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by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
January 30, 2006
I am not sure what our collective problem with Richie Ashburn turned out to be. For the record, I gave Ashburn one point, as did Scott, while Keith gave him zero. In retrospect, I am not sure I would have given him a two, but at the same time I do think he deserves to remain on the ballot for future consideration.
As far as I can tell, Ashburn has two strikes against him. First, he simply did not hit for power. He had 29 career homeruns in 8365 at-bats (oddly his career high came in his final season in only 389 at-bats). His career high RBI was 63, and he regularly did not get more than 50. As a result, his career slugging percentage is lower (by seventeen points) than his career on-base percentage.
His second biggest flaw appears to be that he is incredibly overrated. Without recounting the numerous examples of Ashburn hoopla, he is without a doubt blown out of proportion.
That having been said, Ashburn has a lot of upside. First, consider his fantastic on-base percentage. He finished with a career .396 OBP, in a league whose OBP was .337. Secondly, he finished with a career .308 average, not too shabby. He led the league in average twice, on-base percentage 4 times, and hits three times, while finishing first or second in the league in times on base 6 times. Third, he walked more than twice as much as he struck out, which is always impressive. Fourth, he scored 90 or more runs 9 times, including eight in a row. He did these things for a Phillies team which failed in finish higher than fourth in all but two of his seasons in the league.
Defensively, from what I can tell without having fielding runs in front of me, he looks pretty solid, finishing with a fielding percentage 5 points higher than the league, and a range factor 92 points higher than the league.
The story of the end of Ashburn's career is retold in the Bill James Book (again, his ability to wax sentimental for anybody but ignore George Sisler . . . ). Apparently he gave it up a little too hard late in 1962 and wrecked his head. Unlike Campanella, it can not be said that Ashburn was on the downside of his career when injury ended him. He hit .306 in his final year, with an on-base and slugging higher than his career average, with 81 walks in 135 games, with a BB/K ratio of over 2 to 1, and the fourth highest OPS+ of his career.
Ashburn averaged one homerun every 75 or so games, which is not
high. I would imagine that of similar players since 1920, he is the best to have such an average while playing in over 2000 games. Ashburn was not a slugger, but it doesn't mean he wasn't an excellent player. In fact, he was an awful lot like Stan Hack, about whom Scott, Keith, and I have unequivocal feelings.
I will push for his re-nomination to the ballot next season.
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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org