doubleday Field 1 7 2 i Otsego CoQiily Coiflhouse Presbyterian Church m i m COUNTRY MEMOaiES R T a O -iM lR O A D SPRINGFIELD a N T l R NEW YORK, mm OPEN DAILY |@AM-§PM Shipping 1-4 pieces N¥ rcsif M m Bats* Bats, Bats! I WMe you're in Coopeislown be sure to visit us at 66 Main Street! Select a rem em b rance of your visit to baseball's hom e ­ tow n , invest in a collectible, have your nam e put on a bat, or just say hello! If you're up for a short drive outside of Cooperstown (2.5 miles on Rt. 28N), you're very welcome to vidt our factory in Fly Creek and watch us making our b a^ and a bat turning 4esiofislraM©ii. H o u rs! mtifiSfsmit i6 Hralti CoopemtoiNn: Hy.fw'tetiRtiefy:, ■tdwdayS-S April 1 • Colurnttus Day Bat Turning demonatrattens (during July S August) S a tra p ©nVJuttd. 8cpt. & Oot.(rf.rffa;aGfl:iiiKby30a?) Or c a ll u s for a color c a talog! (607) S47441S i /V ill

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