Phillies: Story of Richie Ashburn, baseball’s unluckiest fan

A look at the sign of Ashburn Alley (Photo by L Redkoles/Getty Images)
A look at the sign of Ashburn Alley (Photo by L Redkoles/Getty Images) /

Phillies great Richie Ashburn once struck a fan with a foul ball twice in the same at-bat.

“Brotherly love indeed! A foul hit by Richie Ashburn of this team broke a lady’s nose; as she got carted out, a second broke her leg,” said Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, presenting the clue on a recently aired episode. A contestant buzzed in: “Who are the Phillies?”

“Philadelphia Phillies, right,” replied Trebek.

The story seems impossible, but it is true.

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It was a day game on August 17, 1957, opposite the New York Giants at Connie Mack Stadium. Ashburn was well into his 10th of 15 Hall of Fame MLB seasons; already a three-time All-Star, with a career batting average well north of .300.

Nearly 8,000 fans were in attendance that day, three being Alice Roth, wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, and her two grandsons. They sat in the press box behind third base.

Whitey came to the plate, and to Roth’s surprise, was struck in the face by the eventual broadcaster’s lined foul ball. Play briefly paused as medics tended to Roth, whose nose was broken and bleeding.

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And, as Roth was on a stretcher, being carried out of the section, the unthinkable happened the very next pitch. Ashburn lined another foul ball directly at Roth, which this time broke a bone in her leg. Roth never sat close to the field again, rather in the left field bleachers, writes Daven Hiskey.

Ashburn and Roth connected and became friends after the bizarre occurrence; Whitey, ironically, later wrote for the Bulletin where Roth’s husband worked at the time. Select30 says the odds of a fan being hit just once by a baseball are 300,000 to 1. Considering the odds of what Roth went through, surely it may never happen again.

Nonetheless, the Phillies at least won the game, 3-1, with Ashburn going 2-for-4 with a double as the leadoff hitter.