By Brad Dison
For more than 160 years, baseball has been considered our national pastime. When we think of baseball, we think of players who had memorable careers such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, and many others. Richie Ashburn’s name may not be as instantly recognizable as those mentioned above, but he had a claim to fame which no other baseball player in history can make.
On August 17, 1957, Mrs. Alice Roth, wife of the sports editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin Earl Roth, took her two grandsons, Preston and Tom, to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia to watch the Philadelphia Phillies play the New York Giants. Alice and her grandsons sat in the bleachers near third base and watched the game.
The young boys were enjoying the game, and Alice was enjoying spending time with her grandsons. During one inning, the New York Giants pitcher threw a fast ball to Phillies outfielder Richie Ashburn. Eight-year-old Preston recalled, “Richie [Ashburn] was fouling off a lot of balls.” Richie struck the ball a millisecond earlier than he should have. At that very moment, Alice looked away from the game and adjusted young Preston’s baseball cap. The baseball cracked against the bat and flew into the bleachers near third base. The umpire yelled “foul ball!” Alice never saw the ball coming. It slammed into her face with such force that it broke her nose. Alice, dazed by the hard hit, struggled to comprehend what had just happened. Blood flowed from her nose. Baseballs hit into the stands have always been a most prized souvenir, and, with the bragging rights that the ball had struck his grandmother, Preston desperately wanted the baseball. The man who sat directly in front of Preston had the ball in his hand. Preston asked the man if he could have the baseball as sweet as any eight-year-old boy could ask. The man instantly replied, “Go to hell, kid.”
The umpire paused the baseball game when he realized someone in the bleachers had been injured. Everyone’s attention was on Alice. Medical personnel rushed through the crowded bleachers to get to the injured woman. They inspected Alice’s injured face and, after a few minutes, loaded her onto a stretcher. The umpire restarted the game when he saw the medics carrying Alice out on a stretcher.
Richie was still up at bat. The Giants pitcher threw the ball. Richie swung and made contact with the ball. As before, he hit the ball earlier than expected. The ball, again, flew into the stands near third base. Just as his first foul ball had done, it, too, struck someone in the bleachers. The umpire paused the game again. Everyone was shocked to learn that the ball had not struck another baseball fan, it struck Alice as she was being carried away on the stretcher. The first foul ball had broken her nose, and the second foul ball broke a bone in one of her knees. After a while, the umpire resumed the game, but only after he was certain Alice was safely out of the bleachers and on her way to the hospital.
Richie later said about the event, “I didn’t mean to do it. When I saw what happened, I felt terrible.” Richie visited Alice often during her stay at the hospital. Each time he visited, he brought her a bouquet of flowers. The Phillies showered Alice and her grandsons with gifts. They gave Preston and Tom a baseball signed by all of the players on the team, along with free tickets to future games. In addition, the team gave the young boys a tour of their clubhouse and spent the afternoon talking baseball with them. The boys could hardly contain their excitement. Preston and Tom visited Alice in the hospital after the Phillies gave them the “star treatment.” One of the boys innocently asked, “Grandma, do you think you could go to an Eagles game and get hit in the face with a football?” Richie Ashburn has the distinction of being the only major league baseball player in history to hit the same person twice in the same at-bat.
The New York Times, September 17, 1867, p.2.
Nash, Bruce, and Allan Zullo. Baseball Hall of Shame 3. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
Seideman, David. “Lady Struck Twice by Foul Balls Hit by Phillies’ Richie Ashburn in the Same at Bat.” http://www.Forbes.com. Accessed May 6, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidseideman/2017/09/21/richie-ashburn-once-struck-a-fan-twice-in-the-same-at-bat/#420790a73b72.