Retired Numbers: Philadelphia Phillies

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

The Philadelphia Phillies have retired five numbers and honored two players with unnumbered banners.

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Richie Ashburn, 1

Ashburn spent 12 of his 15 seasons in Phniladelphia, batting .308/.396/.382 with 2,217 hits for the Phillies. He was a good defensive center fielder who provided very good offense, a combination that gave him an average of about 4.8 WAR per year during his Phillies days.

Ashburn retired in 1962 at age 35 after playing with the awful New York Mets in their inaugural season. After his retirement, he spent 35 years doing color commentary on the Phillies’ radio and television broadcasts. For the last 27 of those years, he worked alongside the legendary Harry Kalas.

Ashburn never got more than 41.7 percent of the BBWAA vote for the Hall of Fame, but he was elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 1995. The Phillies retired his number 1 in 1979, but not before they had issued it to Bobby Wine, Joe Morgan, Al Dark, and Jose Cardenal. (Interestingly, all but Cardenal went on to become big-league managers.)

Jim Bunning, 14

Bunning was a very good pitcher from 1957-67, covering 11 of his 17 seasons in the league. He spent most of that prime with the Detroit Tigers, going 118-87 for them in nine seasons. He spent a total of six seasons with the Phillies, four in his prime and two at the end of his career. He finished 89-73 with a 2.93 ERA for the Phils, with career marks of 224-184 and 3.27.

Bunning was never elected to the Hall of Fame by the writers, although he got as high as 70 percent in 1987 (his 11th of 15 years on the ballot). He was elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 1995, and the Phillies retired his number 14 in 2001. Woodie Fryman wore 14 in 1968 between Bunning’s stints with the Phillies, and after his retirement it was worn by Tom Hutton, Bud Harrelson, Pete Rose, John Wockenfuss, Jeff Stone, Tom Barrett, Rex Hudler, and Gary Bennett.

Mike Schmidt, 20

According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Schmidt is the best third baseman in baseball history. It would be hard to find anyone who would argue too strenuously against that idea. He played 18 seasons, all with the Phillies, and batted .267/.380/.527 with 548 home runs. Schmidt won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards (1980, 1981, and 1986), made 12 All-Star teams, and won ten Gold Gloves. His .267 batting average is the only knock against him, but we should all be thankful to live in an enlightened age where we can marvel over the .380 on-base percentage instead of focusing on the relatively meaningless batting average.

Schmidt retired in 1989, and the Phillies retired his number 20 in 1990. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1995.

There’s video of Schmidt crying as he announced his retirement in 1989, but that’s a downer. I’d rather show you video of him “turning 7-Up,” along with Bruce Sutter and Dave Parker:

Steve Carlton, 32

Carlton spent 15 of his 24 seasons with the Phillies. He came up with the St. Louis Cardinals, then won the NL Cy Young Award in 1972, his first year in Philadelphia. That year, he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a Phillies team that went 59-97. He won three more Cy Youngs for the Phillies, and by the end of the 1984 seasons the 39-year-old Carlton was 313-207 with a 3.04 ERA (121 ERA+) and 3,872 strikeouts in his 20-year career.

Unfortunately, Carlton did not quit while he was ahead. He pitched four more seasons, bouncing from the Phillies to the San Francisco Giants to the Chicago White Sox to the Cleveland Indians to the Minnesota Twins. In those four seasons with five teams, he went 16-37 with a 5.21 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 430 innings. Although he temporarily held the record for most career strikeouts, he was passed for good by Nolan Ryan and later by Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.

After Carlton’s career ended in 1988, the Phillies retired his number in 1989 and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994. No one wore his number 32 after he left the Phillies.

Robin Roberts, 36

Jaffe’s JAWS system combines two elements: a player’s overall WAR, and his WAR from his best seven years (which do not have to be consecutive). By JAWS, Roberts is the 22nd-best starting pitcher in baseball history, easily good enough for the Hall of Fame. There are only four pitchers in the top 30 who are not in the Hall: Roger Clemens (third place, excluded for reasons that have nothing to do with his pitching), Jim McCormick (19th, played from 1878-87), Curt Schilling (27th), and Mike Mussina (28th).

The interesting thing about Robert, though, is that his seven-year peak is not really seven great years. From 1950-54, he had WARs of 7.3, 8.0, 8.3, 9.8, and 9.0, a truly outstanding stretch. After 1954, though, he played 13 more seasons and had only one great season in the bunch. In the end, he pitched 19 seasons, and more than half of his career WAR total came in that five-year stretch.

Roberts left the Phillies in 1961, and the team retired his number the next year. He retired after the 1966 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976, his fourth year on the ballot.

Honored: Pete Alexander

Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched eight years for the Phillies, going 190-91 with a 2.18 ERA (140 ERA+). He retired in 1930, two years before the Phillies began wearing uniform numbers, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938. There is no number to retire for him, so the Phillies have hung a “P” on the wall in his honor (for Phillies, not Pete).

Honored: Chuck Klein

Klein played 15 of his 17 seasons for the Phillies and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1980. Unlike Alexander, Klein played most of his career in the numbered-jersey era. The problem is, he wore too many numbers to pick on to retire. With the Phillies, he wore numbers 3, 32, 36, 1, 26, 29, 3 again, 8, and 26 again. So when the Phillies decided to honor him in 2001, they just slapped a “P” on the wall and called it good.

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