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All-Time Team – Cleveland Indians
First Base – Jim Thome
This was really a tough decision between Jim Thome and Hal Trosky. Thome has much better career numbers, but he compiled many of those while playing for other teams. His statistics with Cleveland are actually quite comparable to the ones Trosky posted for the club from 1933 to 1941. In some 900 more total plate appearances, Thome holds a significant edge over Trosky in home runs (334 to 216). He also has a big edge in runs scored (917 to 758). Trosky, though, knocked in virtually the same number of runs (911 to 927), and he finished ahead of Thome in hits, doubles, triples, and batting average (.302 to .287). Both men had monster years for the Tribe. Thome had one season in which he hit 49 homers, drove in 124 runs, batted .291, and compiled an on-base percentage of .416. During another campaign, he hit 52 home runs, knocked in 118 runs, batted .304, and posted an on-base percentage of .445. Trosky, though, topped both those years when he hit 42 homers, knocked in a league-leading 162 runs, scored 124 others, batted .343, and compiled an on-base percentage of .382 for the Indians in 1936. He also knocked in 142 runs another year and batted over .330 three other times. In the end, I made the decision to go with Thome because of his higher OPS. Trosky posted an impressive mark of .930 while playing for the Tribe. Meanwhile, Thome compiled an even more impressive figure of .982.
Second Base – Napoleon Lajoie
This selection wasn’t nearly as difficult. Joe Gordon and Roberto Alomar both had some exceptional years for the Indians. But Gordon played for the team only four years, while Alomar performed for the Tribe only three seasons. Meanwhile, Nap Lajoie spent 13 years in Cleveland, compiling an aggregate batting average during that time of .339. One of baseball’s greatest stars during the early stages of the 20th century, Lajoie won three batting titles with Cleveland, led the A.L. in RBIs once, and topped the circuit in hits and doubles three times each. He batted over .350 on six separate occasions as a member of the Indians, batting as high as .384 in 1910, when he also amassed 227 hits and 51 doubles. An outstanding fielder as well, Lajoie led all A.L. second basemen in putouts and assists three times each while playing for the Tribe. He also topped all players at his position in fielding percentage on five separate occasions.
Third Base – Ken Keltner
Al Rosen had a few big years for the Indians during the 1950s, including the greatest single season ever turned in by a Tribe third baseman (43 HRs, 145 RBIs, 115 RUNS, .336 AVG in his MVP season of 1953). But injuries brought Rosen’s career to a premature end. As a result, Ken Keltner was able to lay claim to the starting third base job on our All-Time Team. Manning the hot corner for the Indians from 1938 to 1949, the slick-fielding Keltner hit 163 home runs, knocked in 850 runs, batted .276, and earned seven All-Star nominations. Keltner topped 20 homers three times, drove in more than 100 runs twice, and batted over .300 once. He batted a career-high .325 in 1939 but had his most productive offensive season in 1948, when he hit 31 homers, knocked in 119 runs, and batted .297.
Shortstop – Lou Boudreau
A close call between two of the finest defensive shortstops in American League history – Lou Boudreau and Omar Vizquel. Boudreau served as the Indians’ starting shortstop from 1940 to 1950. During that time, he led all A.L. shortstops in assists twice, putouts four times, and fielding percentage 10 times. Boudreau earned eight All-Star nominations and eight top-ten finishes in the league MVP voting, including a first-place finish in 1948, when he led the Indians to the A.L. pennant as the team’s player/manager. In his greatest season, Boudreau established career highs with 18 home runs, 106 runs batted in, 116 runs scored, 199 hits, a .355 batting average, and a .453 on-base percentage. He batted over .300 three other times, winning the 1944 batting title with a mark of .327. Boudreau also led the league in doubles on three separate occasions.
Despite not being as good a hitter as Boudreau, Omar Vizquel was even better defensively. Rivaling Ozzie Smith as the game’s finest fielding shortstop ever, Vizquel won eight Gold Gloves in his 11 years with the Tribe. A pretty fair offensive player as well, Vizquel accumulated 1,616 hits for the Indians, scored 906 runs, stole 279 bases, and batted .283. Yet, Vizquel’s impact on the offensive end failed to approach that of Boudreau. The former batted over .290 in only three of his 11 years in Cleveland, had very little power, and never came close to leading the league in any major offensive category. He also placed in the top 20 in the league MVP voting just once. Therefore, Boudreau gets the nod here for the greater level of dominance he displayed during his career.
Left Field – Earl Averill
Earl Averill played mostly center field for the Indians, but I elected to move him over to left field here due to the presence of Tris Speaker in center. Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, and Joe Carter all had several outstanding years for the Tribe, but Averill was a more complete player than any of them, and he spent more time in Cleveland. Averill batted over .300 in eight of his 10 full years with the team, surpassing the .330-mark on five separate occasions. He also scored more than 100 runs nine times, topped 30 homers three times, and finished in double-digits in triples eight times. A solid outfielder as well, Averill led all American League outfielders in putouts on two separate occasions. He had his two best years in 1931 and 1936. In the first of those campaigns, he hit 32 homers, knocked in 143 runs, scored 140 others, accumulated 209 hits, batted .333, and compiled an on-base percentage of .404. Averill led the A.L. with 232 hits and 15 triples in 1936, while also hitting 28 homers, driving in 126 runs, scoring 136 others, batting .378, posting an on-base percentage of .438 and a slugging percentage of .627, and finishing third in the league with 385 total bases. Averill appeared in each of the first six All-Star Games for the American League and earned three top-five finishes in the league MVP voting.
Center Field – Tris Speaker
Kenny Lofton was a fine player, and Larry Doby was a Hall of Famer. But there is little doubt that Tris Speaker was the greatest center fielder in Cleveland Indians history. Considered to be one of the finest defensive players ever to man the position by most baseball historians, Speaker also had many of his best offensive seasons for the Tribe. Speaker batted over .350 in seven of his 11 years in Cleveland, surpassing the .380-mark on four separate occasions and leading the league with a .386 average in 1916. He also knocked in more than 100 runs twice, scored more than 100 runs four times, tallied more than 200 hits three times, and amassed more than 50 doubles on four separate occasions, leading the A.L. in two-baggers a record four straight times from 1920 to 1923. Speaker had perhaps his finest season for the Tribe in 1923, when he established career highs with 17 home runs and 130 runs batted in, scored 133 times, batted .380, and amassed 218 hits and 59 doubles.
Right Field –Shoeless Joe Jackson
Rocky Colavito was a fan favorite, and he had some of his best years for the Indians, surpassing 40 homers twice and 100 runs batted in three times while wearing a Cleveland uniform. Nevertheless, Shoeless Joe Jackson was the choice here for starting right fielder. Before being sent to Chicago midway through the 1915 campaign, Jackson had four exceptional years for the Indians, posting batting averages of .408, .395, .373, and .338. His mark of .408 in 1911 remains the highest batting average ever compiled by a first-year player. Although he finished second to Ty Cobb in the A.L. batting race that year, Jackson topped the circuit with a .468 on-base percentage. He also scored 126 runs, drove in 83 runs, stole 41 bases, and accumulated 233 hits, 45 doubles, and 19 triples. Jackson followed that up by batting .395, knocking in 90 runs, and scoring 121 others in 1912, while leading the junior circuit with 226 hits, 26 triples, and 331 total bases. Jackson compiled an OPS in excess of 1.000 in three of his four full seasons with the Indians, scored more than 100 runs three times, stole more than 30 bases twice, and finished in double-digits in triples each year.
Catcher - Sandy Alomar Jr.
Although plagued by injuries throughout most of his career, Sandy Alomar Jr. established himself during his time in Cleveland as the best catcher in team history. Alomar spent 11 years in Cleveland, during which time he played in fewer than 1,000 games. Nevertheless, Alomar performed well for the Indians when healthy, compiling a batting average of .277, while earning six All-Star selections and one Gold Glove. Alomar captured A.L. Rookie of the Year honors in 1990, when he batted .290 and drove in 66 runs in his first year with the Tribe. He had his best year, though, in 1997, when he established career highs with 21 homers, 83 runs batted in, and a .324 batting average for the American League champions.
Designated Hitter - Manny Ramirez
This was a toss-up between Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle. Both men had some phenomenal seasons for the Indians, and either man would have made an excellent choice. In the end, I made my selection primarily on the strength of Ramirez’s slightly superior offensive numbers, which included an edge in RBIs (804 to 751), runs scored (665 to 592), and OPS (.998 to .949). Ramirez hit more than 30 homers, knocked in more than 100 runs, and batted over .300 in five of his six full years in Cleveland, having his three best seasons from 1998 to 2000. Over the course of those three campaigns, Ramirez averaged 42 homers, 144 RBIs, and 110 runs scored, while posting batting averages of .294, .333, and .351. He made the All-Star Team four times while playing for the Tribe.
Starting Pitcher – Bob Feller
The greatest pitcher in Indians history, Bob Feller holds franchise records for most wins (266), strikeouts (2,581), innings pitched (3,827), complete games (279), and shutouts (44). As impressive as Feller’s numbers were, they would have been even better had he not missed almost four whole seasons in the prime of his career due to time spent in the U.S. military during World War II. Nevertheless, the fire-balling right-hander still managed to surpass 20 victories on six separate occasions, leading the league in that category all six times. Feller also posted an ERA below 3.00 five times, struck out more than 200 batters five times, threw more than 300 innings three times, and completed more than 20 of his starts six times. He led all A.L. hurlers in strikeouts seven times, innings pitched five times, complete games three times, and shutouts four times. Although Feller won a career-high 27 games for the Indians in 1940, he had perhaps his best year in 1946, when he compiled 26 victories, a 2.18 ERA, and a league-leading 348 strikeouts, 36 complete games, 10 shutouts, and 371 innings pitched.
Starting Pitcher – Bob Lemon
Although he spent the first half of his career pitching in the shadow of the great Bob Feller, Bob Lemon eventually emerged as the ace of Cleveland’s pitching staff during the 1950s. Lemon surpassed 20 victories seven times for the Indians, posting a career record of 207-128 for the team from 1946 to 1958. He led the league in wins three times, complete games five times, innings pitched four times, and shutouts and strikeouts one time each. Lemon earned seven All-Star nominations and three top-five finishes in the league MVP balloting during his time in Cleveland.
Starting Pitcher – Stan Coveleski
Right-hander Stan Coveleski spent nine years in Cleveland, compiling a record for the Indians during that time of 172-123. He won more than 20 games four straight times at one point, totaling 93 victories between 1918 and 1921. Coveleski won at least 17 games for the club two other times. He also compiled an ERA below 2.00 on two separate occasions, posting an overall mark of 2.80 during his time with the team. Coveleski led the American League in shutouts twice, and he completed more than 20 of his starts a total of six times.
Starting Pitcher – Addie Joss
Only a fatal illness prevented Addie Joss from compiling a far more impressive record than the mark of 160-97 he posted while pitching for Cleveland from 1902 to 1910. The lean right-hander won at least 17 games in six of his eight full seasons, surpassing 20 victories on four separate occasions. Joss had his two best years in 1907 and 1908. He won a career-high 27 games in the first of those campaigns, while also compiling a 1.83 ERA, 34 complete games, and 339 innings pitched. The following year, Joss finished 24-11 with a league-leading 1.16 ERA, while also completing 29 of his starts and throwing 325 innings. Over the course of his career, Joss compiled the second-lowest ERA in major league history – a mark of 1.89 surpassed only by Ed Walsh. Joss passed away on April 14, 1911 at the age of 31, after being diagnosed with tubercular meningitis.
Starting Pitcher – Early Wynn
Mel Harder, Wes Ferrell, Mike Garcia, and Sam McDowell all received a great deal of consideration before I finally elected to assign the final starting spot to Early Wynn. Although the right-hander also spent eight years with the Washington Senators and another five with the Chicago White Sox, he had most of his finest seasons while pitching for the Indians. Wynn compiled an overall record of 164-102 in his 10 years in Cleveland, while also posting a very respectable 3.24 ERA. He won at least 20 games four times, surpassing 17 victories another three times. Wynn had perhaps his best year for the Indians in 1954, leading the A.L. with 23 wins and 271 innings pitched, while also finishing among the league leaders with a 2.73 ERA and 20 complete games, en route to earning a sixth-place finish in the league MVP balloting.
Closer – Jose Mesa
Originally a starter when he first arrived in the major leagues, Jose Mesa went on to establish himself as one of baseball’s top relief pitchers. The hard-throwing right-hander spent parts of seven seasons in Cleveland, the final five of which he worked exclusively in relief. Mesa had his best year in 1995, when he saved a league-leading 46 games, compiled a 1.13 ERA, and struck out 58 batters in only 64 innings of work, while allowing the opposition just 49 hits. He saved 39 games for the Indians the following year.
Manager – Al Lopez
I could just as easily have gone with Mike Hargrove here, but the final decision was to go with Lopez because the latter never posted a losing record his entire time in Cleveland. In his six years as Cleveland manager, Lopez led the Indians to one pennant and five second-place finishes. The Tribe compiled an overall record during that time of 570-354, for an outstanding .617 winning percentage.
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