``All cultures have ritual numbers but they don't have the same ritual numbers,'' explained Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of Southern California at Berkley.
He said Americans have a propensity to
see things in threes.
For Native Americans, it's four, and for the Chinese, it's five.
``It is very deep in our culture in terms of religion - the father, son and holy ghost,'' said Dundes, whose book ``Interpreting Folklore'' has a chapter on the significance of the number three in American culture.
``It's in our names. We have three names . . . We say, ``It's as easy as one, two, three,'' he said. ``You just take it for granted that . . . all this stuff is somehow in threes.''
Then, there are all the three-oriented phrases like ``the third time's a charm,'' ``going down for the third time,'' and ``Tic tac toe, three in a row.''
Plus, there are numerous three-worded phrases: ``win, lose or draw,'' ``we shall overcome'' ``fat, dumb and happy'' and ``snap, crackle and pop.''
The importance of the number three comes from many ancient sources.
But Dundes, who describes himself as a Freudian, said he believes it's sort of a subliminal symbol of male genitalia.
``It's like putting a masculine stamp on things,'' he said.
Folklorist Claudia de Lys writes that it springs from the basic observation about the mystery of birth.
``If lucky, the contact of two persons brought forth life, so that three meant life or action in everything,'' de Lys writes in a ``Treasury of American Superstitions.''
She believes the concept that three bad things happen together is based on the psychological need to believe that a bad cycle will end.
So, should Hall-of-Famer Ashburn even be counted with Princess Diana and Mother Teresa? The answer is probably - but only if you are a sports fan from Philly.