Tag Archives: Philography

Philography: Steve Carlton

Embed from Getty Images

Carlton has been honored by the Phillies as a member of the franchise Wall of Fame and with a statue outside of Citizens Bank Park

 

This is the 22nd entry in the Philography series of mini-bios highlighting the careers of the most interesting and important individuals throughout Philadelphia Phillies history.

Links to the previous 21 entries, which include such notables as Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, Dick Allen, Jim Bunning, Larry Bowa, Darren Daulton and many more can be found below.

It is a simple matter of fact to state that Steve Carlton is the greatest pitcher to ever pull on a Philadelphia Phillies jersey.

“Lefty” was enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1989, just a year following his retirement from baseball. He was also a first ballot enshrinee when eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame five years later in 1994.

Steven Norman Carlton was a South Florida kid, born and raised in Miami. He played Little League ball and then at North Miami High School, even staying home to play his college ball at Miami-Dade College where he was used primarily as a relief pitcher.

It was while still a college student that Carlton signed his first professional contract, receiving a $5,000 bonus to ink a deal with the Saint Louis Cardinals.

Chuck Hixson for 247 Sports noted in a May 2017 piece that the Cardinals nearly passed on signing Carlton, relating the following story from an unnamed scout:

Chase Riddle was the Cardinals scout that signed him, and when he had him pitch for the Cardinals brass, they weren’t overly impressed. Riddle practically threatened to quit if they didn’t sign him, and really stuck his neck out to get him signed.”

Hixson also quotes Carlton himself in his piece, which was written on the occasion of an appearance at a home game in 2017 for the Phillies Triple-A Lehigh Valley affiliates:

“...I didn’t really even know about the big leagues until I was a senior in high school. North Miami is rural, they have college football and horse racing, so that was all that I knew. I didn’t really know what was going on...”

Carlton’s talent was unmistakable from the get-go, as he rolled through three levels of the Cardinals minor league system during his first pro season of 1964. That summer, Carlton went 15-6 and reached Double-A at just age 19, giving up just 118 hits over 178 innings with 191 strikeouts and a 2.22 ERA.

At age 20, Carlton made his big-league debut the following season. He pitched in 15 games for Saint Louis that year, including his first two starts in Major League Baseball. Carlton described his first-ever outing on a mound with the Cardinals this way:

My major league debut came at old Busch Stadium on Grand Avenue in St. Louis, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first pitch I threw was to third baseman Bob Bailey. It was a fastball, low and away. He ripped it for a home run down the left field line. I said, ‘Damn, that was a pretty good pitch.”

Among those early outings were a pair of appearances against the Phillies. On May 8, 1965 at Connie Mack Stadium, Carlton would first face the club with which he would ultimately become most famously associated. Entering in the bottom of the 7th inning, Carlton got Tony Gonzalez to ground into a force out and then struck out Clay Dalrymple swinging to end the frame.

After making nine more appearances with the 1966 Cardinals, Carlton earned a spot in their starting rotation for the 1967 season. He would go 14-9 over 30 games, 28 of those as starts, and helped Saint Louis to win 101 games and the National League pennant.

With the Cardinals leading the Boston Red Sox by three games to one in the World Series, he was given the start for Game 5 at Busch Stadium by manager Red Schoendienst. Carlton tossed six shutout frames, leaving with the Cards trailing 1-0 in a game they would end up losing by 3-1. On the mound that day for Boston shutting Saint Louis out on three hits was his future Phillies rotation mate, Jim Lonborg.

When the series returned to Fenway Park, Boston tied things up with an 8-4 victory. But Bob Gibson then bested Lonborg for his third win of the Fall Classic in Game 7, and the Cardinals became world champions, earning Carlton his first World Series ring.

Over the next four years with Saint Louis, Carlton developed into one of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball. He was a National League All-Star in 1968, 1969, and again in 1971. Just entering his prime at age 26, Carlton had already won 77 big-league games.

His 1970 season was marred by a contract dispute over which Carlton held out and missed spring training. When the season got underway, he suffered through an underwhelming 10-19 campaign.

After he rebounded with his first 20-win season in 1971, Carlton again demanded a raise. In those final years just prior to baseball’s reserve clause being eliminated and free agency instituted, he had little recourse but to hold out once again.

Gussie Busch, who had made a fortune with Budweiser beer and the Anheuser-Busch Companies, was the Cardinals owner from 1953 until his death in 1989. Busch was an old-school owner who had little time for what he felt were prima donna players trying to force his hand.

Instead of paying up, Busch ordered that Carlton be traded by general manager Bing Devine. So, as spring training was underway, Devine made a fateful deal. On February 25, 1972, Carlton was traded to the Phillies straight-up for right-handed pitcher Rick Wise.

There was no free agency, so he didn’t have the freedom to say, ‘Sign me or else.’ He was being very difficult to sign for the ridiculous amount of $10,000 between what he wanted and what we’d give him,” said Devine. “Many times Mr. Busch gave me a little leeway in the budget, but in the case of Carlton, Mr. Busch developed the feeling that Carlton was a ‘smart-aleck’ young guy, ‘and I’m not used to having young smart-alecks tell me what do.

Wise was no slouch. He was coming off a 17-win season with the Phillies at age 25 during which he was selected to his first National League All-Star team. Having made his big-league debut with the club at just age 18 during the ill-fated 1964 season, Wise was considered a solid and rising starting pitcher in his own right.

In fact, Wise would win 16 games for Saint Louis each of the next two seasons, and was again selected to the NL All-Star team in 1973. The Cardinals would end up packaging him with outfielder Bernie Carbo in a trade to the Red Sox in October 1973 for star outfielder Reggie Smith. Wise would ultimately pitch for 18 years in the big-leagues, winning 188 games with five different clubs.

The Phillies would, however, clearly get the best of this deal. In his first season with the club, Carlton would fashion one of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history. He went 27-10 with a last place Phillies team that won just 59 total games. That made for 45.8% of the club’s 1972 victories. Carlton allowed just 257 hits over 346.1 innings across 41 starts with 310 strikeouts.

It would all add up to the first of what would ultimately be four National League Cy Young Awards for Carlton, this one in a unanimous vote. He was also selected to his fifth NL All-Star team, and came in 5th place in the NL MVP voting as well.

Auggie Busch traded me to the last-place Phillies over a salary dispute,” he said. “I was mentally committed to winning 25 games with the Cardinals and now I had to re-think my goals. I decided to stay with the 25-win goal and won 27 of the Phillies 59 victories. I consider that season my finest individual achievement.

Over the next three years the Phillies began to slowly emerge as contenders. A homegrown group of young players developing from the minor leagues which already included left fielder Greg Luzinski and shortstop Larry Bowa would be joined by third baseman Mike Schmidt and catcher Bob Boone.

Carlton was solid but unspectacular during the 1973-75 seasons, going a combined 44-47 with 759 hits allowed over 839.2 innings while striking out 655 batters. He was an NL All-Star during a 16-win campaign in the 1974 season.

It was during this period that, feeling he was receiving unfair criticism from the local press, Carlton stopped talking to the media. In later years he would speak about the situation as follows:

I was tired of getting slammed. To me it was a slap in the face. But it made me concentrate better. And the irony is that they wrote better without access to my quotes…I took it personal. I got slammed quite a bit. To pick up the paper and read about yourself getting slammed, that doesn’t start your day off right.

In 1976, the Phillies broke through to win their first-ever National League East Division crown. Carlton won 20 games at age 31 on a staff that included fellow veterans Lonborg and Jim Kaat and a pair of talented 22-year-olds in Larry Christenson and Tom Underwood.

The Phillies would get swept out of the National League Championship Series in three straight games by the Cincinnati Reds. That was the heyday of the ‘Big Red Machine‘, and Carlton took the loss in the opener. He yielded four earned runs on seven hits in the game, including a sixth-inning two run homer off the bat of George Foster to break a 1-1 tie.

Carlton would finish fourth in the NL Cy Young voting that year. Both he and the club would do even better the following season.

In 1977, the Phillies set a franchise record with 101 regular season wins. For his 23-10 season, Carlton was an NL All-Star for the sixth time. He then was awarded a second career Cy Young, finishing 5th in the NL MVP voting once again.

However, the Phillies would again fall short in the National League Championship Series. This time it was the Los Angeles Dodgers knocking them out in four games. Included was the infamous ‘Black Friday‘ of Game 3, which set up Carlton’s start in Game 4.

In that Game 4 start, Carlton lasted just five innings on a miserable, rainy night at Veteran’s Stadium and the Dodgers eliminated the Phillies in front of their disheartened fans. Carlton allowed two runs with two outs in the 5th inning thanks largely to his second walk of the frame and a wild pitch, turning a 2-1 deficit into the final 4-1 margin of defeat.

Over the next two seasons of 1978-79, Carlton would fashion a combined 34-24 record. He was a 1979 NL All-Star, and stretched a personal streak of seasons during which he made more than 30 starts out to a dozen straight.

The Phillies tied the franchise mark with another 101-win campaign in 1978. But once again the Dodgers knocked them out in the NLCS in four games. Carlton wasn’t at his best when he was credited with the win in Game 3. But he helped himself with a home run and the Phillies bats exploded for their lone victory of the series, a 9-4 win at Dodger Stadium.

The 1979 season began with great promise. The Phillies were three-time defending NL East champions. They had signed free agent Pete Rose to help get them over the playoff hump during the off-season. They got off to a solid start, and the club wasa still tied for first place as late as May 27.

But there would be no playoffs in 1979. The Phillies would collapse thanks in part to a string of injuries. Following a legendary 23-22 shootout win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 17, they stood at 24-10 with a 3.5 game lead in the division. From that point onward, the Phillies would go just 60-68. They finished in a disappointing fourth place, 14 games behind the eventual world champion Pittsburgh Pirates.

As fallout from that collapse, manager Danny Ozark was fired late in the 1979 season. The laid-back ‘Wizard of Oze’ was replaced by director of player development Dallas Green, who displayed much more of a confrontational personality.

It was Green’s mandate from the front office to figure out which players were the problems, weed them out, and make changes to try and get the club over the hump to a title. Green made it clear that in 1980 the Phillies would either finally produce a championship, or the club would be broken up.

Carlton would produce his best season since 1972. He went 24-9 with a 2.34 ERA, allowing just 243 hits over 304 innings across 38 starts with a league-leading 286 strikeouts. The result was his third career Cy Young Award. The Phillies would emerge from a dramatic final week of the season with their fourth NL East crown in five years.

Carlton drew the starting assignment for Games 1 and 4 of what turned into perhaps the most greatest National League Championship Series in history. The Phillies would defeat the Houston Astros in the full five games, all close, with the last four all reaching extra innings.

In the opener, Carlton went seven innings and allowed just one run in a 3-1 victory at Veteran’s Stadium. With the Phillies then trailing by two games to one and their backs to the wall, Carlton went 5.1, allowing two runs in Game 4. The Phillies would rally to win in 10 innings to force a decisive fifth game in Houston.

The Phillies finally ended their NLCS frustrations with an epic Game 5 comeback victory over Nolan Ryan and the Astros. The first National League pennant for the club in 30 years allowed them to move on to face future Hall of Famer George Brett and the Kansas City Royals in the World Series.

In the Fall Classic, the Phillies would win both of Carlton’s starts, each coming at The Vet. The first was a come-from-behind 6-4 win in Game 2, when the Phillies scored four times in the bottom of the 8th inning to rally for a victory that put them up two games to none.

The Royals rallied to take two games back in Kansas City to tie the series, but the Phils rallied from behind to win Game 5. With the Phillies leading 3-2 in the Fall Classic and just a win away from the first world championship in franchise history, it was Carlton who took the mound for Game 6 back in Philadelphia.

On October 21, 1980 at Veteran’s Stadium, Carlton went seven strong innings, holding Kansas City to one run on four hits while striking out seven batters. When the first two Royals batters reached base to start the top of the 8th, Green pulled him in favor of Tug McGraw.

McGraw would eventually load the bases and surrender a sacrifice fly, narrowing the Phillies lead down to 4-1. But he got the dangerous Hal McRae to ground out to second base with the bases loaded to end that threat.

In the top of the 9th, the Royals again loaded the bases, this time with just one out. McGraw then got Frank White on a foul pop near the Phillies dugout on which Pete Rose made a heads-up play for the second out. And then, on a 1-2 pitch, the Tugger pumped a fastball past Willie Wilson for the final out. For the first time in their history, the Phillies were the world champions of baseball.

Pete Rose came over to the Phillies in ’79 and he became the catalyst that helped us to put it all together,” said Carlton. “His example on the field and his leadership helped to bring everybody’s play up a notch. Hopefully, Pete will be reinstated by Baseball and he will have his rightful place in baseball history, a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

The following year would be a strike-shortened season in Major League Baseball. Carlton had a fantastic year, going 13-4 with a 2.42 ERA and 179 strikeouts over 24 starts despite losing more than two months to the labor strife. He would finish 3rd behind Fernando Valenzuela and Tom Seaver in an extremely tight Cy Young vote.

That vote for the NL’s best pitcher would not be as tight in 1982. Carlton captured his fourth and final career Cy Young Award with a 23-11 campaign in which he struck out 275 batters over 283.2 innings across 37 starts.

On September 13 of that 1982 season, Carlton struck out a dozen Cardinals and homered during a victory at Veteran’s Stadium. He is the only pitcher to homer during a complete game shutout in three different decades. Carlton accomplished that feat four total times.

Unfortunately, the team would crumble down the stretch. Leading the NL East as late as September 13, the Phillies would go just 9-10 over the final weeks. They finished in second place, three games behind Carlton’s old Saint Louis team. The Cards would go on to capture their first world championship since his trade.

The Phillies would have one last hurrah in 1983. With a veteran-laden squad nicknamed ‘The Wheeze Kids’, the Phillies got hot in September and pulled away, winning the club’s fifth division title in eight years.

On September 23, Carlton enjoyed a major career milestone when he struck out a dozen over eight innings against the Cardinals in Saint Louis for the 300th victory of his career.

In the NLCS, the Phillies exorcised their 1970’s demons, beating back the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games. Carlton won both Game 1 and Game 4 with a pair of stellar outings, allowing a total of just one run on 13 hits over 13.2 innings with 13 strikeouts.

With the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles then knotted at a game apiece, Carlton would pitch well in Game 3  at Veteran’s Stadium. But it would be a fellow future Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer, who would earn the pivotal victory. Palmer tossed a pair of shutout relief innings as the Orioles won 3-2.

Led by series MVP catcher Rick Dempsey, future Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray, and a rookie shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr the O’s would go on to down the Phillies in five games in that 1983 Fall Classic.

It had been a great run of a winning decade for both Carlton and the Phillies, but it was coming to an end. He won 13 games and made 33 starts in 1984 at age 39. The Phillies were tied for first place on July 2, but would finished just .500 at 81-81 and in fourth place.

During the 1982-84 seasons, Carlton became involved in an ongoing battle for the top of Major League Baseball’s all-time strikeouts list. The record had been held for decades by Walter Johnson. Over that three year period Carlton, Ryan, and Gaylord Perry would duel for the top spot. Ryan would ultimately last the longest and remains the all-time strikeout king, the only man to surpass the 5,000 career mark.

Carlton’s signature pitch was a wipeout slider. It was a pitch he had developed during an exhibition series of games in Japan following the 1968 season, and one which was unhittable when he was on. He once described throwing the pitch in this manner:

It just rolls off of your index finger and begins it’s spin, which will take it down and across the plate. Just remember not to twist your elbow or wrist. It should be thrown, with the wrist and grip set, just like your fastball, slightly off center – with the same velocity and intensity.

His string of 16 consecutive seasons (not counting the 1982 strike-shortened year) came to a grinding halt when Carlton missed more than two months with an injury in the summer of 1985. He went just 1-8 over 16 starts that year at age 40, and it appeared to be the end of the line.

Carlton came back in 1986 for what would prove to be his swan song in Philadelphia. He ended up making just 16 starts that year for the Phillies, going 4-8 with a 6.18 ERA.

On June 21, 1986 against his old Cardinals team, Carlton made his final start in a Phillies uniform. He surrendered six earned runs over five innings at The Vet. But while he struck out six batters, he also walked six.

GM Bill Giles would hand him his release just three days later, bringing Carlton’s time with the club to an end after a mostly dominating decade and a half.

The San Francisco Giants were in first place in early July. Their general manager Al Rosen felt that Carlton could provide another veteran for his team’s rotation to help carry them to the playoffs, and signed him to a contract. But Carlton would make just six starts by the Bay before San Francisco realized he had nothing left. They released him on August 7.

Before he left, Carlton provided San Francisco with one big moment. On August 5 at Candlestick Park in his final appearance in a Giants uniform, Carlton struck out Eric Davis of the Cincinnati Reds. It was the 4,000th strikeout of his career and he joined Ryan as the only members of the 4,000 Strikeout Club to that point.

Five days later it was the Chicago White Sox turn to see if they could catch lightning in a bottle. Under first-year GM Ken Harrelson and new manager Jim Fregosi, the Chisox were going nowhere. They decided to give Carlton a shot as a late-summer drawing card.

Carlton finished out that 1986 season making 10 starts with the White Sox. Maybe it was the aid of the Designated Hitter taking the toll of batting and running the bases off the aging lefty, but something was different over in the American League. Carlton recaptured some of his old magic as he went 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA, allowing just 58 hits over 63.1 innings. He pitched into at least the 7th inning on seven occasions.

A free agent that off-season, his late season success with Chicago was enough to entice the Cleveland Indians into a one-year deal. Carlton would appear in 23 games, 14 of those starts, before the Tribe dealt him to a Minnesota Twins club that was competing for an AL West crown under GM Andy MacPhail and manager Tom Kelly.

As with San Francisco, there would be one historic moment during his time in Cleveland. On April 14 he came on in relief of 48-year-old starting pitcher Phil Niekro. The duo thus became the first teammates who were also 300-game winners to appear in the same game. This would also prove to be Carlton’s lone career appearance at Yankee Stadium. He had been selected to the NL team for the 1977 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium but did not play.

Carlton paid early dividends after arriving in Minnesota, pitching the Twins to a key victory with a big August 8 effort in a showdown with the Oakland A’s at the Metrodome. Minnesota led Oakland by two games in the standings at the time. Carlton turned back the clock at age 43, going 8.2 innings while scattering seven hits in a 9-2 victory. It was the 329th win of his big-league career, and would also prove to be his last.

Minnesota would finish four games ahead of the A’s and two ahead of Kansas City to capture their first-ever AL West crown. The club would then go on to capture the ALCS in five games over Detroit, and then stun the Saint Louis Cardinals in seven games to win the second World Series in franchise history, their first since moving to the Twin Cities in the 1961 season.

Carlton was not on the Twins postseason roster for that October championship run, but he would earn his third World Series ring with a third different organization following his earlier wins with the Cards in 1967 and Phillies in 1980.

He would come back to make four April appearances with the Twins, the first three in relief, at age 44 before finally calling it quits. Minnesota was classy enough to give Carlton one final starting outing before he bowed out.

On April 23, 1988 the big left-hander took the mound on a Saturday night in front of more than 40,000 fans at the Metrodome. It wasn’t pretty. The Indians scored four times off him in the 1st inning en route to a 10-2 victory.

Carlton allowed nine runs that night, eight of them earned, over five innings. He gave up a single to the first batter he faced, a second baseman who Phillies fans might remember by the name of Julio Franco. Carlton also surrendered a pair of home runs, one of those to a man who would become infamous in Phillies lore a few years later by the name of Joe Carter.

Carlton was officially given his final release from the Twins on April 28, 1988. While he was willing to continue pitching, no one offered him a contract.

The following spring, Carlton was offered use of their training facilities by the New York Yankees. But with no guarantee of even a spring training invitation, he finally opted to retire.

For the vast majority of his career in Philadelphia, Carlton, the greatest pitcher to ever don the Phillies uniform, was a teammate of Mike Schmidt, the greatest all-around player to ever wear that same uniform. Schmidt would hang up his cleats early in the 1989 season.

He’s the best third baseman that I ever played with, and maybe of all-time,” said Carlton. “Obvious Hall of Famer, even then. He retired while on top of his game. I thought for sure he was going to hit 600 home runs.

Fellow Phillies Wall of Famer and Baseball Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn is a Philadelphia baseball icon. He was a radio and television broadcast color man for the entirety of Carlton’s career, and had this to say about the left-hander:

Lefty was a craftsman, an artist. He was a perfectionist. He painted a ballgame. Stroke, stroke, stroke, and when he got through (pitching a game) it was a masterpiece.

In addition to his four Cy Young Awards, Steve Carlton finished among the top four in that voting on two other occasions. He was a 10-time National League All-Star, and was also the 1982 NL Gold Glove Award winner.

Carlton was an all-around player as a pitcher, priding himself on his defense and hitting prowess. He holds the all-time MLB record with 144 base runners picked off. Carlton hit .201 over his career with 13 home runs, 49 doubles, six triples, and 140 RBIs.

Happily retired to a 400-acre ranch in Durango, Colorado since his playing days ended, Carlton is content with a lifestyle led mostly out of the limelight. He was married to ex-wife Beverly for 33 years and they had two sons together, but the two divorced in 1998.

I came to Durango in 1989 to get away from society,” he told Pat Jordan for Philadelphia Magazine in 1994. “I don’t like it where there are too many people. I like it here because the people are spiritually tuned in. They know where the lies fall.

Carlton makes the occasional trip for a Phillies, Hall of Fame, or other baseball reunion event, but otherwise doesn’t have much time for the game. He was quoted in that Hixson piece from May 2017 on his lifestyle:

I don’t really know the players any more, I don’t follow it. I know some of the coaches, but I’ve moved on, I’ve got other stuff to do. I owned it for 24 years, I played it, so I don’t need to do it again. I’ve moved on to other things…I do as little as possible. I have an orchard and I watch the apples grow. I’m in the forestry program for the good of the nation and the planet; before Al Gore was green, I was green. I have my solar and an orchard of about 150 fruit trees and I plant trees under the forestry program.

Tim McCarver is renowned as a Hall of Fame baseball analyst and broadcaster to many younger fans of the game for his work over the last few decades. However, McCarver also played the game for a long time. In fact, he is one of the few to ever appear as an MLB player in four different decades.

McCarver and Carlton were teammates with Saint Louis from 1965-69, then again with the Phillies at the start of 1972, and finally from 1975-80. During that last stretch of seasons, McCarver became known as Carlton’s “caddy”, often catching many of his stars even though the club had an All-Star starting catcher in Bob Boone.

The relationship between Carlton and McCarver, who won the World Series together in 1967 with the Cardinals and then again in 1980 with the Phillies, was  extremely close.

When Steve and I die, we are going to be buried in the same cemetery, sixty feet, six inches apart,said McCarver.

Thankfully, both men are still with us today. McCarver turned 78 back in late October. Carlton will turn 75 years old just a few days before Christmas. I wonder if they’ve purchased that unique burial plot yet?

 

PHILOGRAPHY SERIES

Click on the “date” in order to read the Philography piece. Click on the individual name to view their stats page at Baseball Reference.

10.17.2014 – Greg Luzinski

10.24.2014 – Mitch Williams

10.31.2014 – Chris Short

11.07.2014 – Von Hayes

11.14.2014 – Placido Polanco

11.21.2014 – Jim Konstanty

11.28.2014 – Dick Allen

12.06.2014 – Dick Ruthven

12.12.2014 – Grover Cleveland  Alexander

12.20.2014 – Darren Daulton

12.13.2015 – Larry Bowa

1.09.2016 – Sherry Magee

1.26.2016 – Kevin Stocker

2.10.2016 – Granny Hamner

2.15.2016 – Edith Houghton

12.27.2016 – Bob Boone

1.19.2017 – Mike Lieberthal

2.02.2017 – Red Dooin

11.29.2018 – Richie Ashburn

2.03.2019 – Jim Bunning

2.10.2019 – Mike Schmidt

Philography series of Philadelphia Phillies mini-bios to resume

Embed from Getty Images

 

It was October 2014 and I was writing for another site when I decided to begin a series of mini biographies on important figures in Philadelphia Phillies history.

Over the next few years and across a handful of different writing outlets, that series which I named “Philography” would continue to accumulate entries, a few during each off-season.

This year the tradition continues, beginning next week with what will be the 22nd entry in the Philography series. The new entry will highlight the career of the greatest pitcher in Phillies history, Steve Carlton.

To get Phillies and overall baseball history fans ready, below are links to the previous 21 pieces. These bios will usually key on the individual’s playing career, but I try to provide more personal and professional background if widely available.

I hope that you will find the series increases your enjoyment of baseball and the Phillies in particular, and come back for the new entries. There will be one each month during December, January, February, and March.

Click on the “date” in order to read the Philography piece. Click on the individual name to view their stats page at Baseball Reference.

PHILOGRAPHY SERIES

 

10.17.2014Greg Luzinski

10.24.2014Mitch Williams

10.31.2014Chris Short

11.07.2014Von Hayes

11.14.2014Placido Polanco

11.21.2014Jim Konstanty

11.28.2014Dick Allen

12.06.2014Dick Ruthven

12.12.2014Grover Cleveland  Alexander

12.20.2014Darren Daulton

12.13.2015Larry Bowa

1.09.2016Sherry Magee

1.26.2016Kevin Stocker

2.10.2016Granny Hamner

2.15.2016 – Edith Houghton

12.27.2016Bob Boone

1.19.2017Mike Lieberthal

2.02.2017Red Dooin

11.29.2018Richie Ashburn

2.03.2019Jim Bunning

2.10.2019Mike Schmidt

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Philography: Mike Schmidt

Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images

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