In 1958, Richie Ashburn led the league in AVG (.350) and OBP (.440) and finished seventh in the MVP race, the eighth time in his career that he drew MVP support. And it was all downhill from there. In 1959, he fell off considerably, going from an .881 OPS to a .667 mark. And his reward was being traded to the Cubs. He bounced back some in 1960, again leading the league in OBP, but his 1961 season was another to forget. The Phillies left him unprotected in the expansion draft and he was scooped up by the Mets.

Ashburn was just a shell of the player he once was in 1962 but he was still one of the stars of the first-year Mets, batting .306 and finishing second on the club in the yet-to-be-created fWAR, with a 2.0 mark. The performance earned him club MVP honors and the team gave him a boat. According to legend, Ashburn had the boat docked – and it sank.

The Mets wanted him back in 1963 but Ashburn did not return the sentiment. He took fewer dollars than he would have earned with the Mets to become a color analyst for the team he spent most of his MLB career with, the Phillies. Not only did Ashburn get away from the awful expansion Mets, the broadcasting job in Philadelphia lasted 35 seasons. It’s hard to say he made the wrong choice not playing with the ’63 Mets.

Yet here he is on a ’63 Topps card in a Mets uniform.

It’s hard to blame Topps here, though. Most people would have expected a guy who hit .306 for a team that lost 120 games to be back the following season. And it seems to be an excellent photo choice. Ashburn’s gaze seems a million miles away, which no doubt is where he wished he was, rather than playing for a team so bad that it made the late-50s Phillies and early-60s Cubs look good by comparison.

And it even had Ashburn in a Mets uniform and cap. Everything looks good as long as you don’t look at the photo in the circle. Apparently, Topps only had one photo of Ashburn in a Mets cap, which meant they had to doctor the logo of whatever cap he was wearing in the second photo. The airbrushing on this one was not particularly good.

Even if Ashburn didn’t relish his time with the Mets, he should probably be glad they picked him and not the Colt 45s. Ashburn got to play in the Polo Grounds and the notorious singles hitter swatted six of his career-high seven homers in his new home park. He finished with a .124 ISO in the Polo Grounds, which doesn’t sound like much until you see he had an .059 ISO in road parks in 1962.

And in 23 PA at Colt Stadium in Houston, Ashburn had a .167/.304/.222 line. He certainly wouldn’t have gotten a boat with that kind of performance. Probably wouldn’t have gotten a 1963 baseball card, either.

6 comments on “Mets Card of the Week: 1963 Richie Ashburn

  • Foxdenizen

    His 1958 was one of the great all time leadoff seasons, right up there in Ricky Henderson territory. He also led in hits (215) walks (97) and triples (13). He stole 30 bases. He did not have much in the way of power hitting behind him, so he only scored 97 runs. Imagine if he has been on the Braves that year with Aaron and Matthews hitting behind him.

    • Brian Joura

      FWIW – Ashburn had a 6.5 fWAR in ’58, the best mark of his career. He had 7 seasons where he reached a 5.0 or greater fWAR. David Wright had 5 such seasons, although 3 of those topped Asheburn’s best.

  • Hobie

    Not often mentioned in Ashburn’s choice of broadcaster over NYM CF was his distaste for Casey Stengel. Thought him a clown who turned a poor expansion team into an iconically bad one.

    • Brian Joura

      Ashburn didn’t have the luxury of sleeping part of the game away, I guess.

  • DougP

    Shoutout to Dean’s Cards, the hobby’s foremost purveyor of comically overpriced vintage singles.

    • Brian Joura

      And the weird thing is that Greg Morris cards, who’s famous for under-grading their cards, probably gets more money from collectors who appreciate the way they do business.

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