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The All-Time All-Star Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians franchise has been around since the American League's inaugural major league season in 1901, and for most of its history it's been one of the most mismanaged, snakebitten franchises in professional sports. This is a franchise that should have won many more championships that it has, and once we get through the All-Time All-Star team, you might agree with me that the Indians should have more than only two world titles in 111 years.
Without further ado, here are my picks for the greatest players at each position in Indians' history.
Catcher: Victor Martinez. I originally had Jim Hegan in this spot, but I took another look at Victor Martinez's numbers, and I think he should be the catcher on this team.
True, he never was much of a catcher, but it's not like he was Mackey Sasser or something. He did an adequate job behind the plate, but a great job beside of it, as a hitter. A 2-time All-Star with the Indians, he hit 103 homers for the Tribe, best among catchers in team history, and had two 100-RBI seasons before the Indians went into salary-dump mode, and traded him to the Red Sox. Always a fine hitter, he is the best catcher in team history.
Other notables: Jim Hegan, Steve O' Neill, Sandy Alomar Jr (who would be #! if he didn't have so many injuries).
First Base: Jim Thome. Thsi future Hall of Famer started with the Indians as a third baseman, but he quickly moved to first base, and a star was born. He is the Indians' all-time home run leader with 337 bombs, and is also #1 in walks, with 1,008. He's #2 on the RBI list with 937, and #2 in on-base percentage, at .414. He also struck out 1,400 times as an Indian, by far the leader i that category, but that's what kind of hitter he was (and is), a big-time game-changing slugger.
Thome was a key member of the great Indians' teams in the late 1990's, and since he left the team via free agency in 2003, first base has been a black hole for the franchise.
Other notables: Hal Trosky, Andre Thornton, Mike Hargrove.
Second Base: Nap Lajoie. He was one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game, so much so that he was the first second sacker to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the Hall's second election in 1937.
They also named the team after him! For most of his tenure in Cleveland, the team was called the Naps in his honor. He also managed the team for most of his years there as well as performing as the team's best player.
He was so beloved by not just fans but other players that when he was vying to dethrone Ty Cobb for the 1910 A.L. Batting Championship (The winner got a new car from the Chalmers' Company that year.), the St. Louis Browns essentially laid down for him to beat out six bunts for hits in a season-ending doubleheader. (A.L. President Ban Johnson decided to give Cobb the title by adding two hits to Ty's tally, making Cobb the champion.) The Chalmers' Company decided to give cars to both Lajoie and Cobb anyway.
Lajoie's career numbers with the Indians are mind-boggling. A .339 career average, second in team history, first in hits with 2,046, second in doubles with 424, third in RBI with 919, and fourth in steals with 240. He is still considered one of the greatest players of all-time.
Other notables: Carlos Baerga, Bobby Avila.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau. He became player-manager of the team at age 26, and was the catalyst for the team winning the 1948 World Series under his reign. He was also the League's Most Valuable Player that year, hitting .355 and smashing two home runs in the pennant playoff game at Fenway Park vs the Red Sox.
He had other great seasons, being a 7-time All-Star, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970. He won the A.L. Batting Title in 1944, and his 367 doubles are fifth in team history.
Other notables: Hall of Famer Joe Sewell, Omar Vizquel, Ray Chapman.
Third Base: Al Rosen. He had a short career, blocked on the one end by Ken Keltner, who is #2 on my list of the team's best third basemen, and on the other by back injuries. But in between he was a great player.
Rosen was the A.L.'s Most Valuable Player in 1953, missing the Triple Crown by one point in batting average, posting a .336 average to go with league leading marks in both home runs (43) and RBI (145). Baseball historian Bill James called it the greatest season any third baseman ever had.
But he was not a one-year wonder, leading the A.L. in home runs twice, and being a 4-time All-Star. He drove in 100 runs or more in five different seasons, and his 192 home runs is still eight in Indians' history.
Other notables: Ken Keltner, Buddy Bell, Toby Harrah, Bill Bradley. (This is a really strong position for the franchise.)
Left Field: Albert Belle. Yeah, I know he's one of the most hated players in major league history, but look at the numbers. The former Joey Belle hit 242 home runs as an Indian, and was a 4-time All-Star. But he couldn't behave himself, and thus didn't get the recognition as a player he deserved.
Want proof? Look at his insane 1995 season. He became the first player in baseball history to hit both 50 doubles and 50 homers in the same season! And if that wasn't impressive enough, remember that major league moguls, coming off the strike of 1994 and the attempt to play baseball with scabs in 1995, reduced the season to 144 games. Add those 18 games to the schedule and he had a shot at 60-60. But did the writers give him the MVP Award? Nope. Gave it to Mo Vaughn. This ranks up there with Joe Gordon in 1942, Andre Dawson and George Bell in 1987, Mickey Cochrane in 1934, and Jeff Burroughs in 1974 as one of the worst in MVP history. Shame on them.
Other notables: Shoeless Joe Jackson. He had only four full seasons in Cleveland, and parts of two others, which is why I didn't select him.
Center Field: Tris Speaker. Speaker earns his spot on his second All-Time All-Star team (the Red Sox being the other one) by a large margin over two other Hall of Famers, Larry Doby and Earl Averill.
Why Speaker? Simply because he is still one of the Top 10 center fielders of all-time. He also was the team's manager from mid-1919 to 1926, leading the team to its first World Title in 1920. And he did that while dealing with the loss of shortstop Ray Chapman, who was killed by a pitched ball in August of that year. He had the Indians in contention throughout his managerial tenure with the team, and was also one of the top players in the game.
The career doubles leader in major league history, he swatted 486 with the Tribe, and is also the team's leader in batting average with a career .354 mark. He is #1 in on-base percentage with .444, #2 in walks, #2 in triples, #2 in hits and #2 in runs scored. Either he or Nap Lajoie is the best player in team history.
Not only that, but he was the best defensive outfielder of his time. Had the Gold Glove Awards existed in his career, he probably would've had over a dozen. He played a shallow center field and dared people to hit the ball over his head. He also started some ground ball 8-4-3 double plays from playing so shallow. A great, great player.
Other notables: As noted, Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Earl Averill.
Right Field: Manny Ramirez. He played mostly left field in Boston, but was primarily the right fielder for the Indians, and if he hadn't failed two drug tests, we'd be talking of him as a future Hall of Famer.
Planet Man-Ram was a 4-time All-Star in Cleveland, and his 236 home runs with the Tribe is third in team history. And he's sixth all-time with a .313 career average with the Indians. He hadn't yet become the distraction he would be in Boston, but he was on both Indians' pennant-winning teams in 1995 and 1997, and did have some monster seasons there.
Other notables: Rocky Colavito comes to mind, also Jeff Heath.
Designated Hitter: Andre Thornton. Although he played a lot of first base for the Tribe, injuries made him the team's DH for most of his tenure there. He was a popular player with both his teammates and fans during the dreary 1970's and 1980's, and is still the best DH in team history by far.
Thornton's 214 home runs are seventh in team history, and he was two-time All-Star. And even though he missed the entire 1980 season due to injury, he bounced back with some fine seasons in later years, particularly in 1982, when he hit 32 home runs and 116 RBI, numbers that were huge back then. He was a quiet leader and good teammate.
Other notables: Travis Hafner, mainly because he's been there so long.
#1 Starting Pitcher: Bob Feller. This Hall of Famer spent his entire career with the Indians and holds the team record for wins, with 266, starts (484), complete games (279), innings pitched (3,827), and strikeouts with 2,581. He also leads the team in walks surrendered and gopher balls allowed. But despite leading in those negative categories, he is the best of a line of great pitchers in team history.
Feller signed with the Indians at the age of 17, and had the personality of a prima donna. But no one questioned his will to win. He was a feared fireballer, whose fastball was timed at 98.6 miles per hour by the primitive devices used in the 1940's. He caused Hall of Fame second baseman and manager Frankie Frisch to take himself out of the opposing starting lineup in an exhibition game with the Cardinals.
He threw three no-hitters and twelve one-hitters in his career, including the only one ever thrown on Opening Day, against the White Sox in 1940. He also led the American League in wins six times, innings pitched five times, and strikeouts seven times.
He also lost 4 years of his career to World War II. He was one of the first baseball players to volunteer for military service, serving as a gunner in the U.S. Navy. Had that not happened, he would've been a 300-game winner.
#2 Starter: Addie Joss. Addie was a great pitcher for nine years, but he died of meningitis prior to the 1911 season. So beloved was he by his fellow players, that a benefit game was played in his honor between the Indians and an American League All-Star team, led by Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and Tris Speaker (then playing for Boston).
Joss had a career ERA of 1.89, still one of the lowest figures in history. He won 160 games in his short career, ranking him sixth in Indians' history. He also pitched 234 complete games, second on the Tribe's all-time list.
He also pitched one of the most legendary games in the early history of the American League. During the 1908 season, with four teams fighting it out for the A.L. pennant, he faced Ed Walsh in a pitchers' duel of epic proportions. Walsh gave up one run and fanned 15. Joss pitched a perfect game.
He was not allowed in the Hall of Fame because he only pitched nine seasons in the major leagues, and all Hall of Famers must play ten seasons. But old Joe Reichler, assistant to the Commissioner, among other things, asked the Hall to look the other way, and thusly, Joss was inducted to the Hall in 1978.
#3 Starter: Bob Lemon. He came up as a third baseman but wound up being one of the greatest pitchers in team history. Mind you, he could still hit, as his 37 career home runs as pitcher (second on the all-time list) can attest to.
But as a pitcher, he shined. Lemon won 20 or more games six times in his career, all with the Indians. He also led the A.L. in innings four times, and complete games five times. He also threw a no-hitter in 1948.
He's third in team history with 207 wins, third in starts, innings, and complete games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.
#4 Starter: Stan Coveleski. The spitballer won 172 games for the Indians, being one of the major reasons the team won the 1920 World Series. He used a various array of trick pitches to help him win all those games. He is fourth in team history in wins, and third in complete games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.
Other notables: Hall of Famer Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Sam McDowell.
Relief Ace: Doug Jones. The man with the killer changeup baffled American League batters throughout the late 1980's to the tune of 129 saves and the #1 spot in games finished in team history, with 234. A deadringer for the Marlboro Man, I pick him slightly ahead of Bob Wickman because Jones pitched for some really bad teams, and thus had fewer games to save than Wickman did. But if you want to go the other way, I wouldn't argue with you.
Other notables: Bob Wickman, Jose Mesa.
Manager: Mike Hargrove. No, he didn't win a World Series like Lou Boudreau and Tris Speaker did, and no, he didn't win 111 games in a season like Al Lopez did. He just led the Indians to five straight division titles and two American League pennants from 1995-1999, then was abruplty fired for not being successful enough. (Note the sarcasm.) Hargrove took the team from being a joke in 1991 to being a perennial contender year after year and got no respect for it. I think I have the right guy here.
Other notables: Lou Boudreau, Tris Speaker, Al Lopez.
Those are my choices. What are yours?