SABR

Ken Ash

This article was written by William Akin.

Kenneth Lowther Ash pitched in the minor leagues from 1924 to 1940 with trips to the majors for 49 games over four seasons. He compiled a none-too-impressive major league record of six wins against eight losses with a 4.96 ERA, mostly with Cincinnati between 1928 and 1930. As a minor league pitcher he notched over 150 victories.

The guides erroneously list his birthplace as Anmore, West Virginia, even though that town did not exist at the time of his birth. In fact, he was born on a farm in Harrison County, West Virginia, five miles outside the county seat of Clarksburg. His grandfather, Silas Ash-a farmer, carpenter, and land developer-had purchased several hundred acres there in 1894. Ken was born on the farm September 16, 1901, the son of William W. Ash and Alice Lowther Ash. In addition to Ken, the family consisted of an older brother and three younger sisters. Shortly after Ken's birth, the Ashes began selling their land holdings. The Grasselli Chemical Company established a plant on one of these holdings in 1903 and an unincorporated industrial village known first as Grasselli sprung up on the former Ash property. After the Union Carbide Corporation purchased the plant a few years later, residents began calling the place Anmore, a variation on Ann Moore's Run, the stream that runs through the town. In 1950 the village officially became incorporated as Anmore. (Davis, 341-342)

Ken Ash grew up in the village and lived there all his life. He took a trolley into Clarksburg to attend Washington Irving High School. There he played basketball well enough to lead the high school team in scoring in 1918-19 as well as pitching for the baseball team. After high school he enrolled at West Virginia Wesleyan College but dropped out after one year. He then worked with his father to learn carpentering as a trade. In summers he pitched for local amateur teams for two years and then spent two summers, 1922 and 1923, pitching in Luray and New Market, Virginia, in the semi-professional Shenandoah Valley League.

Ash began his professional career in 1924 with Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in the Virginia League. The 5' 11", 165-pound right-hander became the workhorse of the pitching staff, logging 281 innings and compiling a 17-14 record, while also pitching a no-hitter against Norfolk. After his first year as a pro, the Chicago White Sox drafted Ash off of the Rocky Mount roster.

Ash's introduction to the major leagues was inauspicious. He pitched only four innings in two White Sox games in 1925 without gaining a decision. Ash experienced control problems and Chicago quickly decided he needed more seasoning. The ChiSox sent him down to Little Rock in the Southern Association. Before the season ended, he found himself back with Rocky Mount in the Virginia League.

For the next two seasons, he toiled for the Petersburg (Virginia) Broncos, also of the Virginia League. In 1926 he won 12 games but lost 19 in 274 innings with a 3.88 ERA. The following year he became the dominant pitcher in the league when he posted 18 wins against 10 losses. More importantly, he led the Virginia League in strikeouts and earned run average with a 2.23 mark. Never again did he post significant strikeout numbers. Not a power pitcher, he relied on a nasty curve and groundball outs.

On the basis of his 1927 record, the Columbus Senators of the American Association purchased Ash for 1928. He pitched there for portions of the next seven years, splitting time with Cincinnati in three of those years.

He shuttled between Columbus and Cincinnati in 1928, 1929 and 1930. For the Reds he started 13 games and relieved in 37, winning six and losing eight. In 1929 he spent most of the season in Cincinnati, appearing in 23 games but managing only one win against five losses. His 1930 statistics were a very respectable 2-0 with a 3.43 ERA. Despite the promise he showed that year, he never again had a shot at the majors.

His best game in the majors came on July 4, 1929. Pitching for the Reds against the pennant winning Chicago Cubs, he struck out Kiki Cuyler, Rogers Hornsby, Riggs Stephenson, and Hack Wilson in order. There were not many such occasions in Ash's career. During his time on major league rosters, he walked more than he struck out.

Ash's final major league win brought him more recognition than any of his other performances. On July 27, 1930, with the Reds down by one run in the fifth inning against the Cubs, Ash entered the game with the bases loaded and none out. He delivered only one pitch to Charley Grimm, who hit into a triple play. In the bottom of the inning, Ash was removed for a pinch hitter as the Reds scored three runs and coasted to victory. Ash was credited with the win. Three outs and a victory on one pitch! A Ripley's "Believe It or Not" feature depicted the event in newspapers across the country the following year.

Despite his one-pitch glory, the Reds sold Ash back to Columbus where he pitched in 1931, 1932, and portions of 1933 and 1934. He went 16-10 in 1931 when he again worked over 200 innings, but dropped to 10-9 the following summer.

In 1931 Columbus became a St. Louis Cardinals' farm club known as the Red Birds. The Cardinals immediately upgraded the facilities in Columbus, constructing a new state-of-the-art stadium. Red Bird Stadium (now Cooper Stadium) opened on June 3, 1932, with Ash on the mound. Pitching before a crowd of 15,000, which included baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and St. Louis general manager Branch Rickey, Ash pitched the Red Birds to an 11-2 victory over Louisville. Later in the same month, on June 17, the club played the first night game at the new stadium before a record crowd of 21,000. Ash again was the winning pitcher and drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the home team a 5-4 win over St. Paul.

Ash retired from baseball briefly after four games in 1933. The depression years, however, were hard on carpenters, so he returned to the game in 1934. After a 0-2 start at Columbus, the Red Wings sold him to Buffalo of the International League. He continued to be a durable Triple A pitcher for six seasons. During that time he won 78 games for the Bisons against 66 losses. His best season was 1935 when he went 18-11 with a 3.80 ERA, working 249 innings. In 1936 Buffalo won the International League title with Ash contributing a 13-9 mark. After a down year in 1937 (11-16), he bounced back with a 15-8, 3.90 record in 1938. Opposing batters managed to hit only .233 against him. After the 1939 season, when he slipped to 10-9, Buffalo released him.

He finished up his professional baseball career at Chattanooga in the Southern Association in 1940. He went 12-12 and finished second in the league with a 3.06 earned run average. It was clear, however, that after ten years away from the majors he would not get another chance.

Ash had married Mary Ann Barron on November 16, 1935. They built a house on his fathers' property on Ash Lane in the village overlooking the carbon electrode plant. The Ashes had two children, Kenneth Edward Ash and Beverly Ash Hathaway. In March 1941, he notified Chattanooga that he was retiring to take a job at the Union Carbide plant, where he would work for the next twenty-five years.

Ash found time for baseball after his pro career ended. He played, coached and supervised baseball in the Clarksburg area for the remainder of his life. He played mostly first base for a succession of local semi-pro teams--the Clarksburg Generals, Muntzing Jeeps, Moorehouse Kelvinators, and Swaney Coal. The Swaney team, which won four Central West Virginia championships, 1952-56, featured future pro football Hall of Famer Sam Huff and major leaguers Paul Popovich and Jim Fridley. After he ceased playing, Ash managed the Clarksburg American Legion team and headed the Anmore Little League and Babe Ruth League. He also scouted for the Cleveland Indians.

Ken Ash died in a Clarksburg hospital November 15, 1979, and is buried there in Elk View Cemetery.

Sources

Chrissman,David F. The History of the Virginia League. Bend, Oregon: Maverick Publication, 1988.

Clarksburg (WV) Telegram, November 17, 1979.

Davis, Dorothy. History of Harrison County West Virginia. Clarksburg, West Virginia: American Association of University Women, 1970.

Lieb, Fred. The Cincinnati Reds. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1948.

Overfield, Joseph M. The 100 Seasons of Buffalo Baseball. Kenmore, New York: Partners' Press, 1985.

Westlake, Charles. Columbus Baseball History, 1876-1981. Columbus, Ohio: Pfeifer Printing Co., 1981.

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