Hall links Phillies greats Ashburn, Schmidt
It's been 20 years since Richie Ashburn and Mike Schmidt, who spanned nearly a century of Phillies history, received baseball's highest honor on July 30, 1995, a steamy-hot Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y.
They will be forever connected for sharing this moment together. And because few better define what it means to wear Phillies pinstripes.
It took the enormously popular Ashburn 33 years after his playing days ended to punch his Hall of Fame ticket. Schmidt was elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on his first try. His 96.52 percent of the vote ranks ninth all time.
"That induction ceremony was a few hours of my life I'll never forget," said Schmidt. "Sharing it with Richie made it even more special. Unlike Richie, who seemed to breeze through his speech by sharing personal stories in only the way he could, I wrote and rehearsed a lengthy speech hoping I could cover every outstanding issue left from my 20 years as a Phillie.
"It was a career which played out in one town, one generation of passionate fans who didn't always 'love' me on the field. I hoped on induction day to make amends and set the record straight that I loved the city, its fans and how they pushed me to a higher level."
Schmidt did just that.
"No matter how well Mike did, the fans thought he could have done even better," Ashburn said. "There were streaks where he carried the team, but there was also a feeling among the fans it was going to disappear. Most of the time you really couldn't have done any better than Mike did. And no home run was more important than the one he hit in Montreal that landed the Phillies in the 1980 playoffs."
Ashburn was 68 when he was inducted. Two years later on Sept. 9, 1997, he died suddenly in a New York hotel room after broadcasting a Phils-Mets game.
"I thought maybe it would happen someday, but you don't sit back and say, 'This is going to be the year,'" said Ashburn, the best leadoff hitter of his era, after finally being elected by the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee.
Ashburn hit .308 during his 15-year career, which was mostly with the Phillies. He retired after hitting .306 as an original Met in 1962.
"Worst team ever put together in the history of the game, and I was their MVP," said Ashburn, known as Whitey by friends.
Always a Philadelphia favorite, Ashburn was invited to become a Phils broadcaster in 1963, a role he elevated to extraordinary heights. With his homespun humor and vast knowledge of the game, he and Harry Kalas formed one of the most entertaining on-air partnerships and personal friendships baseball has known.
Said Kalas, who died in 2009: "Rich is wonderful as a color analyst, because he not only brings you his great expertise, but that great Nebraska dry sense of humor. We've been together so long, we almost anticipate each other's moods, how we're going to call the game."
"I never saw Richie play in person, but always was aware of his record and what people said about him as an underrated player," said Schmidt, 65, who spends about 50 days each year working on Phillies broadcasts and marketing. "Richie was a tough dude, a great athlete as we all know, but boy was he fun on the golf course and the card table. To this day, he is imitated often when I stand over a putt and announce in only the way he could, 'Boys, this is my favorite putt!'"
Longtime Ashburn teammate, the late Robin Roberts, also a Hall of Famer, remarked: "Richie was very serious when it came to playing the game. He would play cards and was a fun guy off the field, but on the field, he really teed it up."
Baseball was recovering from its devastating 1994-95 players strike during the summer when Ashburn and Schmidt were inducted. They spent snippets of their speeches urging MLB to get an agreement with the players union. Even though the strike had ended, there was no contract between players and owners.
"Baseball players are fighting the owners, owners are fighting the baseball players. We're in this thing together and that should include the fans because they're the most important part of the equation," said Ashburn.
Said Schmidt: "Our game has reached a crossroads. I don't believe it can survive unless the team owners and players become one."
A labor agreement was signed months later, and there has been labor peace since.
Ashburn was a career .308 hitter with 317 doubles, 109 triples, 234 stolen bases and a .397 on-base percentage. He led the National League in walks four times and in hits three times. Ashburn had double figures in steals in 12 of his 15 seasons, and he had a 23-game hitting streak his rookie season (1948), a mark that stood 39 years.
It was in 1950 that Ashburn helped the Phillies win the NL pennant on the final day of the season, with Dick Sisler's 10th-inning home run propelling the victory over Brooklyn. In that game, Ashburn threw a runner out at home plate, paving the way for the Phils' dramatic win.
Michael Jack Schmidt, as Kalas used to call him, has stats that will stand up to just about any player in MLB history. Schmidt won three NL MVP Awards, 10 Gold Glove Awards and six Silver Slugger Awards. He finished with 548 homers for his career.
When Schmidt was inducted, he became the first player in the Hall of Fame to spend his entire career with the Phillies. He played 18 seasons for them, hitting .267 with 1,595 RBIs. When Schmidt retired on Memorial Day weekend in 1989, he held or shared 14 Major League records, 18 NL records and 24 team records.
Schmidt holds the record for leading the NL in homers, eight seasons. Only Babe Ruth, with 12 in the American League, led his league more years.
"It's hard to say whether my life has changed significantly after being elected to the HOF," said Schmidt. "Sure there have been some minor changes related to opportunities, financial gain and career status. But for the most part I'm still the same guy, with the same outlook on life and the same statistics on my baseball card, HOF or not."
Pausing, he said: "But it's an extreme honor to be in the fraternity with baseball's all-time greats. To be considered a deserving part of a group that includes my boyhood idols, is a perfect ending to my career."