May 21, 2011
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”.
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