When my colleague and fellow baseball historian Adam Darowski wrote that Richie Ashburn was a better player than he had thought, I was pleased. Like the BBWAA writers, I have my biases and one is Ashburn. But using the standard that Adam developed for the “Small” Hall of Fame that I favor, Ashburn came up quite sort. Adam set 105 wWAR as the minimum for entry to the Small Hall; Ashburn had 84.8.
Ashburn, if nothing else, was one of the most dependable players of his era. During the ten year period from 1949 through 1958, he played in 98.6 percent of the Phillies’ games. Only seven players had higher percentages over a similar period: Lou Gehrig, Billy Williams, Nellie Fox, Cap Anson, Stan Musial, John Morrill and Ron Santo.
Ashburn must have been a manager’s dream. Phillies’ pilots Eddie Sawyer, Steve O’Neil, Mayo Smith and, for a season with the Mets, Casey Stengel knew they could pencil Ashburn into the lineup and he would deliver.
A superb outfielder who played in the shadows of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider, Ashburn couldn’t hit for power and was considered to have a weak arm (although in the bottom of the ninth of the 1950 single game playoff for the National League pennant against the Brooklyn Dodgers and with the score tied 1-1, he threw out Cal Abrams at home plate.)
As a leadoff hitter, however, Ashburn completely bedeviled pitchers. Choking up on his bat, Ashburn used his shortened stroke to slap the ball through the infield. When he was not delivering a single, he would bunt his way on base or draw a walk, then steal second. Ashburn knew how to work a pitcher. Once he fouled off 14 deliveries from Cincinnati’s Corky Valentine before he finally walked.
Ashburn’s teammate, Johnny Blatnik told this story about his friend’s bat control:
One night in Philadelphia, there was a loud mouthed guy who was getting on one of our players, I can’t remember who it was. Rich told our man ‘Point him out to me.’ Rich went up to bat and hit the guy in the chest about five or six rows up in the stands with a line drive foul ball. That’s a true story.
Few outside of Philadelphia know that when the 1950 decade ended, Ashburn had more hits than Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Mays or Mantle.
After his playing career ended, Ashburn had the wisdom to turn down an offer to go into Nebraska politics as some urged him to do. Instead Ashburn accepted the Phillies invitation to join the broadcast team where he enamored the notoriously tough Philadelphia fans for decades.
When in 1995 the Hall finally inducted Ashburn, he said showing his famous sense of humor:
I’m flattered that so many baseball people think I’m a Hall of Famer. But what’s hard to believe is how one-hundred and fifty plus people have changed their minds about me since I became eligible because I haven’t had a base hit since then.
Ashburn’s Cooperstown plaque reads, in part:
DURABLE, HUSTLING LEAD-OFF HITTER AND CLUTCH PERFORMER WITH SUPERB KNOWLEDGE OF STRIKE ZONE. BATTED .308 LIFETIME WITH NINE .300 SEASONS AND 2,574 HITS IN 2,189 GAMES, WINNING BATTING CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 1955 AND 1958. AS A CENTER FIELDER, ESTABLISHED MAJOR LEAGUE RECORDS FOR MOST YEARS LEADING LEAGUE IN CHANCES (9), MOST YEARS 500 OR MORE PUTOUTS (4) AND MOST SEASONS 400 OR MORE PUTOUTS (9).
At Ashburn’s 1997 funeral, players and fans showed up in droves and stood in line for hours to pay their final respects to the man whose skills on the field and voice behind the mike was legendary. Some grown men, crying, left their transistor radios beside Ashburn’s casket to pay the ultimate tribute to the man they admired and loved for years.
8 Replies to “Richie Ashburn, My Non-wWAR Overview”
Jeff Bagwell, Rogers Hornsby, Jesse Burkett, Lou Gehring, Bobby Abreu, and Jimmie Foxx are the only players to reach base more in fewer plate appearances than Richie Ashburn.
He got on base 3923 times in just 15 seasons. That’s an AVERAGE of 261 per year.
Do you remember watching that Game of the Week when he hit a grandmother with a foul and as they were carrying her out of the stands, he hit her again with another foul line drive?
@ Vinne: Robin Roberts confirmed this incident in an interview he did years ago.
In 1950, in a game against the Phillies, I attended Dodger Symphony Night carrying my brother’s guitar, which allowed me a free seat in the bleachers at Ebbets Field.
Below us was left-fielder, Del Ennis, broad backed and squarely built, who looked like a ballplayer, but to our left was-the center fielder, #1, Richie Ashburn, who looked as if he were too young to shave. He also did not strike me as a big man, as was Ennis, but I noted that when the Phillies ran to – or from – their dugout at the end of an inning, Ashburn was always the first to arrive at his outfield position.
That hustle paid off when Ashburn used his speed – didn’t he also steal a lot of bases? – and hustled to pick up Gil Hodges’s single in right-center field and made the throw of his life to get a lumbering Cal Abrams at the plate and keep the pennant hopes alive for the Phillies. Those hopes materialized when Dick Sisler hit the home run – opposite field, if I recall – which sealed the Dodger doom.
I believe that Ashburn spent some time as an announcer for the NY Mets, and while there, was noted for his quiet, but pleasant demeanor. I didn’t know he had passed, but to this day I admired Ashburn not only as a player, but a gentleman as well.
Richie was a gamer and a gentleman. Great writeup.
An elite leadoff hitter is a beautiful and rare thing.
The weak arm rep came after he hurt his shoulder. But I believe there were a few years in his youth when Richie led the league in Runner kills.
Of all the great center fielders, before or since, none have put up 500 put out seasons like Ashburn did and unless the parks get larger and the strikeouts are cut down, no one probably ever will.
Rich was a beautiful person: warm, generous, intelligent, funny, thoughtful, and kind. His election to the Hall of Fame was, for him, a double-edged sword that he wielded gracefully if somewhat sardonically. His feats as a ballplayer will be long remembered, but it’s his wonderfulness as a friend and human being that I’ll always treasure.
he was a nice guy, but his power stats are much too weak, Rbis(20!!!!!!!!!!!!),33,33,37,4o,41. Rbi 19 (short season), homers 29. his doubles are not very high. he played in best hitters park. he hit an empty .308. Too many low I.q> voters have drooled over empty .300 averages. Mike schmidts power charged.267 avg. and super fielding is worth at least 4 times ashburns puny career. thanks. L.R>G>