Ever since their move to Los Angeles in 1958, the Dodgers have enjoyed perennial success almost every decade for 60 years and counting. If one has to pick the weakest decade, though, it’s easily the ‘90s. Despite some great players and an incredible four consecutive Rookie of the Year winners from 1992-96, the team disintegrated into mediocrity by decade’s end as a result of bad trades and the end of the O’Malley family’s ownership.
One player who defined this frustrating era (albeit not for the better) was left fielder Billy Manual Ashley. Born in Trenton, Michigan in 1970, Ashley seemed destined to be a Dodgers star. Standing a towering 6’7” with dashing good looks, he was drafted in the third round of the 1988 MLB June Amateur Draft right out of Belleville High School. From there, he lit up the minors in Bakersfield, Vero Beach, San Antonio, and Albuquerque, earning a slew of minor league honors for his incredible home run tallies year after year.
That’s pretty much where the positives end. From 1992 to 1997, Ashley ended up being a classic example of a dominant minor league player who just couldn’t make that final leap into major league play. He could barely hit, and played awful defense. 1996 saw him meet the Mendoza Line with a .200 average, and each season in the majors produced far more strikeouts than home runs He did, however, tie the Dodgers single season record for pinch-hit home runs in 1996.
While Ashley was an atrocious player, he still played on a team with the likes of Hideo Nomo, Mike Piazza and Eric Karros. As a result, he managed to see postseason action in the team’s painfully brief 1995 and 1996 NLDS appearances. His one trip to the plate against Cincinnati in ‘95 was a walk, while he struck out in both at-bats in ‘96 against Atlanta. Were it not for the villainy of Barry Bonds and Brian Johnson, you’ve got to think Ashley would have had a good chance at three strikeouts in as many ABs in the 1997 playoffs.
Ashley personified the ‘90s Dodgers: hyped to the extreme, seemingly with worlds of promise, only to fizzle out listlessly in the end. Appropriately, he made his debut in September 1992, the same month Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza donned the Dodger uniform for the first time. The team was loaded with young talent, slated to conquer the last decade of the millennium just as they had every other decade since coming to Los Angeles.
By 1998, though, the franchise was beginning its plunge into the ether of Fox ownership. In the year where Mike Piazza was traded and Fred Claire and Bill Russell were shown the door, it’s not surprising a player as woeful as Ashley went as well. Released before the beginning of the season, Ashley was signed by the Boston Red Sox.
True to form, he played only 13 games in Boston, spending most of the season in the minors. When Ashley finally retired for good a couple years later, he boasted 92 more career strikeouts than hits.
While nowhere near as successful as Dodger greats of the past, he nonetheless emulated one move a lot of them attained by parlaying his Hollywood playing career into acting. In 2009, he appeared in Fox Reality Channel’s Househusbands of Hollywood. I think this clip will suffice in capturing it:
Aside from dated reality TV, Ashley has worked as a high school baseball coach at Malibu High School, as well as an alumni member of the Dodgers Community Relations team. By all accounts, he’s an upstanding guy. In a decade where the team itself fell agonizingly short of seemingly limitless potential, however, his awful play after such high expectations was all the worse.