posted on Apr, 15 2006 @ 09:38 PM
The answer is R i c h i e A s h b u r n.
Not only does he have by far the best defensive stats of all time, he was a MUCH better offensive player than people realize. No, he didn't get HR's
and RBI's (he was a leadoff hitter), and his career slugging average was an abysmal .382. He never created 8 runs per 27 innings in a season, though
he came close twice.
B U T:
In all of the categories not related to HR's, in the 13 seasons from 1948 through 1960, here is how he did:
1. ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Led the N.L. FOUR times, and was in the Top 10 NINE times. He also would have led the N.L. in his final season, 1962, if
he'd had about 30 more plate appearances. By the way, he spent his final season as a member of the unforgettable 1962 Mets, hitting .308 and having,
as I said, the best on-base percentage in the league;
2. BATTING AVERAGE: Led the league TWICE, and was in the top 10 nine times;
3. RUNS SCORED: Top 10 seven times, despite usually playing for atrocious teams;
4. TOTAL HITS: Led the league THREE times, top 10 nine times;
5. DOUBLES: Top 10 three times;
6. TRIPLES: Led the league TWICE, top 10 eight times--could run;
7. WALKS: Led the league FOUR times, top 10 eight times;
8. STOLEN BASES: Led the league ONCE, top 10 TWELVE times;
9. SINGLES: Led the league FOUR times; top THREE ALL 13 YEARS;
10. RUNS CREATED: Top 10 three times;
11. TIMES ON BASE: Led the league FIVE times; Top 10 ELEVEN times.
12. HIT BY PITCH: Top 10 three times.
13. HARDEST TO STRIKEOUT: Top 10 ELEVEN years.
OK. Look at that long list, and at how very often Ashburn was in the top 10. He was always Top 3 in singles, usually Top 10 in walks (a great
combo), nearly always Top 10 in on-base percentage, and nearly always among the hardest to K. His career on-base percentage was .396, which is
excellent, and that's playing for horrendous teams (except the 1950 Philly "Whiz Kids").
People simply do not appreciate the breadth or depth or Ashburn's feats. We all recognize Speaker, Cobb and Wagner's names as being those of three
all-time immortals, and they couldn't hit HR's, either. Now, yeah, all three were FAR better players than Richie Ashburn, but my point is that you
don't have to be able to hit HR's to be a great player. Look at the above stats, and at the startling frequency with which Ashburn was either the
league leader or among the league leaders in major categories.
Now realize that he was, statistically, the greatest outfielder in MLB history. People can argue for Curt Flood, Tommy Agee, Tris Speaker, Joe
DiMaggio (a really strained argument, there), Paul Blair, Gary Maddox, Andruw Jones and, of course, Willie Mays as the greatest defensive CF of all
time. And one might be correct in picking any one of those people--except, I believe, DiMaggio--at #1.
But on paper, it's Ashburn hands down. I mean, VERY few players have ever had a 500-putout season in the outfield. I've tried to find a list, but
have failed. I did find an A.L. list, and I think it consisted of Dom DiMaggio, Chet Lemon and Rickey's old outfield-mate on the A's, Dwayne Murphy.
Period. THREE guys.
I believe there are something like 5 or 6 in the N.L., all of whom--like D. DiMaggio, Lemon and Murphy--have "only" one season with 500 putouts.
And Richie Ashburn had FOUR such seasons. It's like single-season slugging averages over .730 or so used to be, prior to Steroid Ball. Babe
Ruth had seven of the top 11 single seasons, including two which were so far ahead of anyone else as to be "untouchable."
How many more mind-blowing stats have you heard than this 500-putouts stat? Cy Young's 511 wins? Well, maybe. If one understands how people
"pitched" in the Dead Ball Era, that stat might seem tame compared to four seasons of 500+ putouts as an outfielder.
And it's not a case of Ashburn's having had to catch everything in the OF, because of lame guys in RF and LF. WILLIE MAYS had epically horrible LF's
to deal with: Hank Sauer, Leon Wagner, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. Throw in Dave Kingman and Greg Luzinski, and you've perhaps got the six
worst defensive LF's of all time, yet Mays never registered more than 448 putouts. And remember, it was 445-455 to the power alleys in the Polo
Grounds, where Mays played from 1951-1957, and it was 483 to dead center (yeah, that's true).
People in Philly loved Ashburn as their announcer, and they knew he was a good enough OF to make the HOF, but they apparently don't know just how
great a player he was. As good as The Great Five center fielders? No, of course not, not even close.
But as good as Bill James' next five--Duke Snider, Griffey, Puckett, Sliding Billy Hamilton (1888-1901) and Jimmy Wynn? Well, I'd take Snider and
Griffey ahead of him, for sure, but I'd have to take a LONG look at Puckett and Wynn before rating them ahead of Ashburn, and I really doubt I'd put
Hamilton and his prehistoric SB's and .344 average up there.
And the guys James has at 11-15 in CF? I like Earl Averill (#14), but I see no case for rating him, Wally Berger (#13) or Edd Roush (#15) ahead of
Ashburn. And with all due respect to Larry Doby and the years he lost to segregation, the 13 years he didn't lose do not impress me enough to put him
ahead of Ashburn. Also, Doby was a natural second baseman who, AFTER getting to MLB, had to receive intensive one-on-one training from no less than
TRIS SPEAKER to learn how to play CF. Sound like Ashburn? NOT!
James' #12 guy, Dale Murphy, is another like Rice and Schmidt whose star shone brightest in the 1980's, and who doesn't get full credit for being the
very good player he was. Still, I'm not at all sure I take him over Ashburn.
Yeah. Richie Ashburn really was THIS good. If your fantasy team includes defensive stats, how'd you like a guy who, in addition to getting on base
40% of the time, registers 500 putouts in one season AS AN OUTFIELDER?
[Edited on 4/15/06 by BaseballHistoryNut]