Richie Ashburn is the greatest outfielder in Philadelphia Phillies history. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1995.
Ashburn was an excellent defensive center fielder with outstanding speed. He was a fine base runner, could steal bases and was one of the greatest of all lead off hitters.
Until Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson came along, a solid argument could be made that Ashburn was the greatest lead off hitter of all time. He averaged 89 walks and only 42 strikeouts a season.
Once, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, Ashburn fouled off 14 Corky Valentine pitches before getting his walk.
Today, walks are valued more than when Ashburn played, although astute managers realized they often were the difference between winning and losing. Frankie Frisch knew what he was saying when he lamented, “Oh, those bases on balls.”
Ashburn played from 1948-59 with the Phillies and was traded to the Chicago Cubs on Jan. 11, 1960 in exchange for pitcher John Buzhardt, shortstop Al Dark and third baseman Jim Woods. The New York Mets purchased Ashburn’s contract from the Cubs on Dec. 8, 1961.
Ashburn played 15 seasons. If his career had started in 1992 instead of in 1948, he would not make the Hall of Fame because players are evaluated by different standards in the 21st century.
Ashburn won batting titles in 1955 (.338) and in 1958 (.350). he led the league in on base percentage four times, in walks four times, in triples twice, in hits three times and in games played twice.
He led the National League in putouts nine times despite the presence of Wilie Mays and Duke Snider.
The problem is that center field is considered a power position and Ashburn didn’t hit with power. He batted .308/.396/.382 with 29 career home runs.
A tremendous negative is that Ashburn’s on base percentage was 14 points better than his slugging average. Only 455 of his 2.574 hits went for extra bases.
Although Ashburn didn’t have a strong throwing arm, he made one of the most important throws in baseball history.
The Phillies and Brooklyn Dodgers were tied for first place on the last day of the 1950 season.
With the score 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn had the speedy Cal Abrams on second and PeeWee Reese first with no outs. Duke Snider hit a line drive single to center field.
Ashburn was playing shallow because the situation called for a bunt to move the potential pennant winning run to third base with only one out. Yes, in 1950, managers sacrificed with players who batted third.
Ashburn picked up the ball as Cal Abrams raced for the plate. He was out by 15 feet. The Phillies won the game in extra innings.
Nineteen sixty two was the Mets inaugural season. They lost the most games any team ever lost, but there were a few bright spots.
Ashburn appeared in 135 games, batted .306 with a .424 on base percentage and managed to steal 12 bases. It was his final season.
There is no doubt that Richie Ashburn is a Hall of Famer, that Richie Ashburn was one of the greatest lead off batters in history and that Richie Ashburn was a wonderful broadcaster.