Richie Ashburn is the Inspiration for the Band Name “Yo La Tengo”

After the 1959 season, the Phillies decided to part ways with beloved center fielder Richie Ashburn. Whitey was shipped to the Cubs for 3 players. After a couple of years in Chicago, he was picked up by the expansion Mets, and spent his final season (1962) in baseball purgatory. The worst team of the modern era, the Mets went 40-120 that season, and the whole year was little more than a running collection of blunders, errors, and losses.

One constant source of Keystone Cop mishaps was the lack of communication between Ashburn, playing center, and the Mets shortstop, a Venezuelan named Elio Chacon. Chacon didn’t speak English, so when Richie would yell “I got it! I got it!” Chacon would keep chasing after the ball and the two would inevitably collide, allowing the ball to fall harmlessly to earth. Finally, the team’s right fielder Joe Christopher, who was bilingual, suggested that instead of yelling, “I got it!”, Richie should yell “Yo La Tengo!” to ward off the shortstop. Ashburn and the young shortstop agreed on it, and sure enough a few games later, a pop fly went into left center, between Ashburn and Chacon. “Yo La Tengo! Yo La Tengo!” shouted Whitey. Chacon stopped in his tracks. Whitey reached his glove up to make the catch…and got plowed over by Mets left fielder Frank Thomas, who didn’t speak Spanish. Whitey and Frank fell to the ground, and the ball landed between them. As they got up to collect themselves, Howard turned to Ashburn and said, “What the heck is a yellow tango?” Incidentally, Thomas was later a member of the 1964 Phillies team. Here’s a great Yo La Tengo song, “Today is the Day”.

History at the Penn Relays

Jesse Owens at the Penn Relays

The Penn Relays are taking place now through Saturday at Franklin Field. Officially the Penn Relay Carnival, the Relays are the longest running uninterrupted collegiate meet in the United States. The first meet was held in 1895 (a year before the first modern Olympics) and is considered the birthplace of the modern relay. The event has long drawn the top high school, collegiate and Olympic level athletes from around the country and beyond.

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Art Mahaffey: Better than a Robot any day.

Before the Phils’ 4-3 win over the visiting Brewers today, there were two ceremonial first pitches.  The first was thrown by a robot from UPenn’s GRASP (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) Lab as part of Science Day.  Sadly, it wasn’t a success.  The robot didn’t reach the plate, and instead bounced a weakly thrown ball to the Phillie Phanatic; sparking a smattering of boos.  (By the way, couldn’t they have just gotten a pitching machine to do the same thing???).

The second pitch, hurled by a human was a strike.  Art Mahaffey, former Phillies pitcher and current Allentown resident, was invited to throw out the ceremonial first (or second) pitch today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his 17 strikeout performance against the Chicago Cubs.  On April 23, 1961, Mahaffey started the second game of a double-header and walked off the mound after nine innings with the franchise record for strikeouts in a game; a record that still stands.

Pitching a complete game, he allowed 4 hits and walked one, in addition to his 17 Ks, in a 6-0 win over the Cubs.  Mahaffey did most of his damage against the meat of the Cubs order.  He struck out the 2 through 6 hitters a total of 14 times.  And these guys were no slouches:  Don Zimmer, 3Ks; Bob Will, 2Ks; Ron Santo, 3Ks; Ernie Banks, 3Ks; Frank Thomas, 3Ks.

In 1961, he finished 11-19 and led the National League in losses, but was still tagged as an NL All-Star.  His 17 strikeout performance and the fact that the Phils were a bad team (47-107) probably factored into a 7-9 pitcher being named an All-Star.

Career-wise, Mahaffey pitched six seasons for the Phillies winning 58 and losing 60 and averaging 5.8 Ks per 9 innings.  He pitched another year with the Cardinals, appearing in just 12 games.  His career was shortened by a rotator-cuff injury, but not before he made his mark on the Phillies franchise.

Now, Mahaffey is known for two things: (1) holding the Phillies record for strikeouts in a game, and (2) being the first 73-year-old man to embarrass a UPenn robot in a pitching duel.  Score two for Art.

The Disastrous Start of the Brewers Franchise

The Brewers are in town this week, taking on the Phils. They started play in Milwaukee in 1970. But the genesis of the team lies out west in Seattle, where in 1969 the franchise played a single disastrous season before being bought by a car dealer in Milwaukee named Bud Selig. Probably the best documentation of that season on the brink comes from Jim Bouton in his controversial best-seller Ball Four.

The team was a disaster not only on the field, where they went 64-98, but in the front office, where the team was a money pit for its owners, especially since they had to play in a minor league park. Attendance was dismal in Sick’s Stadium (link will also entertain you with the Pilots team song), and the team headed into 1970 having no idea where it would play its home games. The owners wanted to sell to Bud Selig in Milwaukee, but the other league owners turned down the $10 million deal. The team reported to spring training with their future completely up in the air. Finally, on April 1st, less than a week before the season started, the courts ruled that the Pilots were bankrupt and could therefore move to Milwaukee. The team equipment, which had been kept in storage in Utah, was finally moved up to Milwaukee. The team had to wear the old Pilot uniforms with the word “Brewers” stitched over the old Pilot logos. They didn’t fare much better in Milwaukee that year, going 65-97.

The above video is a trailer for a documentary that was released last year about the Pilots’ one and only season, called Short Flight Into History. Part 2 of the doc can be seen here.

When Havlicek Stole the Damn Ball

The mid-60s were a brutal time for Philadelphia sports fans. The ’64 Phillies pulled off one of the greatest chokes in sports history, the Eagles were 16-37-1 between 1962 and 1965, and the Sixers were the victim of the most famous radio call in basketball history.

To set the stage, the Sixers were trying to pull off a huge upset in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals. The Sixers had gone a mere 40-40 that year, while the Celtics had gone 62-20. But that gritty Sixers team, led by Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer, had taken the Celtics to a 7th game on April 15th, 1965, and with 5 seconds left were only down one point and were inbounding the ball under their own basket. Greer attempted to make a pass to Chet Walker, hoping that the high scoring forward would attack the basket. He never got the chance. John Havlicek jumped in front of the pass and tipped it to teammate Sam Jones. The Celtics went to the Finals for the 8th straight year, and the Sixers went home. The pain continued the next two years, as the Sixers fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in 5 games both years. Finally, in 1967, the Sixers got past the Celtics and went on to win the NBA title. Here is the NBA Encyclopedia entry about the play.