Phillies deal Ashburn to Cubs
Young, blonde and fast as a deer, he was the city’s favorite Phillie throughout the 1950s.
On Jan. 11, 1960, however, the future Hall of Famer was traded to Chicago as the Phillies began to rebuild their roster.
Richie Ashburn was a four-time All-Star despite stout competition year-in and year-out. It was tough making the National League All-Star team in those days, with the likes of Stan Musial, Ralph Kiner, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Enos Slaughter and Willie Mays also available for the outfield.
Ashburn remembered one year when he was hitting .345 – it seemed like he was always hitting .345 – and didn’t even make the squad.
As it was, Ashburn hit .600 in his four All-Star appearances. But that’s what you would expect from a guy who as a 21-year-old non-roster player in 1948 took the center field job away from Harry Walker, the defending NL batting champion.
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Ashburn hit .333 that year, and went on to win two batting titles. The first was in 1955, when he posted a .338 mark. Ashburn then followed that up with a .350 clip in 1958, both times leading the league in hits and walks.
On defense, Ashburn was just as good. Only six times in major league history has an outfielder recorded 500 or more putouts in a season; Ashburn did this four times. He had 400 or more to lead the league on nine occasions, a record.
“I played very shallow. I hated to see balls drop in front of me,” Ashburn said. “With my speed, not too many could hit the ball over my head. Ralph Kiner did it. So did Hank Sauer. I felt I was more in the game. I could hear the chatter of the infielders and it kept me more on my toes.”
After the 1959 season, Ashburn was traded to the Chicago Cubs for three players and went on to anchor center field for the North Siders in 1960 and 1961.
Anticipating a future career behind a microphone, Ashburn sometimes conducted a post-game baseball instruction clinic at Wrigley Field for the benefit of the youngsters in the WGN-TV viewing audience.
The next season, Ashburn was sold to the expansion New York Mets. He had a good year offensively, batting .306, and was the team's first-ever All-Star Game representative.
However, it was a frustrating year for the polished professional, who had begun his career with a winner and found himself playing for the losingest team in modern baseball history (with a record of 40-120). He retired at the end of the season.
Ashburn had only one regret about quitting after the 1962 season with the New York Mets: He didn’t get his 3,000 hits, finishing his career with 2,574.
Turned out, what he did – compile a .308 lifetime average, win two National League batting crowns, finish runner-up twice, run down more than 6,000 fly balls, get more hits than anyone else in the star-studded decade of the ‘50s – was enough. He was the definitive leadoff man of his era. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995.
“What I did, I did pretty good,” he said.
Ashburn passed away on Sept. 9, 1997.
Jonathan Coe was the fall 2011 Public Relations intern for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum