Sports Legend Revealed: Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn indirectly led to the naming of the band Yo La Tengo

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BASEBALL LEGEND: Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn indirectly led to the naming of the band Yo La Tengo.


Baseball and music are irresistibly linked together. When you go to a baseball game, you stand for the National Anthem, you stand for ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ in the seventh inning, plus all the other musical traditions at various ballparks, like ‘Sweet Caroline’ at Fenway Park or ‘God Bless America’ at Yankee Stadium. That’s not even counting all the incidental music, including the unique-to-the-player music that gets played as each player comes up to bat or the songs that are played when the home team wins, like ‘New York, New York’ for the Yankees or a bunch of different songs for the Red Sox, including ‘Dirty Water.’


In honor of this shared tradition, I’ll be doing back-to-back editions of Sports Legends Revealed about baseball music this week and next. In addition, I’ll be doing two special editions of Music Legends Revealed at Entertainment Legends Revealed about baseball-related music legends. Here is the first special edition of Music Legends Revealed (including ‘just why do the Red Sox play ‘Sweet Caroline’ at their games?’).

Today we examine how the critically acclaimed rock band Yo La Tengo derived their name from a classic baseball anecdote involving Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn that occurred during the final year of Ashburn’s career.

Read on to learn the strange connection between the Hall of Fame centerfielder and the alternative rock band!

Yo La Tengo is a highly acclaimed alternative rock band that consists of Ira Kaplan (guitars, piano, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, piano, vocals), and James McNew (bass, vocals). Kaplan and Hubley, who are married to each other, formed the band in 1984. The current lineup has been in place since 1992. While perhaps not the most popular band in terms of album sales (of their dozen albums that they have released only one of them has ever been in the Top 100 of the Billboard Top 200 charts) they have a dedicated fan following (allowing them to have released so many albums) and are one of the best reviewed rock bands of the past two decades.

Their interesting name is derived from a famous baseball story involving Richie Ashburn. Ashburn was a longtime member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization. The fleet-footed Ashburn was one of the greatest defensive centerfielders of all time, and it is mostly his defensive prowess that led to his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, although he was a fine hitter, as well, with a career .308 batting average and 2,574 total hits. Although Ashburn made it to the World Series in just his third year in the Major Leagues, the end of his career saw the outfielder stuck on some pretty poor teams. His last two years with the Phillies saw the team mired in last place. He was then traded to the Chicago Cubs, who promptly finished second to last the next two seasons! The ultimate indignity came when Ashburn was drafted by the New York Mets in the 1961 Expansion Draft. Ashburn had a fine season, becoming the first All-Star representative for the Mets while spending time at all three outfield positions (mostly center and right). However, seeing his team lose 120 games after spending the previous four seasons for bad teams was too much for Ashburn and he retired after the 1962 season. He eventually became a very popular announcer for his original team, the Phillies. He was set to retire after the 1997 season but tragically died of a heart attack during the season (after broadcasting a Phillies/Mets game in New York).

In any event, during that one season with the Mets, Ashburn had a problem with the Mets starting shortstop, Elio Chacón. You see, Chacón was from Venezuela and spoke little to no English at all. So when a ball was hit to shallow center or left-center field, Chacón would drift back while Ashburn would drift forward. Since both men’s eyes would be on the ball, they would have to rely on verbal communication to keep from bumping into each other. Ashburn would yell ‘I got it! I got it!’ but that did not work and the pair would either collide or come close to it. So Ashburn learned how to say ‘I got it!’ in Spanish. And, basically, that’s what ‘yo la tengo’ means. So Ashburn used the phrase and it worked well. Chacón learned to back off on the ball. However, one day Ashburn was coming in on a ball hit to left-center and shouting ‘yo la tengo!’ when out of nowhere he collides with Mets left fielder, Frank Thomas! Thomas, the longtime Pittsburgh slugger, has been acquired by the Mets in a trade with the Milwaukee Braves for Gus Bell (who the Mets had drafted in the 1961 Expansion Draft) and the veteran player did not speak a lick of Spanish so he has no idea what Ashburn was saying! In fact, allegedly, Thomas remarked ‘What the heck is a Yellow Tango?’ I don’t know if that’s accurate, though.

In any event, Ira Kaplan is a longtime Mets fan, so he named the band after the famous (or infamous?) anecdote when he formed the band with his wife back in 1984.


Pretty neat, huh?

--Brian Cronin

Be sure to check out my website, Sports Legends Revealed, for more sports legends! I have archives of all the past legends featured on the site in the categories of: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey and the Olympics.

Also be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for legends about the worlds of TV, Movies, Music and more!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is And please buy my book, ‘Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed!