By: AJ Ondrey (@CST_AJ)
On Saturday, June 21 the Indians will be giving away replica Omar Vizquel jerseys as a promotion. Not only does this pay homage to Vizquel and his amazing career with the Indians, but it lets the younger fans in on the history of the teams he was on. Parents will teach their kids who Vizquel was, what he was a part of in the 90s, and great, and some sad, stories that will be told.
Given that these stories will bring up a lot of the past, and most likely get people thinking about the good old days, I started to think about the greatest Indians of all-time. Who would be the starting pitcher? The third baseman? The right fielder? Let’s find out.
C – Sandy Alomar Jr.
As if there were any doubts, of course Alomar gets the nod behind the plate. You can argue all you want that there are better choices, but this is my lineup, so I get the final say. Alomar was no slouch behind the plate, people. Alomar played 11 seasons for the Tribe from 1990-2000. In his career with the Indians, Alomar averaged a line of .276/8/41.
If you take a deeper look at the statistics, you see that Alomar didn’t get his full playing time with the Indians until 1996, when he broke out with a line of .263/11/50.
In ’97 and Alomar played an enormous part in the Tribe’s magical season that led to a World Series appearance. He put a line up of .324/21/83. Alomar was also a six-time All-Star.
Honorable Mention: Some may argue that Victor Martinez should get the nod here, and they could be proven right because he was a much better hitter than Alomar in his four full seasons as an Indian. However, Martinez wasn’t nearly the defensive player that Alomar was. But there is no doubting the production Martinez provided at the plate.
1B – Hal Trosky Jr.
This name may not seem familiar to most, considering Trosky played back in the 1930s. Take a trip back in the time machine and visit www.baseball-reference.com. You’ll be astonished at the things Trosky did at the plate in nine seasons with the Indians. If you do not include his first season with the team (only appearing in 11 games), what Trosky achieved in eight seasons was extraordinary.
Trosky averaged a line of .312/27/113 for those eight full seasons with the Indians between 1934-1941. While Trosky did play in 1933, it was only for 11 games and some of his statistics dragged down his averages in 1941, because he only played in 89 games. In 1936, Trosky had his best season with a line of .343/42/162. In that season, he also broke, and still holds the record for total bases in one season with 405.
Honorable Mention: Obviously, Jim Thome has to get some mention here. Thome is the all-time leader in home runs for the Indians, and will have a statue of him built in at Progressive Field on August 2. The statue alone should get him the first base spot on the team, but, Trosky gets the nod for me here.
2B- Nap Lajoie
Add another old-timer to the all-time nine. Lajoie was so popular in Cleveland that local officials had the then “Cleveland Bronchos,” change the team name to the “Cleveland Napoleans,” or “Naps” for short. Lajoie was a very decorated player/manager in baseball. His average line in 13 seasons with Cleveland was .339/3/71.
Lajoie was a well-liked and respected player by fans and opponents alike. One of baseball’s greatest pitchers ever, Cy Young, once said, “Lajoie was one of the most rugged players I ever faced. He’d take your leg off with a line drive, turn the third baseman around like a swinging door and powder the hand of the left fielder.”
Lajoie is in the Hall of Fame. He also holds the team’s single season hitting streak with 31 straight hits, which he pulled off in 1906. And last, but not least, Lajoie is the all-time hits leader for the Cleveland Indians with 2052 hits.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Baerga was a part of that young nucleus in the mid-90s that led to two World Series appearances. Although he was not a part of the ’97 Series, Baerga was a staple for the Indians averaging a line of .297/15/80. Baerga was also a three-time All-Star, and two-time Silver Slugger winner.
It just didn’t feel right writing this article and not including Roberto Alomar. Although he only played three seasons with the Indians, they were three great seasons. Alomar posted an average line of .323/21/103. Alomar was a three-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, and two-time Silver Slugger winner. He also finished in the top five in MVP voting two out of the three seasons with the Tribe. I like Lajoie here instead of Alomar and Baerga because of the longevity of his Cleveland career.
3B- Al Rosen
Al Rosen was a part of the pre-90s dominant Indians teams, from 1947-1956. Rosen didn’t see much time in his first three seasons, but when he received starting playing time, he posted an average line of .286/27/102 in seven seasons of full-time work. Rosen was the type of mid-lineup power hitter you could count on to drive in those much need runs, and carry a team when it wasn’t doing well. Rosen won the MVP in 1953 (.336/43/145), and was a four-time All-Star.
Honorable Mention: Travis Fryman would’ve definitely got the go-ahead above Rosen if he would’ve had a more consistent bat. With the Indians, Fryman was a one-time All-Star, and won a Gold Glove. It could be argued that Fryman should have won more Gold Gloves, but there were a lot of great defensive third basemen during his years in Cleveland.
SS – Omar Vizquel
The shortstop position may be the toughest to choose in Indians history. There’s no doubt that historians will battle about a certain old-timer being one of the best Indians in history. And there’s no doubt that the more recent fans will argue that the “Big O,” would always get their vote as the best shortstop in Cleveland history.
While Vizquel’s average line for the Tribe was .283/5/53, his defense is what made fans really fall in love with him. It seemed like the undersized Venezuelan could cover the gap between third and second base all alone at times because of his extraordinary range and reaction time. Vizquel liked using his bare hand more than his glove, and he did it well. He had a good arm, not great, but his range backed him up. He was also a great base runner, tallying 279 stolen bases in his 11-year Tribe career.
For his career, Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves, eight straight with the Indians. He was a three-time All-Star, and will be inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame on Saturday. There’s no doubt that Vizquel will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and there’s no doubt that he’ll be wearing an bronzed Indians cap.
Honorable Mention: Lou Boudreau was no slouch in the field himself, but more known for his offense. The thing that a lot of historians would give Boudreau over Vizquel is his 1948 World Series, and MVP award in the same year. Boudreau’s average line for the Indians was .296/5/57. He was a seven-time all-star, one-time MVP, and finished in the top 10 voting for MVP eight out of 13 seasons with the Indians.
OF – Albert Belle
Belle may have been the best power hitter in Indians history. He played for eight season with the Tribe, and posted an average line of .295/40/118. Belle wasn’t the greatest fielder at his position, which may catch me some flack for throwing him in the all-time nine, but find me a better power hitter and I’ll put him in this lineup.
Belle was a four-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger with the Indians. He also finished in the top 3 voting for MVP three straight years. Belle also holds the team’s single season record for highest slugging percentage with .714, which he did in 1994.
OF – Manny Ramirez
“Manny, being Manny.” Ramirez could be on the all-time knucklehead team with the stuff he’s pulled in his career. Aside from that, Ramirez was another power bat that could rake at the plate. Ramirez posted an average line of .313/33/114 in seven full seasons with the Indians. He was with the team for eight seasons, but only appeared in 22 games his first season.
Ramirez was a four-time All-Star, and a two-time Silver Slugger winner. Ramirez also holds the single season Indians team record for RBI with 165, which he accomplished in 1999. He’s also the team’s leader in slugging with a .592 percentage.
OF – Kenny Lofton
Not only was Kenny Lofton most likely the greatest lead-off hitter in Tribe history, he was one of the team’s greatest outfielders, and probably the team’s greatest base runner. Lofton averaged a line of .300/9/52 in 10 full seasons with the Indians. He also averaged an amazing 61 stolen bases per year with the Indians. Lofton also brought the excitement in the field, where he would routinely make diving catches, rob home runs, and interact with the fan base. There’s no doubt that Lofton was, is, and will always be a fan favorite as well.
Lofton was a five-time All-Star for the Indians, and a four-time Gold Glove winner. He also has the team’s single season record in stolen bases with 75, which he did in 1999.
Honorable Mention: Larry Doby
Larry Doby is a historical figure in all of baseball, not just the Indians. But, for the Indians, Doby posted an average line of .283/26/78 in 10 seasons. Doby was also a great fielder. Doby is in the Hall of Fame, won a World Series, was a seven-time All-Star, and finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1954.
Earl Averill is a name that not too many fans know in today’s game. He was a great hitting outfielder for the Indians, and one of the top players during his time. His average line per year for the Indians was .322/21/98. A great hitter, no doubt, Averill was also a great fielder manning center field for most of his career.
Averill was a six-time All-Star, and finished in the top five in MVP voting three times in 11 seasons with the Indians. He also holds the team’s single season record of runs scored with 140, which he tallied in 1930. He’s also the team’s leader in triples (121), and RBI (1084).
DH – Jim Thome
Don’t think that I didn’t leave a spot for the greatest home run hitter in Cleveland Indians history! Thome may be the ultimate fan favorite in Cleveland baseball, and definitely gives Belle a run for his money in “best power hitter in Cleveland history.”
Thome averaged a line of .290/36/98 in his 13 seasons with the Indians. These averages were put together with only nine seasons of numbers because of the amount of games played, and when Thome played, he was productive without a doubt. Thome was a decent defensive third and first baseman, but he was best used as a designated hitter. He was also one of the most feared Tribe hitters ever, leading the team historically in intentional walks with 87.
Thome holds single season records for home runs (52), most walks (127), and most intentional walks (18). Thome also holds team records for home runs (337) and walks (1008). Thome was a three-time All-Star, one-time Silver Slugger, and finished in the top 10 MVP voting three times.
P – Bob Feller
Bob Feller started his 18 season career at the young age of 17. Feller’s career numbers look a little bit like this:
-279 complete games
Feller was an absolute monster on the mound. He had more complete games than home runs allowed. He was a relentless thrower, and the Indians’ go-to horse.
Feller is in the Hall of Fame, he was an eight-time All-Star, finished in the top five in MVP voting four times.
His single season records for the Indians include: most complete games (36), most innings pitched (371), most shutouts (10), most strikeouts (348), most walks (208), and most shutouts lost (7).
The list goes on and on for Feller, and the numbers don’t lie. He was the greatest Indians’ pitcher of all-time.
Here’s a look at how the lineup card would read for my all-time nine:
8 – K. Lofton
4 – N. Lajoie
3 – H. Trosky
7 – A. Belle
DH- J. Thome
9 – M. Ramirez
5 – A. Rosen
2 – S. Alomar
6 – O. Vizquel
P – B. Feller
Who would be on your all-time nine?
All of the information and statistic were taken from www.baseball-reference.com and www.mlb.com. Averages were based on more than half a season’s worth of games played, and calculated by me.