Rich “Whitey” Ashburn, now 31 years old, tried to lift the team on his back in 1958, but the load was way too heavy, and the team sank to the bottom once again.
In an era of great centerfielders – Willie Mays, Duke Snyder, Larry Doby, Mickey Mantle – Ashburn made a strong case that he belonged. On the final day of the season he went 3-4 to edge Willie Mays for the batting title, ending with a career-high .350 average. He also led the league in on-base percentage (.440), achieved by leading the league in hits (215), and walks (97). His speed was apparent with a league-leading 13 triples, and 30 stolen bases, one behind Mays.
Robin Roberts was better in 1958; 17-14, 3.24 ERA, 21 complete games, one shutout in 269 innings. Jack Sanford (10-13) could not repeat his rookie year success, but rookie Ray Semproch (13-11) helped.
The season was another case of the team being overmatched against the league’s best. Milwaukee was fielding a team with Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Joe Adcock in the middle of the order, and a pitching staff featuring Warren Spahn (22-11), and Lew Burdette (20-10). One of the season highlights for the Phillies was the August 9th game at Connie Mack Stadium when the Phillies scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th to beat Burdette 5-4. The winning run was scored by Whitey Ashburn on a two-out hit by Dave Philley, a guy who was born to play in Philly.
The Giants and Dodgers had picked up and moved west, and on May 2, 1958, Philadelphia and its fans were introduced to a phenomenon that would never cease being a source of discomfort, dismay, and too often, disappointment – a night game on the West Coast. The Phillies actually won that game 7-4 before 13,486 Californians in 23,000 seat capacity Seals Stadium in San Francisco. Three days later in Los Angeles, the Phillies beat Don Drysdale and the Dodgers 8-3 before 75,000 empty seats in 93,000 seat capacity Los Angeles Coliseum, with its 250 feet left field fence.
Beginning on April 24, when they dropped to 3-4, Manager Mayo Smith tried everything to get the team back to the .500 break even point; on July 12, following a six game road winning streak, they were at 39-38. Then came a seven game road losing streak and Smith was sacked in LA. And, what ho! Eddie Sawyer. We remember Eddie, he’s the guy who won 332 games for the Phillies from 1949 to 1952, and a pennant in the bargain.
But Eddie, like Mayo, was overmatched with this team; he couldn’t stop the losing streaks – a seven game road losing streak from August 12 to 19; from August 27th to September 7th, 1-13. It was brutal. In one last gasp, Eddie squeezed out a six game winning streak to conclude his effort at 30-40. Don’t fret, Eddie, it could have been worse.
- Don Drysdale, Eddie Sawyer, Mayo Smith, Philadelphia Phillies, Richie Ashburn, Seals Stadium