I just finished a book called “The Wax Pack”. It is about guy who came up with the idea to open an old pack of baseball cards and try and meet with the 15 guys in the pack. It was a great idea. He took his old car and got to talk to most of the guys. However, I thought with a couple of exceptions his interviews weren’t very good. They didn’t talk much baseball. While Lawrence Ritter put the players front and center in “The Glory of Their Times” (a great baseball book), I felt the author of the Wax Pack made the book too much about him.
He gives a little criticism to Richie Hebner because he gives a cliché answer but doesn’t consider he asked a cliché question. He said he talked to Hebner for an hour but the only thing he has on him is some food Hebner likes to eat on the road. This is sad because it appears in the book that the author did a lot of research on each of the players.
However, it got me thinking what questions I would ask Richie Ashburn was why your walk totals increase by so much in 1954. Was this an actual change in strategy? Why did you wait until age 29? Was there pressure on you to swing more? I would also ask him how he felt in the 1950 game when he threw Cal Abrams out at the plate in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the tie and send the game in the extra innings? Did he feel the Phillies couldn’t lose now? I would also ask him how he felt bunting the runners to second and third in the top of the 10th before Dick Sisler hit the game and pennant winning 3-run homer? However, Richie is dead so I will never interview him.
You can see his improvement in walks in his record. In 1954 at the age 29 he walked 125 times. His previous high was 75. Actually, a good total for a non-power hitting power hitter. That was the only weakness that Ashburn had on the field, not much power. His career on-base percentage was higher than his slugging percentage. Lucky, he had a great on base percentage, especially in 1954 and after. After 1954 Ashburn played 8 more years. In those years he walked 100 more times in a season 3 times, led the league in walks 3 times, won his two batting titles and led the league in on base percentage 3 times. He accomplished all these things but the batting title in 1954.
Early in Sabermetrics we found out that Richie had a lot of putouts and he was given a lot of credit for his fielding and this caused him to be overrated. However, more sophisticated methods are now used and I think Ashburn is now more fairly rated. However, I don’t think we will ever get fielding completely right.
Ashburn was not a bad player in his final season with the 1962 Mets at the age of 35. So, he easily could have played longer and improved his career statistics However, combining 120 losses and the offer of a broadcasting job, he felt ready to retire. He also easily made my hall of fame and has made the real hall of fame.