Year Inducted: 1995 (Veterans Committee)
It may seem strange that a player who was inducted 33 years after he last played a game to be ranking this high. It might seem even stranger that it took a fan campaign, and possibly some sympathy from a fellow Phillie being inducted, to get him a plaque. It might seem even stranger still that this man is a baseball lifer, broadcasting games for 35 years following his career on the diamond. And yet, this man surely belongs both here on this list and in Cooperstown. That man is Phillies’ great Richie Ashburn.
Ashburn is truly a marvel, a great player who produced little to no home run power. In 15-seasons, mostly spent in the City of Brotherly Love, Ashburn hit .308/.396/.382 for a wRC+ of 115. Through most of the 1950s, Ashburn was the best leadoff hitter in the National League, posting OBP’s of .360 or greater every year and even topping .400 three times. Ashburn also collected his fair share of hits (2574) including 317 doubles and 109 triples. Being at the top of a lineup, Ashburn didn’t get many opportunities to drive in runs, with only 586 in his career. However, his job was to get on base (which he did an incredible job doing) and to score once there (1322 runs scored in his career). Ashburn was also an excellent base runner, being worth over 15 runs on the basepaths and stealing over 200 bases, creating a lot of havoc for opposing pitchers and defenses.
Speaking of defenses, that was another area Ashburn excelled at. He was a gifted centerfielder, being worth 77 runs as a fielder at the most difficult outfield position, ranking 11th among outfielders of all-time at the end of his career. He also ranked 25th in fWAR upon his retirement, incredible for someone with no home run power to do. It goes to show just how great he was at doing the little things to help win a game-getting on base, being a good baserunner and playing strong defense at a premium decision.
Ashburn’s sharp and quick decline phase hurt his ranking, as he was effectively done as an excellent player following the 1958 season. There was no injury, no illness, just age (he was 32 that year) catching up with him quicker than it did with a lot of other players. He did rebound to have 2 solid years (one with the Cubs and one with the Mets), but nothing near the heights he experienced in the 1950s.
Ashburn didn’t have the power to compare well to Mays, Williams, and other outfielders of the time, but he used what skills he did have to be an excellent all-around player. It’s a shame that his great career has been almost forgotten, as he should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame sooner than 1995. This is the second player covered (the first being Orlando Cepeda) that the Veterans Committee should be applauded for having inducted. Ashburn wasn’t only a great player, but became a great broadcaster and representative of the Phillies’ organization for half a century almost. A great choice for induction by any standard.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/16/16: After discussing Larry Doby’s candidacy roughly 50 posts ago, it’s time to tackle the first modern day African American player in the NL.