Category Archives: Philography

Philography: Mike Schmidt

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Statue of Michael Jack Schmidt, the greatest player in Phillies history, stands outside of Citizens Bank Park

 

This Philography series has now weaved its way through 20 individuals who have played a big part in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise. So it is perhaps fitting that we now take a look back at the career of #20 himself, the greatest player in franchise history, Mike Schmidt.

Philography began with 18 pieces that I wrote during each off-season between 2014-17. Over the last few months I re-introduced the series here at Phillies Nation with two of the players whose actual uniform numbers the Phillies have retired: Richie Ashburn and Jim Bunning.
Entire books can be written – have been written – in order to fully tell the story of one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. I’m not going to try to do that here. If you are interested in getting in deeper, check out a fine biography at this link written back in 2010 by Rob Maaddi titled Mike Schmidt: The Phillies’ Legendary Slugger.
In order to keep this to a reasonable article-length piece, I will simply rehash the early playing career, and then key on the 1980 highlights of the greatest third baseman in the history of the game, with a little background tossed in here and there. It should make for a great introduction for younger fans, and a fun bit of nostalgia for those who, like me, actually got to see him play.

BEGINNINGS

Schmidt was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio and stayed home to play college baseball at Ohio University. He was a shortstop in those days and was selected at that position to the 1970 College Baseball All-America Team after leading the Bobcats to the College World Series.
With the sixth pick in the second round of the 1971 MLB Amateur Draft, the Phillies selected Schmidt at 30th overall. That was just one pick after the Kansas City Royals had chosen a California shortstop by the name of George Brett.
Schmidt described his contract signing process in a 2015 piece by Matt Monagan for MLB.com’s Cut 4:
The next day, Mr. Lucadello (Phillies scout Tony Lucadello) came to the house, pulled in the driveway, opened his trunk and he pulled out a typewriter. He pulled a typewriter out, walked in the house, set the typewriter down, had a piece of paper and said, “We’re prepared to offer Mike $25,000 if he’ll sign with the Phillies right now.” And my father said, “No way. Come back when you can give us $40,000.” We ended up settling on $37,500 and I went out and bought a Corvette for $7,000.
As an advanced college prospect, Schmidt went straight to Double-A Reading that same summer. He appeared in his first 74 professional games there, hitting .211 with eight homers and 31 RBI over 268 plate appearances.
With a full off-season of rest, Schmidt moved up to Triple-A Eugene for the 1972 season and really showed his ability. He slashed .291/.409/.550 while slamming 26 home runs and driving in 91 runs over 131 games.

MONEY FOR A CUP OF COFFEE

That performance earned him a September promotion to a 59-win, last-place Phillies club. The starting third baseman at that time was 25-year-old Don Money, who the Phillies had high hopes for at one point. However, Money hit just .222 with 15 homers that year following up on a 1971 season in which he had hit just .221 with seven homers.
Schmidt didn’t light the world on fire in that first brief big-league cup of coffee. But he got to appear in 13 games, and made eight starts at the hot corner alongside a fiery 26-year-old shortstop by the name of Larry Bowa.
On September 16, 1972 in the first game of a doubleheader at Veteran’s Stadium against the Montreal Expos, Schmidt blasted a three-run homer off Balor Moore for his first career round-tripper. It would turn out to be a game-winner, taking the Phillies from a 1-0 deficit to a 3-1 lead that would also end up as the final score that night.
Realizing that the Phillies had their starting third baseman for years to come, general manager Paul Owens swung a deal the very next month, shipping Money, infielder John Vukovich, and pitcher Bill Champion to the Milwaukee Brewers for four hurlers, including veteran Jim Lonborg and George Brett‘s brother, Ken Brett.
Schmidt’s contributions to the 1972 Phillies season, such as they were, were lost on most of Phillies Nation at that time. The big story had been the performance of a new arrival, starting pitcher Steve Carlton. The left-hander won 27 games and the NL Cy Young Award that year for a last place team. Little did anyone know that he and Schmidt would become the cornerstones of great Phillies teams for years to come.

RISE TO CONTENDERS

In his first season as a starter, Schmidt struggled mightily, slashing just .196/.324/.373 with 18 home runs. The Phillies again finished in the basement of the National League East Division, but under new manager Danny Ozark they showed some progress overall, entering September just six games off the division lead.
The 1974 season would prove to be a big step forward for both the team and its young third sacker. Schmidt slashed .282/.395/.546 and led the NL with 36 homers. He also produced 116 RBI, 108 runs scored, and 23 stolen bases, was selected as a reserve for the National League All-Star team and would finish sixth in the NL MVP voting.
On June 10 of that 1974 season in Houston, Schmidt drove an offering from Astros pitcher Claude Osteen that was a no-doubt home run right off the bat. But as the ball soared up and up at the Astrodome it struck a public address speaker that was suspended 117 feet up and 329 feet out from home plate. The ball fell into center field for what ended up as one of the longest singles ever hit.
Sparked by Schmidt’s emergence and the veteran influence of new second baseman Dave Cash the Phillies spent much of June and July of that summer of 1974 in first place. Though the club wilted in the August heat, they still won 80 games for the first time in eight years and ended the season in third place, the highest finish by a Phillies team since 1966.
The 1975 season would see the Phillies take another step forward. The team won 86 games and was tied for first place as late as August 18. The Phillies went 11-7 against the division power at that time, the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Pirates. But the Bucs again pulled away at the end, finishing 6.5 games ahead.
Schmidt had a bit of a fall-off that season, hitting just .249 and seeing his strikeouts total soar to a league-leading 180. But he also led the league for a second straight season with 38 home runs. He and left fielder Greg Luzinski gave the Phillies the most feared combination of sluggers in the game. “The Bull” slashed .300/.394/.540 that year with 34 homers and 120 RBI, making the NL All-Star team and finishing as the NL MVP runner-up.

BECOMING THE BEST

The Bicentennial season of 1976 would finally see the Phillies overtake the Pirates as kings of the east. Led by a rejuvenated Schmidt, the club would romp to a franchise-record 101 regular season victories. They moved into first place on May 14 and would never relinquish the lead, building a 15.5 game cushion at one point and finishing on top by nine games.
Schmidt led the charge for that club, again leading the league with 38 homers and also finishing with an NL-best 306 total bases. On April 17 he blasted four home runs during an 18-16 Phillies victory over the host Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Schmidt was selected for his second NL All-Star team, finished third in the National League MVP vote, and was honored with his first Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence at third base.
In the Phillies first-ever NLCS appearance, Schmidt was shut down over the first two games by Cincinnati. The Reds won both games by 6-3 and 6-2 at The Vet as he went just 1-8 in the two games combined. In Game 3 back at Riverfront Stadium, Schmidt finally broke out with three hits. But the big bats of the Big Red Machine scored three times in the bottom of the 9th, rallying to a 7-6 victory and the National League pennant.
The next three seasons would be a mixture of success and frustration. The Phillies equaled their record 101 wins in 1977, then won 90 games in 1978. They captured the NL East each season, giving them three consecutive division crowns. But the team came up short each year in the National League Championship Series, dropping back-to-back heart-breakers to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Frustrated by the Phillies inability to get over the hump in the postseason, Owens decided to finally go after a big piece in a free agency process that was only a few years old at that point. On December 5, 1978 he signed perennial All-Star Pete Rose, who had helped lead the Reds to World Series titles in both 1975 and 1976.
With Rose on board the Phillies opened 1979 as favorites once again. Things were going as planned early on, as the club built a 3.5 game division lead by early May and were still sitting atop the division on May 27. But then it all came suddenly and unexpectedly crashing down.
Starting on May 28 the Phillies lost six straight games. That began a 38-51 collapse over the next three months. Despite a 19-11 final month the 1979 Phillies would finish in fourth place, a distant 14 games behind the famed “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates team that would go on to become World Series champions.
That victory in the Fall Classic was the second of the decade for the Phillies main division rivals. It was the fifth overall World Series title for Pittsburgh. The Phillies had still never won a single World Series crown in what was then 97 seasons of existence.
From 1977-79, Schmidt cemented his place as one of the true stars of the game. He won the NL Gold Glove Award each season and twice was a National League All-Star. In 1979 his 45 home runs set a new Phillies franchise record, breaking the old mark of 43 set by Chuck Klein all the way back in 1929.
But that 1979 collapse had cost the laid-back Ozark his job. He was replaced by Dallas Green and his no-nonsense, in-your-face. It would be under Green that the team would turn it back around for that 19-11 final month performance.

1980 MANDATE

Green took over as Phillies manager at the end
of the 1979 season. He would drive the
team hard, but it all paid off in the end.
There was only one mandate as the 1980 season began, win a championship. If it failed to happen then an aging Phillies core was likely to see major changes after that season. That core of Schmidt, Bowa, Luzinski, and catcher Bob Boone had been together for most of the decade. They had led the rise to contending status but were also continually falling short in the playoffs.
Coming off their fourth-place finish, the Phillies were not considered division favorites entering the season. Sure enough the Phillies sat in fourth place and were already 5.5 games out on May 10. But by the All-Star break they had scratched and clawed their way back into the race.
For the first time since the opening days of the season, the Phillies took sole possession of first place in the NL East on July 11. And yet that was not a jumping off point.
On July 19 they were swept in a doubleheader by the Atlanta Braves. On August 10 they were again swept in a doubleheader, this time by the Pirates. Counting and between those two sweeps, the club lost 14 of 22 games to fall six off the division lead.
Unlike the prior season, the Phillies refused to die. Victories in eight of nine games at the end of August put them back into the race. It would remain a nail-biter from that point onwards. On the weekend of September 26-28, the Expos won two of three at The Vet to take a half-game lead. Those would be the last games that the Phillies would lose until the season finale.
Over the final week, the Phillies won four straight to even things up. This would set the stage for what may be the most dramatic back-to-back regular season games in franchise history, and Schmidt would play a pivotal role in both contests.

SHOWDOWN NORTH OF THE BORDER

On Friday night, October 3 the Phillies and Expos began a season-closing three game series at Stade Olympique in Montreal with the two teams tied atop the division. Behind Schmidt’s first inning sacrifice fly and sixth inning solo home run, and a tremendous two-inning relief stint from Tug McGraw, the Phillies won the opener by a 2-1 score.
That left the Phillies needing just one win to clinch the division crown. However, a win by Montreal would even things again, setting up a winner-take-all season finale. Rain and extra-innings on that Saturday, October 4 combined to add to the drama as the Phillies trailed by a run heading to the 9th inning of Game 161.
A pair of bang-bang plays at first base, the second on which Schmidt was called out when replay showed he was actually safe, left Bake McBride on second base with two outs. Down to their final out, Boone sliced the second pitch from 40-year-old former Phillies pitcher Woodie Fryman to center. McBride stumbled around third, but still raced home with the tying run.
The two teams remained knotted at 4-4 into the top of the 11th inning. With one out and Rose at first base, Schmidt stepped in against 35-year-old, 14-year veteran Stan Bahnsen. Working the count to 2-0, Schmidt got a fastball on Bahnsen’s third offering “right down the pipe” as Harry Kalas described it on TV and drove it deep out to left field – “He buried it!” as called by Andy Musser on radio – for a 6-4  Phillies lead.
In the bottom of the 11th, McGraw would set the Expos down in order, blowing a fastball by Larry Parrish for the final out. Schmidt led the charge to the mound as the Phillies celebrated their fourth NL East crown in five years. They could be forgiven if they thought that in the NLCS against the Houston Astros, things couldn’t possibly get any tougher, more exciting, or more dramatic. They would also have been wrong.
In what many consider to still be the greatest NLCS of all-time, the Phillies defeated the Astros by 3-2. After Luzinski’s home run gave them a 3-1 victory in the opener at Veteran’s Stadium the next four games would all be decided in extra-innings.
Trailing by two games to one, their backs to the wall with the host Astros needing just one win, the Phillies found themselves trailing by 2-0 entering the top of the 8th inning of Game 4 of that 1980 NLCS. But four straight singles, the last a game-tier by Schmidt to score Lonnie Smith, gave the Phillies the lead. They would ultimately win it in 10 innings to tie the series.
Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS is perhaps the single greatest postseason comeback in Phillies history. Trailing legendary future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan by 5-2 entering the top of the 8th inning, the Phillies rallied for four runs.
Schmidt would play no part in this famous game, going 0-5 and striking out three times, including right in the middle of that rally and again to lead off the top of the 10th inning. The Phillies would win it when Garry Maddox doubled to center with two outs in that 10th frame, scoring Del Unser with the eventual game-winner. Dick Ruthven shut down Houston in the bottom of the frame, and the Phillies were going to the World Series for the first time in 30 years.

WORLD SERIES MVP

The 1980 World Series would provide a showcase for the two players who were drafted at #29 and 30 overall back in 1971. Brett and Schmidt had each developed into perennial All-Stars and both had put up Most Valuable Player seasons that year. Schmidt broke Eddie Mathews‘ NL record by hitting 48 home runs. Brett took a run at becoming the first player to hit .400 in a season since Ted Williams in 1941, finishing at the .390 mark.
In that Fall Classic, the Phillies would finally capture the first championship in franchise history. They defeated Brett and the Royals by four games to two. Schmidt led the way with two homers, seven RBI and six runs scored, capturing the World Series Most Valuable Player honors.
With Game 2 at The Vet tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th inning, Schmidt doubled off Royals closer Dan Quisenberry to score McBride. He then rumbled home on a base hit by Keith Moreland, giving the Phillies a 6-4 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
The Royals battled back to win the first two in Kansas City to tie the series, and took a 3-2 lead into the top of the 9th inning of Game 5, looking to take the series lead. Schmidt came through again. He led off the inning with a base hit against Quisenberry and when Unser followed with a double into the right field corner, Schmidt raced all the way around from first to tie the game. Unser would later score on a Manny Trillo double, and the Phillies were one win away.
In the climactic Game 6 it was Schmidt’s two-run single in the bottom of the 3rd inning that opened the scoring. Steve Carlton delivered a strong seven-inning effort and then turned the ball over to McGraw, who by that point was running on fumes. But Tug battled through the final two innings, finally striking out Willie Wilson to end it. Schmidt led that charge, leaping up into McGraw’s arms as their teammates swarmed them.

THE 1980’S

Of course, that is far from the end of the Mike Schmidt career or story, but I’m going to begin to wind to a close with mostly summations. As I said at the beginning, his is a story worth of a book.
Over the rest of the 1980’s, Schmidt would mostly continue as one of baseball’s superstar players. He captured NL MVP honors in 1980, 1981, and 1986. He was a Gold Glover and Silver Slugger winner from 1980-84 and again in 1986. He was an NL All-Star in eight of the decades ten seasons.
The Phillies returned to the playoffs in 1981, and to the World Series in 1983. But that 1980 world championship would be the only title won by the team during his 18-year career.
A milestone was reached on April 18, 1987 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. With the Phillies trailing the host Pirates by 6-5 in the top of the 9th inning, Schmidt came to the plate. Juan Samuel was at third base as the potential tying run, and Von Hayes stood on first as the go-ahead run.
Bucs pitcher Don Robinson fell behind Schmidt by 3-0, and then tried to sneak a fastball past him. It was a huge mistake. Schmidt crushed the pitch deep out to left field for a three-run homer that put the Phillies on top. Not only that, but it was career home run #500 for Schmidt, making him just the seventh player in Major League Baseball history to reach that plateau.
As the decade was drawing to a close, Schmidt entered the 1989 season as a 39-year-old who recognized that his once-dominating skills were clearly deteriorating. That had become somewhat noticeable as early as 1985, when the team had asked him to move over to first base temporarily at age 35 to accommodate young third baseman Rick Schu.
Schmidt bounced back from that slight indignity to have two of his best all-around seasons in 1986 and 1987. The Phillies won 86 games in that 1986 campaign. It would have been good enough for a Wildcard berth, if one existed at that time. Since it did not, that only left the team as distant runners-up in the NL East race to a 108-win New York Mets team that would go on to capture the World Series.

ENDING OUT WEST

On May 29, 1989 the Phillies were in San Diego to start the final series of a long west coast road trip. The team had lost five games in a row and 10 of their last 12 contests overall. The team was 8.5  games off the division lead already, 10 games under the .500 mark, and struggling through what would clearly be a third consecutive losing season, their fourth in five years.
The previous day at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Schmidt had taken an 0-3 collar. It would be the final game of his storied career. In his final plate appearance in the top of the 9th inning, Schmidt drew a walk from Mike LaCoss. He would advance to second base, and was running to third as Curt Ford grounded into a game-ending double play. Schmidt would turn and walk off a big-league field for the final time as an active player.
Of course, no one knew that at the time. It was not until an emotional press conference upon the team’s arrival in San Diego the next day that a tearful Schmidt would stand at his locker with Ashburn beside him and announce his retirement.
Despite his announcement, baseball fans voted him as the starting third baseman for the National League All-Star team. Schmidt declined to play but would don the Phillies uniform one more time in order to take part in pre-game introduction ceremonies.

STATISTICS AND HONORS

Over the course of his career, Schmidt slashed .267/.380/.527 with 548 home runs. That home run total left him seventh on baseball’s all-time list at the time of his retirement behind only Hank AaronBabe RuthWillie MaysFrank RobinsonHarmon Killebrew, and Reggie Jackson.
Schmidt also compiled 2,234 hits with 1,595 RBI while scoring 1,506 runs. He won three National League Most Valuable Player awards, the 1980 World Series MVP, and was a 12x NL All-Star. He was honored with 10 Gold Gloves and a half-dozen Silver Slugger awards. He received NL MVP votes for nine seasons in which he didn’t win the honor, including finishing third twice.
In January 1990, Schmidt was named as the 1980’s Player of the Decade by The Sporting News. The Phillies officially retired his number 20 during a ceremony at Veteran’s Stadium on May 26, and he was inducted that year as the 12th person on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
Five years after his retirement, Schmidt was elected on the first ballot for enshrinement to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 96.5% of the vote. He would be joined in the induction ceremonies that summer by Ashburn, who had been voted in by the veteran’s committee.
In 1997, Schmidt was voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America as the third baseman on their Major League Baseball All-Time Team. Two years later, The Sporting News published their list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, ranking Schmidt at #28. He was the highest-ranked third baseman and highest player whose career began after the 1967 season. He was also elected in 1999 to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
When the Phillies opened the new Citizens Bank Park for the 2004 season, Schmidt was one of four players honored with a statue at the new ballpark, joining his teammate Carlton, along with Ashburn and Robin Roberts. A decade later his collegiate #10 was retired by his alma mater at Ohio University.

A PHILLIES ICON

Schmidt has remained active with the Phillies community since his playing days. In 1990 he was a commentator during Phillies broadcasts on the old PRISM cable TV network. Since 2002 he has frequently appeared at Phillies spring training to help work with the players, a role he will fill once again this year in Clearwater.
Just last spring, Schmidt expounded on his way of thinking during an interview with Todd Zolecki of MLB.com:
Assuming you have a pretty good base for hitting mechanically, I believe you’ve got to be a thinking man’s hitter. I don’t believe in freelancing, which is what I call it, when you go to home plate and you see the ball and hit it. I don’t believe in the see the ball and hit it approach. Just going to home plate, ‘If he strikes me out he strikes me out, if I get a hit, I get a hit.’ I believe in a plan for each day. If you don’t want to do that, I don’t think you’re on the right track toward reaching your potential. Everybody told me I thought too much when I played, but I wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if it wasn’t for my crazy brain taking me to different levels.
He managed the High-A Clearwater Threshers during the 2004 season, and then Schmidt served as the third base coach for Team USA which included Phillies players Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino at the World Baseball Classic in 2009.
In June of 2014, Schmidt was on hand as Rollins passed him to become the Phillies all-time hits leader. Schmidt remains second on that list today. He is the franchise all-time leader in games played, home runs, RBI, runs scored, walks, and strikeouts. Schmidt is also second in at-bats, third in slugging percentage and fifth in OPS on the club’s all-time list.
Schmidt had yet another honor bestowed on him in a vote by fans back in 2006. In what was known as the DHL Hometown Heroes event that year, Schmidt beat out Ashburn, Carlton, Klein, and Roberts in fan voting for the greatest player in Phillies history. The only players to receive more overall votes with their team were Aaron, Ruth, Brett, Tom Seaver of the Mets, and Ty Cobb of the Tigers.
Starting in 2014 and continuing into the upcoming 2019 season, Schmidt has joined the Phillies television broadcasts for weekend home games, providing color commentary. Fans of a new generation are enjoying listening to the insights, opinions, and anecdotes during those “Weekend with Schmidt” telecasts from the greatest player in Phillies history.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Philography: Mike Schmidt

Philography: Jim Bunning

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After retiring from baseball, Bunning entered politics, becoming a U.S. Senator from his home state of Kentucky

 

Earlier this off-season my “Philography” series highlighting the playing career of various important figures in Philadelphia Phillies history came here to Phillies Nation.

The series began a few years back and has now grown to 19 individuals for whom I have presented a mini-biography. This year I’ve chosen to go right to the cream of the crop, the five individuals for whom the Phillies organization has actually retired an official uniform number.
Back in late November it was Richie Ashburn, whose uniform #1 was retired by the Phillies when he became the second man honored with a spot on the franchise Wall of Fame in summer 1979.
Now the series resumes with the sixth person honored with a spot on that Wall of Fame in 1984, pitcher Jim Bunning. The right-hander who pitched with the Phillies from 1964-67 and again to close out his big-league career in 1970-71 had his uniform #14 retired on April 6, 2001.
Bunning actually played more seasons with the Detroit Tigers of the American League (9) than his half-dozen years in Philadelphia. And his second career as a politician in which he became a state senator, then a U.S. Congressman, and finally a United States Senator from his home state of Kentucky was perhaps even more notable than his baseball accomplishments.

But those baseball accomplishments were certainly more than just notable. They were strong enough that Bunning was elected for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veteran’s committee in 1996.

 

Per a tremendous piece by Ralph Berger for SABR, which I urge you to read at that link, Bunning was born into a tightly-knit middle-class Catholic family who lived on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, just across from Cincinnati.
Per the Berger bio, Bunning became a pitcher as a boy since he owned the only ball among his friends’ group. He grew up as a Cincinnati Reds fan. His favorite player was pitcher Bucky Walters, who became the National League MVP in 1939 when Bunning was just seven years old.
Bunning played not only baseball, but also football and basketball as a teenager at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. Then as a freshman at Xavier University, Bunning was offered a contract by a scout with the Detroit Tigers. He would ultimately sign for a $4,000 bonus and $150 monthly salary.

One of the stipulations of his signing was that he be allowed to complete his college education at Xavier. Thus, he would start the first few seasons of his pro career a few months later than his teammates.

 

That pro career began with Richmond of the Ohio-Indiana League in 1950 at 18-years of age. Bunning advanced incrementally through the Tigers minor league system over the next few years, and by the 1953-54 seasons he had reached Double-A Little Rock. There he compiled an 18-23 mark and allowed 333 hits over 351 innings across 69 games, 48 of those as a starter.
He began the 1955 season at Triple-A Buffalo of the International League, just a step away from Major League Baseball. A solid performance in which Bunning went 8-5 with a 3.77 ERA over the first 20 games, 16 of those starts, put the 23-year-old pitcher squarely into the plans of a middle-of-the-road Tigers ball club.
The organization felt that he was developing “an excellent curve ball, a confusing delivery and a sneaky fast ball“, and in July of 1955 that combination would finally get him on to a big-league mound in Detroit.
On the night of July 20, 1955 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Bunning made his first Tigers start. He would go 7.2 innings and was beaten up a bit by the Baltimore Orioles to the tune of six earned runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked two and was hung with the loss against one of the worse teams in the American League.
It was a bit of an ignominious beginning, and the rest of his rookie season wouldn’t go much better. Bunning finished that 1955 season with the Tigers having compiled a 3-5 record and 6.35 ERA, allowing 59 hits and walking 32 over 51 innings across 15 games, eight of those as a starter.
In 1956 he was back at Triple-A to start the year and again pitched solidly enough to remain in the Tigers plans. He got the call back to Detroit in late July and would remain with the big-league club for the remainder of the season.
Pitching mostly out of the bullpen, Bunning had a solid 2.58 ERA after his first 14 big-league outings that year. But his final appearance of the season on September 24 resulted in disaster when he was bashed for seven earned runs in just one inning against the Chicago White Sox.
Bunning earned a role in the starting rotation during spring training of 1957. In his first start on April 17 against the Kansas City Athletics, Bunning was driven from the mound without even finishing the first inning.

That poor outing caused manager Jack Tighe to lose confidence, and the skipper relegated Bunning to the bullpen for the next month. It would prove to be a career-changing experience for the right-hander. Berger wrote that “working in the pen helped Bunning become a much improved pitcher with a slider that he could consistently get over the plate. He became a pitcher, not just a thrower.”

 

Given another shot at the rotation, Bunning would not look back. On May 16 he beat the Boston Red Sox with a complete game five-hitter at Fenway Park. Remaining in the rotation for most of the remainder of that 1957 season, Bunning made the National League all-star team and won 20 games, finishing ninth in the AL MVP balloting.
This would prove to be the only 20-win season of what would become a 17-year career in the Majors for Bunning. But over the next half-dozen he would remain one of the American League’s most effective starting pitchers.
From the seven seasons from 1957-63 with Detroit, Bunning would go 110-81 with a 1.181 WHIP. He was consistently at or above the 250-innings pitched and 35-start marks, proving one of the league’s most durable as well. He was a 7x AL All-Star, and received MVP votes three times.
Perhaps the highlight for Bunning during this excellent stretch came on the afternoon of July 20, 1958 at Fenway Park in Boston. In the first game of a doubleheader that day, Bunning tossed a 12-strikeout no-hitter against Ted Williams and the host Red Sox.
During his nine total seasons with Detroit, the Tigers only took a run at an American League pennant once. That came during a tremendous 1961 campaign in which the club won 101 games, a total that would have won the pennant in all but two of the prior 15 seasons. Unfortunately for those 1961 Tigers, the New York Yankees led by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had a season for the ages, winning 109 games.

Entering September, the Tigers trailed the Bronx Bombers by just 1.5 games in the standings. But New York opened that final month by sweeping a three-game set between the two clubs, Detroit dropped 12 of their first 17 that month, and the pennant race was over.

 

Things began to sour for Bunning in Detroit during the 1963 season. A managerial change saw new skipper Chuck Dressen bang heads a few times with his star pitcher. The club was also apparently not enamored with Bunning’s second career as a stock broker, or with his outspoken role as the Tigers’ player representative – an early hint at his interest in politics.
It all came to a head on December 5, 1963 when Detroit general manager Jim Campbell and Phillies GM John Quinn swung a four-player deal. In that trade, Bunning and 32-year-old catcher Gus Triandos went to Philadelphia, with outfielder Don Demeter and young pitcher Jack Hamilton heading to the Tigers.

Bunning would take to the National League like a fish to water. Over his first three seasons with the Phillies, Bunning won 19 games each year and then won 17 in 1967.  He was an NL All-Star in three of the four seasons, and finished as the 1967 NL Cy Young Award runner-up.

 

Every Phillies fan who was around and old enough to follow the club (I was two years old that summer) is well aware of what happened during the 1964 season. What happened over the final two weeks that September has left a scar that remains visible more than a half-century later.
But that summer was filled with excitement for baseball fans in Philadelphia. Few days were more so than the afternoon of Sunday, June 21. On that Father’s Day at Shea Stadium in New York in the first game of a doubleheader, Bunning pitched a Perfect Game against the host Mets.
Berger describes the early innings of that afternoon as largely uneventful, with the Bunning and Triandos battery working the New York lineup perfectly. As the game wore on and the stakes grew higher, Phillies manager Gene Mauch began to juggle his defenders to get the best possible support behind his pitching horse.
In the bottom of the 5th inning, perfection was saved by a defensive gem. Berger wrote on it as follows:
Mets catcher Jesse Gonder smashed a line drive between second and first. Second sacker Tony Taylor lunged to his left, knocked the ball down, crawled on his knees to grab the ball, and nipped Gonder at first. That was the last play in the game that resembled a hit for the Mets.

Bunning got New York shortstop Charley Smith on a pop-out to Phillies shortstop Bobby Wine to open the bottom of the 9th inning. He then struck out a pair of pinch-hitters sent to the plate by Mets skipper Casey Stengel, getting John Stephenson swinging on a 2-2 pitch to clinch perfection.

 

An 18-year-old wunderkind named Rick Wise followed Bunning’s perfection with a solid performance of his own, with Wise gaining his first of what would be 188 career big-league victories in game two of that doubleheader. That Sunday sweep in the Big Apple pushed the Phillies two games in front in the National League pennant race.
An August spurt would lift the Phillies to a season high 7.5 games in front of their National League rivals a number of times during late August. They still held a 6.5 game lead as late as September 20.

And then, with just 12 games left, it all fell apart. The Phillies infamously lost 13 of 15 games after September 15, including 10 in a row. Despite winning their final two games, the club would finish a game behind the Saint Louis Cardinals.

 

Despite having a winning team in each of his four seasons with the club from 1964-67, the Phillies would never truly contend for a pennant aside from that 1964 club during Bunning’s first go-around in Philadelphia.
On December 15, 1967 with the Phillies looking to move into a rebuilding mode, Quinn shipped a now 36-year-old Bunning off to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for pitchers Woodie Fryman and Bill Laxton, minor league prospect Harold Clem, and a 20-year-old infield prospect named Don Money.
Bunning would split the 1968-69 seasons pitching for the Pirates and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Major League Baseball having expanded and moved to a divisional format for the first time, the Dodgers were involved in a four-team battle royale for  the newly formed National League West Division.
Los Angeles obtained Bunning in an August 15, 1969 trade from Pittsburgh, and the veteran righty would immediately join and remain in the Dodgers starting rotation. Within a week, LA took the divisional lead. But despite Bunning pitching well for them, the Dodgers would fade over the final two weeks in a performance that nearly mirrored the 1964 Phillies collapse.
That would prove to be Bunning’s final shot at the postseason. He never did pitch in a playoff game during his entire career. The Dodgers released him on October 22, 1969. Exactly one week later the Phillies brought him back, signing him as a 38-year-old free agent.
At that point the Phillies were preparing for their final season at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly Shibe Park, which had been a Philadelphia professional baseball institution since opening in 1909. The club wanted Bunning to provide some name recognition and experience for a team that had dealt away mercurial star Dick Allen and was looking to get younger in preparation for the 1970’s and a new era in a new ballpark.
Bunning made his final start at Connie Mack Stadium on Sunday, September 27, 1970. It was a classic pitching showdown with another future Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins, who had briefly been Bunning’s teammate with the 1965-66 Phillies. The 27-year-old Jenkins would come out on top, tossing a complete game, holding the Phillies to four hits in a 5-3 victory.
The following spring would mark the opening of a new multi-purpose sports stadium in South Philadelphia. Bunning was tapped by manager Frank Lucchesi with the honors of taking the mound for the first Phillies game at Veteran’s Stadium.

On Saturday afternoon, April 10, 1971 at approximately 2:21pm local time, Bunning delivered his first offering. Montreal Expos leadoff man Boots Day grounded that first pitch right back at him, Bunning turned and flipped to first baseman Deron Johnson for the out, and a new era in Phillies baseball was underway.

 

Bunning would remain in the starting rotation on a regular basis through July 1 but became less and less effective as the summer rolled on, finally relegated to bullpen duty over the last two months.
His final official Win in a Phillies uniform came on June 16, 1971 at The Vet in a 6-3 victory over Willie MaysWillie McCoveyBobby Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.
During his six total seasons with the Phillies, Bunning went 89-73 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.111 WHIP. He allowed 1,361 hits over 1,520.2 innings across 226 games, 208 of them starts, while striking out 1,197 opposing batters. He remains seventh on the all-time franchise strikeouts list today.

Including his years with Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, Bunning fashioned a career 224-184 mark. He compiled a 3.27 ERA, 1.179 WHIP and struck out 2,855 batters over 591 games and 3,760.1 innings pitched.

 

After his retirement, Bunning was hired as a manager in the Phillies farm system and moved up through the ranks over the early-1970’s. As the big-league club was becoming a contender in the middle of the decade, Bunning appeared to be being groomed for the Phillies managerial job.
As told by Berger, there was apparently some falling out between Bunning and influential Phillies farm director Dallas Green. The two had been teammates during the mid-60’s and were longtime friends. But the Phillies unwillingness to give him the big-league job and Bunning’s own “brutal honesty“, as Berger put it, finally led to his being released after the NL East-winning 1976 campaign.
Following a failed attempt at becoming part-owner of the Houston Astros, Bunning returned home to Kentucky where he became a player agent. He was also recruited to run for a city council position in Fort Thomas and won, launching his political career.
In 1980, Bunning was elected to the Kentucky state house, where he would serve as a state senator through 1984. He tried a run for governor and fell short by 54-44% in that 1983 election, but his name was now growing statewide. He would win as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress just four years later and served in the House of Representatives for six terms.

When longtime Democratic Party incumbent Wendell Ford decided to retire and not run in the 1998 race for the United States Senate, Bunning accepted the Republican Party’s challenge to try to claim the seat. In a hard-fought campaign, Bunning edged out his Democratic Party opponent by 49.8-49.2% to claim a Senate seat.

 

Bunning would hold on to that U.S. Senate seat with a 50.7-49.3% victory over another strong Democratic challenger in 2004. But then as the 2010 election cycle approached, the then 78-year-old decided against seeking a third term. He had, however, played a large role in the Republican Party rise to power, and was succeeded in his seat by another Republican, Rand Paul.
Back in 1952 when he had received his first pro contract with the Tigers, Bunning purchased an engagement ring for his childhood sweetheart. He and the former Mary Catherine Theis would remain married for the rest of their lives and would have nine children. By 2013, that union had also produced 35 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

On May 26, 2017, Jim Bunning died from complications of a stroke that he had suffered in October 2016. He was 85 years of age. He is buried in the town of Fort Thomas, where his political career began, in his beloved home state of Kentucky.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Philography: Jim Bunning

Philography: Richie Ashburn

Ashburn was a part of the Phillies organization
for 47 years as a player and broadcaster
Four years ago, I began writing a series of Philadelphia Phillies mini-biographies. The series was inspired by my twin interests in the Phillies ball club and the subject of history in general.
What I decided to call my “Philography” series was never meant to present a comprehensive life story on each player. I just wanted to learn for myself a bit more about each player’s background and accomplishments, how they fared either before coming to or after leaving the Phillies, and share that with other fans.
In the beginning this off-season series was scattershot, covering a wide range of players across the team’s now 136-season history. In the winter of 2015-16, I keyed on shortstops. Last year it was the catching position.
What has now grown to an 18-chapter series will extend by five more over the next couple of months. This year, I have chosen to cover some of the most important players in Phillies history. The five players who have both played with the team and who also have actually had a uniform number retired by the club.
Those five ball players will be presented in numerical order, beginning with this piece on Richie Ashburn. During December and January, Philography stories will cover the careers of Jim BunningMike SchmidtSteve Carlton, and Robin Roberts.
Donald Richard “Richie” Ashburn was born on March 19, 1927 in the small town of Tilden, Nebraska. Tilden lies exactly in the middle of nowhere, about 150 miles northwest of Omaha. He had a twin sister named Donna, and so their dad Neil and mom “Tootie” began calling him by that takeoff on his middle name.
Ashburn’s father was a huge influence on his early life, particularly on his gravitation towards sports in general and baseball in particular. In a fine piece for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Seamus Kearney describesthe relationship as follows:
Ashburn’s father…played semipro baseball on the weekends…Neil Ashburn had a very close relationship with his athletically-inclined son – he encouraged Richie in his boyhood activities and steered the boy throughout his developmental years. Ashburn tried to play all the sports – except football; his father ruled that out because of the threat of injury, but baseball and basketball were his favorites. He began playing baseball in 1935 as an 8-year-old in the Tilden Midget Baseball League under the tutelage of Hursel O’Banion. He played catcher because his father thought it would be the quickest way to get him to the major leagues, and he batted left-handed because his father said his speed would give him a better jump to first base…
Richie played both baseball and basketball for his high school team and also played American Legion ball. Even out in the sticks of Tilden, talent like Ashburn’s didn’t escape the eyes of baseball scouts. He was signed three different times by big-league organizations.
The Phillies were fortunate that those first two signings didn’t work out. The Cleveland Indians first inked Ashburn at age 16, but that deal was nixed by the Commissioner as teams were prohibited then from signing high schoolers. He then was signed by the Chicago Cubs, but that deal was also shot down due to an illegal contract clause.
In 1945 at age 18, Ashburn had a contract approved with the Phillies. Kearney’s SABR bio quotes the Phillies scout who finally signed him, Ed Krajnick: “Something tells me this is about the most important deal I ever made.”

Ashburn would spend the 1945 and 1947 seasons playing with the Phillies farm club in Utica, New York. During those seasons his teammates first hung the nickname “Whitey” on him, owing to his extremely light hair. The nickname would stick for the rest of his life.
He missed the 1946 campaign entirely after being drafted into the U.S. Army and being sent to serve in, of all places, Alaska. On his 1947 return the fleet-footed Ashburn hit .346 in the Eastern League at nearly five years the junior of most players.
Ashburn would never play another day in the minors. He impressed enough to open the 1948 season as the Phillies starting center fielder, a position that he would hold down for a dozen years.
During that rookie campaign, Ashburn hit .333 with a .410 on-base percentage, stole 32 bases, and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Al Dark and Gene Bearden. He was also a National League All-Star for the first of what would be five times in his career and received MVP votes for the first of eight years.
In 1950, the 23-year-old Ashburn led all of baseball with 13 triples as the Phillies youthful ‘Whiz Kids’ won the National League pennant, moving the franchise into the World Series for the first time in 35 years.
On the final day of that 1950 season, Ashburn produced one of the two greatest defensive plays in franchise history (Utley’s Deke in the 2008 World Series being the other.)
The Phillies took on the Dodgers in Brooklyn in that season finale, with the ‘Whiz Kids’ holding a one-game lead. A win for the host Dodgers would force a one-game playoff between the two clubs for the pennant.
The two teams exchanged single runs in the 6th inning and then rode ace pitchers Robin Roberts and Don Newcombe into the 9th inning. Newcombe set the Phillies down in the top of the 9th, and the so the Dodgers came to the plate with a chance to win it.
Cal Abrams led off with a walk, moving to second base when Pee Wee Reese followed with a single to left. That brought Duke Snider to the plate. The Dodgers three-hole hitter delivered what seemed a sure game-winning, standings-tying base hit to center.
But Ashburn had other ideas. He charged, fielded the base hit cleanly, and fired home. Backup catcher Stan Lopata took the throw and tagged Abrams, who tried to dance around him, for the first out. The Phillies were still alive.
Following an intentional walk to Jackie Robinson to load the bases, Roberts coaxed Carl Furillo to pop out and then retired Gil Hodges on an easy fly to right field to get out of that 9th inning jam.
The two teams now moved on to extra-innings. Roberts helped himself by leading off the top of the 10th frame with a base hit. When Eddie Waitkus followed with a single the Phillies had a threat of their own going.
That brought Ashburn to the plate. He tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, a play that he would later admit to despising. It failed, as Newcombe pounced on the ball and threw to force Roberts out at third base.
Up to the plate stepped the Phillies own three-hole hitter now and Dick Sisler wouldn’t let his club down. Sisler delivered what would prove to be the most dramatic and important hit in the first 97 years of Phillies franchise history, blasting a three-run homer over the left field wall at Ebbetts Field.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Roberts retired Roy CampanellaJim Russell, and Tommy Brown in order. The Phillies exploded out of their dugout as Ashburn and his mates on the field rushed in for the celebration, mobbing their ace on the mound.
The Phillies would advance on to the 1950 World Series where they would face Joe DiMaggioYogi BerraWhitey Ford, and the powerful New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers would sweep the Whiz Kids in four straight. But it was a hard-fought series, with the Yankees taking each of the first three by a single run.
Ashburn went just 3-17 (.176) and wasn’t much of a factor in that 1950 Fall Classic. His lone strong performance came in Game 2 at Shibe Park. That day he went 2-5, including a first inning double after which he was left stranded. His sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 5th inning tied the game at 1-1.
In the bottom of the 8th with the game still tied, Ashburn led off with a successful bunt single down the third base line. Sisler tried to bunt him over, but Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds jumped on the ball quickly, turned, and fired to shortstop Phil Rizzuto, forcing Ashburn out at second base. The next batter would roll into a double play and the Phillies would lose 2-1 when DiMaggio led off the top of the 10th with a home run.
Though they lost that World Series, the Phillies appeared to be a team on the rise. It was not to be, as the club fell to just 73 wins and fifth place in the eight-team National League the following season.
After the team won just 66 games in his rookie season of 1948, the Phillies would finish with a winning record in four of the next five years. But over Ashburn’s final six seasons in Philadelphia there would be just two .500 finishes and no more winning teams.
There was an interesting incident that took place in 1957 involving Ashburn. On August 17 at Connie Mack Stadium, Ashburn ripped a foul ball into the stands, breaking the nose of Alice Roth, who was the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth.
Then incredibly as Roth was being carried from the stands on a stretcher, the game resumed, and Ashburn sent second foul rocket into the stands, striking her yet again. The two would ultimately strike up a friendship, and the Roth’s son would become the Phillies bat boy.
In a dozen Phillies seasons, Ashburn produced 2,217 hits which is still the third-highest total in franchise history behind only Jimmy Rollins and Schmidt. His 946 walks are tied for third, his 1,114 runs scored are fourth, and his 97 triples are fifth in club history.
Ashburn would accumulate a .311 career batting average and .394 on-base percentage during his Phillies years, eighth in both categories. Among players of recent vintage, only Bobby Abreu and John Kruk can boast of better OBP marks, and none has a higher batting average.
He would scatter three more NL All-Star appearances throughout the decade: 1951, 1953, and 1958. He led all of baseball in hits in both ’51 and ’58 and the NL in 1953.
Ashburn led baseball in triples in both 1950 and 1958. Twice he led the senior circuit in batting average, his .350 mark in 1958 leading all of baseball. Four times he led in on-base percentage.
Hall of Famer James Cool Papa Bell was a famed Negro Leagues player who is widely considered to be the fastest man to ever play the game of baseball. It was once said of him that he was so fast that he could turn out the lights and be in bed before it got dark. Bell is rumored to have once called Ashburn the “fastest white man” that he ever saw.
On January 11, 1960 in the dead of winter, Ashburn was traded by the Phillies to the Chicago Cubs, ending his time as a Phillies player for good. In exchange the Phillies received a three-player package. It included the man who beat him out for that 1948 NL Rookie of the Year Award, Alvin Dark, as well as pitcher John Buzhardt and infield prospect Jim Woods.
The deal would prove to have not much impact for either club. Buzhardt had a couple of 200-innings seasons as a Phillies starting pitcher, but they were losing campaigns for him and the club.
Ashburn played well for much of his two seasons in the Windy City, especially that first 1960 season when he hit .291 with 99 runs scored, 16 steals, and led the NL with 116 walks. But the Cubs finished in seventh place both years.
On December 8, 1961 the expansion New York Mets would purchase Ashburn’s contract from Chicago. In what proved to be his final big-league season, Ashburn hit .306 with a .425 on-base percentage and a dozen stolen bases, making his final NL All-Star team at age 35.
But that Mets team was one of the worst in Major League Baseball history. They went just 40-120, and their .250 winning percentage remains the lowest in MLB over the last 83 years. After that debacle and facing the prospect of aging as a bench player for them, Ashburn hung up his spikes.
Though Ashburn was done playing, he wasn’t away from the game for long. The Phillies were looking for a new color man for their radio and television broadcasts for the 1963 season. The job was first offered to Roberts, but the pitcher was still active and wanted to continue playing. He recommended Ashburn, and the rest is Philly broadcasting history.
Ashburn joined Bill Campbell and By Saam in the booth for his first nine years, including the ill-fated 1964 Phillies collapse season. Then in 1971 the Phillies opened a brand new ballpark, Veteran’s Stadium, and also hired a replacement for Campbell by the name of Harry Kalas.
Kalas was 35-years-old and had been on the Houston Astros broadcasting team ever since the Astrodome opened in 1965. He was lured to Philly by a greater contract, and joined Ashburn and Saam for that first year of The Vet. Saam would remain into the 1976 season before retiring, but the Ashburn-Kalas relationship would endure for decades.
The pair became legendary as “Harry and Whitey” for two generations of Phillies fans. Kalas was the quick-tongued play-by-play guy, Ashburn the homespun-humor color man with a players perspective. They were a tremendous team and perhaps even greater friends.
One of the famous regular routines when broadcasting home games involved Celebre’s, a pizza shop located not far from the ballpark area. During a few late-running games, Ashburn asked on-air whether his friends at the shop were listening. Within a short time a couple of pies would show up at the broadcast booth.
When the team asked him to stop since Celebre’s was not an official sponsor, Ashburn got around it as only he could. If he desired a delivery, during acknowledgements of fan birthdays Ashburn began to wish a happy birthday to “the Celebre twins, Plain and Pepperoni.
They called games together as the Phillies grew into a consistent contender in the late-1970’s, finally winning the franchise first-ever World Series crown in 1980. Ashburn and Kalas would then cover Phillies pennant winners together in 1983 and again in 1993.
In his personal life, Ashburn was married to the former Herberta Cox. Known as ‘Herbie’, the couple would have six children and remain married their entire lives. According to Kearney, the two separated in 1977, but would remain married. They shared the grief when in 1987 their daughter was killed in a car crash.
As all retired players at that time, Ashburn had spent 15 years on the ballot for possible induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was not selected by the voters in any year, fell off the ballot, and was then considered only by the Veteran’s Committee.
Per Kearney, it was two men in particular, Steve Krevisky and Jim Donahue, who took up the banner for Ashburn’s worthiness:
Krevisky would appear at every New England SABR gathering and expound on Ashburn’s qualities, especially educating attendees on his defensive statistics but also pointing out that Richie had the most hits of any major leaguer during the 1950s. Donahue organized his campaign around overturning the 60 percent rule, one time forwarding 55,000 postcards to the Hall of Fame. Both men’s efforts paid off and the rule was overturned in 1993.
Ashburn had other supporters as well, and the drum began to beat louder for his worthiness into the mid-1990’s. Finally in 1995 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
By an incredible stroke of timing, Ashburn would be enshrined at the same ceremony as Schmidt, the greatest player in Phillies history. Ashburn had the honor of broadcasting the entirety of Schmidt’s 1972-89 playing career.
Ashburn’s mother would later state that he planned on retiring following the 1997 season. He would not make it. On September 9, 1997 the Phillies were winding down the season, playing a series in New York against the Mets.
The previous night, Ashburn and Kalas had called a big Phillies 13-4 win at Shea Stadium highlighted by soon-to-be-named NL Rookie of the Year Scott Rolen‘s 18th home run. Ashburn went back to his hotel room following the game. Kearney described what happened next as follows:
Later that night he reached out to a Phillies official, complaining that he didn’t feel well. At 5:30 A.M. on September 9, 1997, Ashburn was found dead in his hotel room.”
 
The Phillies and the city of Philadelphia came together to plan a public memorial service for the beloved broadcaster. Thousands of family, fans, players, celebrities, and others in the game attended the wake held at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park.
Kalas soldiered on in the booth after the passing of the friend he called “His Whiteness” for more than 11 years, joined in the booth by a number of on-and-off partners that would include Chris Wheeler and Larry Anderson. He and Wheeler were in the booth together as the Phillies finally won their second World Series crown in 2008.
In 1979, Ashburn’s uniform number “1” during his Phillies playing days became the first ever retired by the club. That same summer, Ashburn became just the second man honored with a plaque on the Phillies Wall of Fame after his former teammate Roberts had been the inaugural enshrinee the prior year.
When the Phillies opened Citizens Bank Park for the 2004 season, Ashburn was not only remembered, he was featured prominently. His statue can be found as the centerpiece of the walkway food and gathering area beyond the outfield stands known as Ashburn Alley.
For those of us who got to enjoy him over the airwaves for many years, Whitey Ashburn will never be forgotten. Especially in his partnership with Harry Kalas. I have often said myself that in my heaven, Harry and Whitey will be calling Phillies games for as long as the team and the game exists.
NOTEfor an even more detailed read on Whitey’s life and career, please take an opportunity to enjoy the SABR bio from Seamus Kearney at that link

Philography: Red Dooin

By The Library of Congress - https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/2162724321/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53636219
Red Dooin was Phillies catcher for entirety of the 1900’s

My off-season series of Philadelphia Phillies mini bios has featured some of the most popular players and other individuals in team history.

At the catcher position, “Philography” has already covered the relatively recent careers of Bob BooneDarren Daulton, and Mike Lieberthal.
Daulton was the first catcher covered in the series, featured back in December 2014 while I was still with the “That Ball’s Outta Here” site here at FanSided.
Wanting to feature the catcher position more during this current off-season, the careers of Boone and Lieberthal were added to the series in December 2016 and January 2017 respectively.
Now the series continues with a look back at the career of Red Dooin. Over 134 seasons of play, Dooin is second only to Lieberthal in the number of games behind the plate for the Philadelphia Phillies franchise.

DOOIN BREAKS INTO THE BIGS

Charles Sebastian ‘Red’ Dooin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 12, 1879. He worked in the clothing business as a young man, while also enjoying the game of baseball in his spare time.
Dooin excelled at the game, and particularly loved the difficult position of catcher. In 1898, Dooin was signed by the nearby Indianapolis club in the Western League.
Unfortunately for Dooin, as told in a more detailed bio by Norman Macht for SABR, his pro debut was cut short when he “wound up with a broken hand in his first game.
Dooin was diminutive, standing just 5’6″ and weighing just 160 pounds when he began that pro career at age 18 years. He would never carry much more than 190 pounds. According to Macht, this led one of his minor league managers to comment “I wanted a catcher, not a jockey.
He kept plugging away at his baseball career while continuing to work as a tailor over the next couple of years. Finally in 1902, Dooin got his big break when the formation of the new American League led to many more job openings across the big leagues.
The Phillies signed him, and the now 23-year old stepped right into the lineup as their regular catcher for the 1902 season. He hit for just a .231/.262/.270 slash line with no homers and just 10 extra-base hits. That rookie season saw him play in 84 games behind the plate and another half-dozen in the outfield.

DOOIN’S PLAYING CAREER PROFILE

It would be a career preview of what the Phillies were to expect from him offensively over the next dozen years. Dooin would finish with just 10 career homers during the ‘Dead Ball Era’, six of those coming in one outburst during the 1904 campaign.
For his career at the plate, Dooin hit for just a .240/.272/.298 slash line with a .570 OPS mark. One area of Dooin’s game that was a bit unusual for a catcher was that he had speed. Dooin registered double-digit stolen base totals for seven straight years from 1904-10, finishing his career having swiped 133 bags.
In addition to that speed, the other facet of Dooin’s game that was never questioned was the one that kept him as the Phillies starting catcher. Despite being small in stature, Dooin was tough, both physically and mentally.

DOOIN BECOMES PLAYER-MANAGER

The redhead was so tough and colorful that new Phillies ownership gave him the role of player-manager at age 31 in 1910.
In 1911, Dooin had his best season as a player, though his 74 games were the least that he had played since his second season back in 1903. In that 1911 season, Dooin hit for a .328/.366/.409 slash with 15 doubles and a 117 OPS+ mark.
Dooin’s teams finished with winning records in three of his first four seasons as skipper. In 1913 he guided the team to 88 victories, the most by the team in a decade and a half.
The success wouldn’t last, and after the club faded to a 74-80 record and sixth place in 1914, Dooin was fired.

END OF THE LINE

The following year, the Phillies would capture the franchise’ first-ever National League pennant under new manager Pat Moran. But Dooin, who had played the previous 13 seasons in a Phillies uniform, would miss out on the team finally reaching the top.
Dooin would split that 1915 season between Cincinnati and the New York Giants. He would return to New York in 1916, and there would play the final 15 games of a 15-year career in Major League Baseball.
As Macht reports it, Dooin would retire to Atlantic City. He did quite well in real estate and other ventures throughout the ‘Roaring Twenties’, but then fell victim to the Great Depression by 1932. A strong singer, Dooin also peformed for a time in Vaudeville.
Dooin passed away on May 14, 1952 in Rochester, New York, a month shy of his 73rd birthday. His ranking today on the Phillies all-time leader boards among players who were primarily catchers are: Steals (1st), Triples (2nd), Hits (4th), Doubles (6th), RBI (9th) and Runs (9th).

Philography: Mike Lieberthal

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Mike Lieberthal may have been the greatest all-around catcher in Phillies history

Since 1978, the Philadelphia Phillies have honored the greatest individual contributors to the success of the franchise with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
The Wall includes plaques dedicated to remembering and honoring the Phillies all-time greats. This includes the contributions of club executives, broadcasters, and of course, dozens of players.
Of those players, only two performed at the position of catcher. One of those was Bob Boone, who was selected to a place on the Wall during the 2005 season.
The only other catcher in a history that stretches back to the 1883 season to be honored with a place on the Wall is Mike Lieberthal.
‘Lieby’ played for the Phillies from 1994-2006. His career is overlooked by some younger fans, often lost due to the period in which he performed.
Lieberthal broke into the big leagues during the strike-killed 1994 season, a year after the Phillies unexpected romp to a National League pennant. His career ended just before the glory of five straight National League East pennants began in 2007.
Lieberthal’s career largely spanned a frustrating period in club history. But there is no denying the numbers or his reputation. Lieberthal may have been the greatest all-around catcher to ever pull on a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

LIEBY’S PRO CAREER BEGINNINGS

Lieberthal was chosen by the Phils with the 3rd overall pick in the first round of the 1990 MLB Amateur Draft. He was selected out of Westlake High School in California, where he had been an all-american.
His maturity and all-around athletic ability allowed Lieberthal to rise rapidly through the Phillies farm system. By the 1992 season, Lieby was catching at AA Reading as a 20-year-old. He would even get a taste of the AAA level later that same summer.
The ‘Macho Row’ Phillies stormed to a stunning NL pennant in the 1993 season. That mulleted crew very nearly captured a World Series title, falling short in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays.
While all of that excitement was happening at the big league level, Lieby was gaining valuable experience as a 21-year old with AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. In that 1993 season, Lieberthal hit .262 with 17 doubles and 40 RBI over 417 plate appearances.
Lieberthal began the 1994 season back at AAA, but was called up to make his big league debut that summer. The promotion came when Phillies starting catcher Darren Daulton suffered one of many career knee injuries. This one would knock ‘Dutch’ out for the year, and Lieberthal would become the starter.

LIEBERTHAL REACHES THE BIG LEAGUES

On June 30, in what was a sort of homecoming, Lieby got his first start in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. In the top of the fourth inning, Lieberthal lined a clean base hit to left field off Dodgers starter Pedro Astacio. It was his first of what would be 1,155 big league hits.
Just over two weeks later, the Dodgers were in Philadelphia at Veteran’s Stadium. With starter Ramon Martinez on the mound, Lieberthal cranked his first of 150 career home runs.
That first taste of Major League Baseball would end abruptly, not just for Lieberthal, but for everyone involved with the game. The player’s strike began on August 12. It would result in the cancellation of the remainder of that season.
Daulton returned to take over his starting spot when play resumed for the 1995 season. Then in 1996 the Phils signed free agent catcher Benito Santiago, who supplied the club with 30 home runs.
Lieberthal spent much of 1995 back at AAA, and then became Santiago’s primary backup in 1996. However, his season ended in mid-August after he suffered torn cartilage in his left knee.
Santiago only lasted one year in Philly. Daulton’s knees had led to his permanently giving up the catcher position after 1995. So at age 25 in the 1997 season, Lieberthal became the Phillies starting backstop. He would hold that distinction for the better part of a decade.

LIEBY AS THE PHILLIES STARTING CATCHER

In 1999, Lieberthal hit for a .300/.363/.551 slash line with 31 homers and 96 RBI. He became just the eight catcher in big league history to hit for a .300+ average and bang 30+ homers in a season.
He became just the second Phillies catcher in history, after Boone, to be named as a National League all-star in that 1999 season. Lieberthal also set a new Phillies record for fielding percentage at the catcher position (.997). For that he was honored with an NL Gold Glove Award.
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Lieberthal caught Millwood’s 2003 Phillies no-hitter at The Vet
Lieberthal was off to another great year in 2000, and was named an NL all-star for a second straight season. On July 17, a collision at the plate with New York Yankees star Bernie Williams resulted in an ankle injury. It would knock Lieberthal out for two weeks, and affect him for the next month and a half. His season would finally end in early September.
The following year was again marred by injury. On May 12 at Arizona he was picked off first base, suffering major knee damage on the play. That injury that would require surgery and finish his 2001 season.
Lieberthal recovered and again took over the starting Phillies catching duties as the club would down the final years at Veteran’s Stadium, and then opened up Citizens Bank Park.
For his return in 2002, Lieby was named by The Sporting News as the NL Comeback Player of the Year. In 2003, Lieberthal caught a no-hitter thrown at The Vet by Kevin Millwood.
The Phillies were contenders for the MLB postseason in each of his final four years as the catcher from 2003-2006. But the club would ultimately finish just short of their collective goals.

THE END OF THE LINE

At age 34 in the 2006 season, Lieberthal saw time, his injuries, and other organizational options finally catch up with him. He split the catching duties almost evenly that year with a feel-good “33-Year Old Rookie” story in Chris Coste. And getting his first taste of the big leagues was a 26-year old catcher named Carlos Ruiz.
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Ruiz made his own big league debut in the 2006 season, and took over as Phillies starter at catcher after Lieberthal left.
Following the 2006 season, Lieberthal became a free agent for the first time. He signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2007 season. He then served as backup to Russell Martin in what would prove to be Lieby’s big league swan song.
Perhaps ironically, the Phillies would finally break through and win that elusive NL East title in 2007. It was the first of five straight division crowns for the club. So it turns out that the Phillies won the division the year before his debut, and the year after he left, but never while he was with the team.
On June 1, 2008, Lieberthal signed a one-day contract in order to retire with the Phillies. He was applauded by fans as he threw out the first pitch at  that night’s game.

THE WALL OF FAME

Lieberthal left as the Phillies franchise all-time leader in Games, Home Runs, and RBI at the catching position. He is also ranked 5th in homers, and seventh in both hits and RBI on the all-time MLB rankings for Jewish ball players.
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Seen here along with Charlie Manuel over Pat Burrell‘s shoulders, Lieberthal was elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2012.
In 2012, Lieberthal was elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame. Again, this is the ultimate organizational honor for any individual associated with the team.
“I’m not a Hall of Famer, but having an organization that does this, just to go along with the great players that played here. I was a good player but very lucky to be on one team for that long. There’s a lot of good players that come through Philadelphia that, in the business of the game, they only stay for two or three years.”
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was a little younger and would become a leader on the perennial Phillies winners of the late 2000’s. ‘JRoll’ was Lieberthal’s teammate from 2000-06.
“He basically, start to finish, was a Phillie,” said Rollins per MLB.com’s Jake Kaplan. “He was here through a lot of tough years in the late ’90s…made his mark…a good catcher, and he could also hit.”
Mike Lieberthal did indeed make his mark in Philly. It’s a shame that those early 2000’s Phillies teams couldn’t win just a few more games each year, thus getting him to the postseason. But Phillies fans who got to see him play know his value to the club for a long time at the most difficult position on the diamond.