This article was written by Steve Ferenchick
There are many types of baseball lifers. Some play, then manage, like Joe Torre. Some play, then move to the front office, like Billy Beane. Some never play but still make a career of the sport, like Roland Hemond or Vin Scully. But perhaps most baseball lifers play, achieving some success but little fame, and then, after their skills decline, stick around in whatever role presents itself — spring training instructor, TV analyst … team owner? Few baseball lifers can add “team owner” to that list, but Andy Ashby can.
Andrew Jason Ashby was born on July 11, 1967, to Glendon and Rose Ashby in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended Park Hill High School, where he moved away from other sports and focused on baseball in his teens to be able to go as far in the sport as he could. He acknowledged the role his father played in his young life, saying, “My father was always there. Growing up I remember playing catch with my dad. The biggest thing for me was once I went to the big leagues, being able to bring my father into the clubhouse, seeing the expression on his face, knowing his son had achieved his goal and dream of being a major-league baseball player.”1
After graduating from high school, Ashby enrolled in Crowder College, in Neosho, Missouri. He played baseball for the Roughriders for one season and then, on May 4, 1986, signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent. He began his professional career that summer at age 18 for the Bend Phillies and steadily climbed through the minors, playing in Utica, Spartanburg, Batavia, Clearwater, and Reading between 1987 and 1990, and finally for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 1991 before getting called up to the Phillies to start on June 10, 1991, in Cincinnati.
Ashby’s major-league debut saw him retiring the first seven batters he faced, including future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, but the Reds’ bats got to him the second time through the lineup. Five days later, on June 5, Ashby got some payback, pitching an “immaculate inning” by striking out all three Reds batters he faced in the fourth on nine pitches — just the second rookie and 33rd player overall to do so. Still, Ashby was 0-2 with an 8.00 ERA and was sent back to Triple A. He was recalled and pitched six more games at season’s end with more success.
Ashby started the 1992 season in the Phillies rotation and won his first start but then broke his right thumb and missed two months of action.2 He rehabbed in Triple A, was recalled in August, and pitched shakily. The Phillies left him unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft, so instead of playing for the 1993 NL champion Phillies team that Harry Kalas described as the “wacky, wonderful bunch of throwbacks,”3 Ashby was selected 25th by the Colorado Rockies and started the 1993 season in the starting rotation in the thin air of Mile High Stadium in Denver.
Although Ashby served up just five home runs in 54 innings with the 1993 Rockies, his ERA at Mile High Stadium matched the park’s name, and he was sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Then on July 27 he was the “player to be named later” in a trade with the last-place Padres. It was good fortune for Ashby, though, as Jack Murphy Stadium had a reputation as being a pitcher’s park, and San Diego was where Ashby was able to get his career on track. He immediately moved into the starting rotation and while he went only 3-6 with a 5.48 ERA in San Diego, it was an improvement from his Colorado performance.
The 1994 through 1997 seasons for the Padres saw Ashby mature to become a legitimate major-league pitcher, starting all four years and posting solid ERAs. The Padres struggled for three of the four years but in 1996, when Ashby was the team’s Opening Day pitcher and led the starting rotation in ERA, the Padres pulled off a surprising division win, and Ashby started NLDS Game Three against the St. Louis Cardinals. Although he left the game in the sixth tied 4-4, the bullpen couldn’t hold and the Cardinals completed a sweep of the Padres. In 1997 the Padres dropped back to fourth place but Ashby continued to pitch well. In 1998 he reflected on his early career:
“[B]y the time Colorado sent me down in 1993, I felt, what in the world is going on? It seemed I was always pitching out of some jam, always one or two balls behind in the count, always just trying to keep the game close — and by the fifth inning I’d be out of there anyway. It was never the same thing. Early in my career I was wild. Sometimes I’d pitch too defensively. … I would just throw — not pitch with a purpose. Just throw. I think it was a maturity thing. I remember being up with Philadelphia and talking on the bench the whole game, until Dale Murphy finally turned to me and said, ‘Ash. Watch the game, watch the game. That’s how you learn.’ He was right. I had to start listening to the guys I should’ve been listening to.”4
While 1998 was the year of the home run, it was also Ashby’s most successful year, marking the first of his two All-Star Game appearances, his only World Series appearance, and career highs in wins (17), starts (33), innings pitched (226⅔), and complete games (5). Ashby’s record was 11-5 with a 2.54 ERA at midseason; in the All-Star Game, in Denver, he pitched the fifth inning, giving up a home run to Alex Rodriguez but retiring future Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Cal Ripken. The Padres led the NL West nearly wire-to-wire, peaking with a 16-game lead and ultimately winning 98 games.
In the 1998 NLDS, the Padres faced the 102-win Astros and Ashby started Game Two but left the game down 3-0 after four innings. The Padres tied the game to get Ashby off the hook but eventually lost, 5-4. However, San Diego won the series, three games to one. In the NLCS, the Braves were favored but the Padres jumped out to a three-games-to-none lead. Ashby started Game One and pitched brilliantly, going seven innings and surrendering just one run on five hits and a walk. But when Trevor Hoffman blew just his second save of the year, Ashby was denied his first postseason win, although the Padres did go on to win the game. In Game Five, in San Diego, with the Padres leading three games to one, Ashby pitched nearly as well, scattering nine hits over six innings and giving up two runs. He was again in line for the win, but this time starter Kevin Brown came in to relieve and blew the lead, again costing Ashby credit for a victory. The Padres went on to win Game Six to advance to the World Series, against the Yankees. After the excitement of the NLCS win, the World Series was a dénouement. Ashby started Game Two but the Yankee bats were too much, scoring seven runs, three unearned, before Ashby departed for a reliever. The Yankees ended up sweeping the Padres.
The year 1999 began for the Padres with country music superstar Garth Brooks signing a minor-league contract and then, wearing number 77, going 1-for-22 for the Padres in exhibition games before switching back to guitar. From a baseball perspective, the year was much more successful for Ashby than for Brooks (including pitching again on Opening Day) but was a step down from 1998, as he ended up with a 14-10 record and a 3.80 ERA. His performance led to another All-Star Game appearance (where he pitched to just one batter) and to the role of ace of the San Diego staff. However, after failing to re-sign many of the key components of their 1998 pennant-winning squad, the Padres regressed, ending up at 74-88 and in fourth place.
In the 1998-99 offseason, facing the final year of Ashby’s contract and a fading team that would drop to last place in 2000, the Padres traded him to the Phillies for three young pitchers. The Phillies had what they felt was a strong staff in 2000, led by Ashby and Curt Schilling, but both Ashby and the team struggled, and on July 12, the Phillies traded Ashby to Atlanta. The Braves were in first place at that point and, having lost John Smoltz for the season to injury, looked to Ashby to start. The move paid dividends, as Ashby threw a complete-game win in his first appearance and ended the season with an 8-6 record and 4.13 ERA with the Braves, compared with a 4-7 record and 5.68 ERA with the Phillies. Ashby also pitched well for the Braves in the 2000 NLDS, his last postseason appearance, albeit in a mop-up relief role as the Cardinals dominated the Braves.
Ashby signed a three-year free-agent contract with the Dodgers after the 2000 season, but suffered an elbow injury in his second start of 2001, ending his season on April 12 with a 2-0 record. He returned to full strength in 2002, starting 30 games and compiling a near-league-average ERA of 3.91 and a 9-13 record. Plagued by injuries in 2003, starting with back stiffness in spring training, Ashby started just 12 games, finally shutting it down after September 1 with elbow tendinitis, at which point he underwent Tommy John surgery and was expected to miss all of 2004.5 At age 36, it looked as though it might be the end of his career.
However, the Padres signed Ashby to a minor-league contract for the 2004 season, and by May he had begun to throw off a mound. By September he was back to throwing 90 mph and was activated on September 8, throwing a 1-2-3 inning. He pitched again on September 14, retiring three of the four Dodgers hitters he faced, ending with a swinging strikeout of Cesar Izturis in what would turn out to be Ashby’s final major-league appearance.
After the season Ashby underwent another elbow surgery and signed another minor-league deal with the Padres. Returning in August, he made rehab starts for Lake Elsinore and Portland, but despite allowing just earned one run in six innings, he was not recalled to the Padres. Ashby made another valiant effort to return to the Padres in spring training of 2006 at age 38, but after he surrendered 22 hits over 11 innings, it was apparent that a return wasn’t in the cards, and the team released him, putting an end to a 20-year professional career, 14 of which were in the majors.
Ashby remained busy, even without baseball. He and his wife, Tracy Tigue, a native of Pittston, Pennsylvania, whom he had met while playing for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, married in 1993 and raised four daughters, — Eastin, Madison, Taryn, and Ashton. The athletic talent was clearly passed on to that generation, with all four playing NCAA sports. The Ashbys maintained homes in both Pittston and San Diego. In 2014, Ashby described his life and his role as a father: “The majority of the time I’m just being Dad. I do some charity work. I hunt a lot. I fish. When I’m home, I’m running with my kids, watching them do sports. I’m just kind of being Dad, making up for the time that I missed when I was playing. Thank God for my wife. Tracy was really good about flying the girls into a city. We weren’t apart a lot. When school started it was tougher, but if the girls got to a week and half where they hadn’t seen Dad, that was a lot. She’d fly them in to be with Dad, then the team would go on to another city and she’d take them back to San Diego.”6
Although Andy Ashby is not related to former catcher Alan Ashby,7 his nephew, Aaron Ashby, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after having followed his uncle both to Park Hill High and Crowder College.8
Ashby returned to baseball in 2013-14 as an analyst during Padres games for Fox Sports San Diego.9 In 2016 he was a spring-training instructor for the Padres, saying at the time, “I would love to be in the big leagues, of course, but I’d just like to be in the game — coaching or scouting or bullpen coach, something like that. This gives me the opportunity to come here and get a little taste of it.”10
Later that year, he did get back into the professional baseball, but in a different role — Ashby bought a share of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees), near his Pittston home. Ashby had played two Triple-A seasons in the same ballpark where he was now an owner. At the official announcement, Ashby said, “I talked to my wife and she was like, ‘Ownership? Are you ready for that?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, but how do you know until you try it.’ It’s an honor for me to be a part of this. Being here 25 years ago, it’s changed a lot, but for the better. I enjoyed it, the people were great.”11
Andy Ashby has three baseball homes — Missouri (where he started playing), northeast Pennsylvania (where he played two years, met his wife, raised his daughters, and lives most of the year), and San Diego (where he blossomed as a player and was regularly welcomed back by fans). He has come full circle, from playing a season with the Roughriders to owning a piece of the RailRiders; it’s clear that Andy Ashby’s baseball ride continues.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, statistics and game details were retrieved from baseball-reference.com.
1 “A Major League Dad,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times Leader, June 13, 2014, timesleader.com/archive/396243/news-news-1464912-a-major-league-dad, accessed November 29, 2018.
2 Dan Hafner, “National League Roundup: Williams Makes a Smart Move for the Phillies,” Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1992, articles.latimes.com/1992-04-27/sports/sp-697_1_smart-move, accessed November 29, 2018.
3 Tyler Kepner, “On Baseball: Darren Daulton Was the Heartbeat of a Rowdy Phillies Bunch,” New York Times, August 7, 2017, nytimes.com/2017/08/07/sports/baseball/darren-daulton-phillies-heartbeat.html, accessed November 29, 2018.
4 Johnette Howard, “Better Late Than Never: After Years of Frustrating Underachievement, Padres Righthander Andy Ashby Has Joined the Ranks of the National League’s Pitching Elite,” Sports Illustrated, June 22, 1998, si.com/vault/1998/06/22/245178/better-late-than-never-after-years-of-frustrating-underachievement-padres-righthander-andy-ashby-has-joined-the-ranks-of-the-national-leagues-pitching-elite, accessed November 29, 2018.
6 “A Major League Dad.”
8 Sam McDowell, “MLB Draft: Two Former Kansas City High School Pitchers Selected,” Kansas City Star, June 5, 2018, kansascity.com/sports/high-school/article212585904.html, accessed November 29, 2018.
10 Bryce Miller, “Andy Ashby Ditches Makeup, Joins Padres at Spring Training,” San Diego Union Tribune, March 1, 2016, sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/padres/sdut-andy-ashby-ditches-makeup-joins-padres-at-spring-2016mar01-story.html, accessed November 29, 2018.
11 D.J. Eberle, “Andy Ashby Part of Trio Joining Railriders’ Ownership Group,” Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times Leader, October 19, 2016, timesleader.com/sports/railriders/598585/andy-ashby-part-of-trio-joining-railriders-ownership-group, accessed November 29, 2018.