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What Would An All-Time Indians Roster Look Like?


In honor of this year’s All-Star Game, I thought it would be a good idea to form my own All-Star Team, Cleveland Indians style. I’ve created a full 25-man roster, including 12 pitchers and 13 position players (and a manager) to fill out the team.

Professional baseball has been in Cleveland since about 1869, but the Cleveland Blues (short for Bluebirds) were formed in 1901. The team has also been known as the Bronchos (or Broncos) and Naps before becoming the Indians in 1915.

Jim Thome is the Indians’ franchise leader in home runs. Did he make the team’s all-time roster? (Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)

A player must have played at least four seasons in Cleveland since 1901, so legends like Cy Young aren’t here. Players are also measured only by what they did in Cleveland, so players such as Tommy John, Brandon Phillips, Roger Maris and others aren’t included as well.

In 110 years, numerous players are deserving of a spot. I began with 114 players and 9 managers under consideration, so it should be no surprise I snubbed several deserving candidates. Keep in mind that these are just my opinions. You might disagree, but that’s the fun of it.

Without further ado, I give to you my all-time Indians roster:

 

  • Starting Pitchers

Bob Feller: One of the more obvious choices for this roster, Bob Feller spent his entire 18-year major league career with the Indians after debuting in 1936 at the age of 17. Feller missed three years of his career serving in World War II, enlisting the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. For his career, “Rapid Robert” went 266-162 with a lifetime ERA of 3.25. Feller also posted a terrific career WAR of 65.2 and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1962. His number 19 is retired by the Indians.

Addie Joss: A dominant yet overlooked hurler, Joss (whose first name was short for Adrian) pitched all 9 seasons of his career in Cleveland. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed yours truly raving about Joss and his “eye-popping stats” – he won 160 games with a sparkling career ERA of 1.89, a WHIP of 0.97, and an ERA+ (which adjusts to a pitcher’s ballpark; 100 is average) of 142, posting a mark of 204 in 1908. He was also worth 45.9 wins above replacement for his career. In his major league debut, he threw a one-hitter (Jesse Burkett, a future Hall of Famer, got the only hit). He also threw a perfect game in 1908 against Ed Walsh, another future Hall of Famer (thanks to Baseball Almanac). Sadly, Joss died of meningitis at the age of 31 in 1911 and likely would have been considered one of the all-time greats if he had finished his career, although he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.

Bob Lemon: Another lifetime Indian, Lemon pitched all 13 years of his career with the Indians, posting a record of 207-128 and winning 20 or more games seven times. Along with Bob Feller, Lemon was an anchor of the Tribe’s 1948 rotation that saw the Indians win their most recent championship, with Lemon going 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 2 starts against the Brooklyn Robins in the World Series. Lemon was also known for bouncing back from bad outings, recalling that he always “left them in a bar along the way home”. Lemon’s number 21 is also retired by the Indians and he was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1976.

Herb Score: Another “what could have been”, Score started his career in 1955, going 16-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 245 strikeouts, winning American League Rookie of the Year before striking out another 263 the next year. But one night in 1957, Score was hit with a line drive from the Yankees’ Gil McDougald, resulting in hemorrhaging from his eye, swelling of his retina and a broken nose. After returning from the injury, Score never returned to being the same pitcher that then-General Manager Hank Greenberg said “may become the greatest pitcher in the game’s history.” Score was an All-Star his first two seasons in the league and only allowed 6.4 hits per nine innings over his career. He later became an Indians broadcaster and died in 2008.

Sam McDowell: Yet another tragic story, “Sudden Sam” McDowell debuted in 1961 at the age of 18. Over 11 years in Cleveland, McDowell went 122-109 for the offensively-challenged Indians, posting a 2.99 ERA and 2159 strikeouts, including two seasons of at least 300 punch outs. Of his 295 starts for the Indians, 97 were complete games, and 22 were shutouts. However, McDowell was a raging alcoholic, with teammate Dick Radatz recalling, “We thought he was stupid. Turned out he was never sober.” In 1971, the Indians traded him to the Giants for Frank Duffy and Gaylord Perry, and he won only 19 games after, retiring in 1975 at the age of 32. He is now a counselor of drugs and alcohol.

Honorable Mentions: Mike Garcia; Gaylord Perry; Sonny Siebert; Luis Tiant; Early Wynn; Mel Harder

  •  Relief Pitchers (must have pitched at least 40% of their appearances in relief)

Cal McLish: McLish, whose full name is Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, pitched 4 of his 15 seasons in Cleveland but posting an ERA of 3.35 there from 1956-1959, when he was voted to the All-Star team. He made 71 starts as an Indian, but also made 82 relief appearances. He finished in the top 15 of the MVP voting in both 1958 and 1959.

Don Mossi: Mossi, known as “The Sphinx” and “Ears” because of his appearance, let his pitching do the talking, and not his beauty (or lack thereof). It turned out to be the right call, as Mossi posted a 3.34 ERA in 5 years with the Indians, finishing exactly 100 games with the Tribe to begin his career. He was an All-Star in 1957, and finished 24th in the MVP voting in 1955. He then signed with the Tigers and was used mainly as a starter, though he made only 36 starts with the Indians.

Ray Narleski: Narleski only pitched for six years in the majors, but spent five of them with the Indians. During that time, he posted a 3.60 ERA in 266 appearances, 214 of which were in relief. Narleski led the league in both appearances (60) and saves (19) in 1955, finishing sixth in the MVP voting. He was an All-Star in 1956 and 1958 and finished 132 games as an Indian, including 58 saves.

Gary Bell: Bell, known as “Ding Dong”, pitched 10 seasons with the Indians and posted a 3.68 ERA and 144 games finished (45 saves) during that time. He began his career in 1958 as a starter with the Indians (169 of his 419 appearances with the Indians were out of the rotation) and had success, finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. However, he was later converted into a reliever and made the All-Star team three times, including twice (1960 and 1966) with the Indians. He was a part of the inaugural Seattle Pilots in 1969.

Doug Jones: Jones began his career with the Brewers and made only 4 major league appearances in 1982. The Indians signed him in 1985 and he made his Indians debut in 1986, going 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings. He joined the bullpen full-time in 1987, finishing 29 games. Over the course of his 7 seasons with the Indians (1986-1991, 1998), Jones finished 234 games, including 129 saves. Jones made only 4 starts out of his 295 appearances in Cleveland. He was an All-Star three times and finished in the top 25 of the MVP balloting twice as a member of the Tribe. He retired in 2000 with 303 career saves.

Steve Gromek: Gromek first appeared with the Indians in 1941 as a starter, but was blocked by the many starters the Tribe had then. He pitched 17 years in the majors, including 13 with the Indians, making 137 starts and 172 relief appearances. As a member of the Indians, he posted a 3.22 ERA and won 78 games. In 1953, his 13th season as an Indian, he was traded to the Tigers.

Guy Morton: One of the lesser-known names on this roster, Morton pitched all 11 seasons of his career in Cleveland beginning in 1914 with the Naps, when he had a record of 1-13 despite a 3.02 ERA. In 1915, with the Indians, Morton finished with a winning record of 16-15 and an ERA of 2.14 in 240 innings. In his career, Morton, known as “Alabama Blossom”, won 98 games while posting a career ERA of 3.13. Although 185 of Morton’s 317 career games pitched came as a starter, more than 40% of his appearances came in relief, meaning that he is eligible for the roster.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Perez; Allie Reynolds; Bob Wickman; Tom Buskey; Joe Smith

  •  Catcher

Jim Hegan: Without Ray Fosse’s decline after being injured in the 1970 All-Star Game, Fosse could have been the choice here. But I chose Hegan, a .228 career hitter. Let me explain. Hegan spent parts of 14 seasons with the Indians, hitting .230 with 90 home runs and 499 RBI. Those numbers aren’t impressive, but his five All-Star appearances and two finishes in the top 25 of MVP voting are. Simply put, Hegan’s defense behind the plate was magnificent. Hall of Famer Bill Dickey once observed, “When you can catch like Hegan, you don’t have to hit.” Hegan threw out more than 40% of base stealers in 11 different seasons with the Tribe, including a career high mark of 69% in 1950. His 50% career rate far exceeds the league average mark of 46% at that time. In addition to his marvelous defense, Hegan was also great at calling games, with former catcher Joe Tipton saying that “hitters who [struck] out against the Indians cuss[ed] Hegan.” Bob Feller labeled him “the best defensive catcher [he] ever had”, while Herb Score said that “in a tight spot, you always went with Jim’s call”.

Honorable Mentions: Sandy Alomar, Jr.; Carlos Santana; Ray Fosse; Victor Martinez

  • First Base

Jim Thome: The recently-retired Jim Thome originally started with the Indians in 1991 as a third baseman. After showing difficulties at the hot corner, Thome was moved to first base. His 337 home runs with the Indians rank first in team history, 95 more than Albert Belle (more on him later). He also has the most walks in team history with 1008, and his OPS of .980 is third. However, Thome also struck out 1400 times with the Tribe. But I always wanted to be like Thome, and I’ve practiced his swing (with the front toe pointing up) enough that it almost feels like a habit now. His career comes to an end with 2,328 hits, 612 homers (7th all-time), and 1,699 RBI, but he’s almost certainly ticketed for Cooperstown in a few years.

Honorable Mentions: Luke Easter; Hal Trosky

  •  Second Base

Nap Lajoie: Nap (short for Napoleon) Lajoie was such a figure in Cleveland that the Naps were actually named after him. He played 13 seasons in Cleveland, with the team being renamed the Indians the year after he left. Lajoie hit .339 during that time, collecting 2,047 of his 3,243 career hits in the process. Lajoie hit 33 home runs in Cleveland during the infamous “Dead Ball Era”, but drove in 919 runs as well. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Honorable Mentions: Roberto Alomar; Bobby Avila; Joe Gordon; Bill Wambsganss

  •  Third Base

Al Rosen: Al Rosen has long been one of my all-time favorite players in history, but that isn’t the reason he’s included in the lineup. Known as “Flip”, Rosen played all of his career (parts of 10 seasons) as an Indian, hitting .285 with 192 home runs and 717 RBI in 1,044 games. He made the All-Star team four times, and finished in the top 20 of the MVP voting four times. He unanimously won the MVP award in 1953 after hitting .336/.422/.613 with 43 home runs and 145 RBI. He posted a staggering WAR of 10.1 that year as well (8 is MVP quality). Rosen retired early at the age of 32, and if he would have played longer, perhaps the Hall of Fame could have been a possibility.

Honorable Mentions: Max Alvis; Carlos Baerga; Buddy Bell; Toby Harrah; Brook Jacoby; Ken Keltner

  •  Shortstop

Joe Sewell: Sewell didn’t boast much in the way of power, only surpassing 7 home runs once (11 with the Yankees in 1932) but he had a knack for driving in runs. His best season arguably came in 1923, when he hit .353 with 3 home runs and 109 RBI (those numbers are correct). He finished 4th in the MVP race that year, and finished in the top 20 five more times, as well as a top 30 finish in 1932. Sewell hit .320 in 11 seasons with the Indians, tallying 868 RBI over that time. He played three seasons with the Yankees before retiring in 1933 and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1977. He had two brothers (Luke and Tommy Sewell) and a cousin (Rip Sewell) also make it to the major leagues.

Honorable Mentions: Lou Boudreau; Asdrubal Cabrera; Ray Chapman; Omar Vizquel 

  • Outfield

Earl Averill: Of his 13 seasons in the major leagues, Averill spent parts of 11 with the Indians. During that time (1929-1939), he hit .322/.399/.542 with 226 home runs and 1084 RBI. He finished in the top 20 of the MVP voting seven times, all with the Indians, and was named to six All-Star Games, also exclusively with the Indians. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975 and his number 3 has been retired by the Indians.

Joe Jackson: Jackson, better known as “Shoeless Joe”, spent parts of six seasons in his 13-year career in Cleveland before being traded to the White Sox in 1915. Jackson hit .375/.441/.542 while in Cleveland and twice led the league in hits, collecting 937 over that span. He is probably best known for being one of eight Chicago White Sox players banned for life for fixing the 1919 World Series, known as the “Black Sox” Scandal. If he would not have been banned from baseball, he would be in the Hall of Fame.

Tris Speaker: Speaker spent half of his 22-year career with the Indians, hitting .354/.444/.520 in Cleveland. After a contract dispute with the Red Sox, the Indians acquired him in 1916 in exchange for two players and $55,000. Speaker’s 792 doubles are still the all-time record, and he hit 486 as a member of the Indians. He revolutionized outfield defense by playing very shallow in centerfield and that allowed him to tally a whopping 449 outfield assists in his career. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1937.

Honorable Mentions: Albert Belle; Kenny Lofton; Grady Sizemore; Manny Ramirez; Rocky Colavito; Larry Doby; Elmer Flick 

  • Bench

Sandy Alomar, Jr. (Catcher): Alomar, Jr. was acquired by the Indians in late 1989 with Carlos Baerga and Chris James for Joe Carter. Alomar, Jr.’s rookie season saw him win American League Rookie of the Year after he hit .290/..326/.418 with 9 home runs and 66 RBI. He also won a Gold Glove and was named to the All-Star team that year as well, and made 5 more appearances in the Midsummer Classic, all with the Indians. In his best season, 1997, he hit .324/.354/.545 with 21 home runs and 83 RBI, with the Indians losing in the World Series to the Florida Marlins. He left the Indians after the 2000 season, hitting .277/.315/.419 as a member of the Tribe. He retired in 2007 and is currently the Indians’ bench coach.

Hal Trosky (First Base): Trosky’s 11-year career included playing 9 seasons for the Indians. In 4,854 plate appearances in Cleveland from 1933-1941, Trosky hit .313/.379/.551 with 216 homers and 911 RBI, leading the league with 162 RBI in 1936. Despite these numbers, Trosky was not known as well as Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg and other slugging first basemen at the time and never played in an All-Star Game. His son, Hal, made two appearances for the White Sox in 1958.

Lou Boudreau (Shortstop): Boudreau spent all but two of his 15 seasons in the majors with the Indians, hitting .296/.382/.416. He hit 63 of his 68 career home runs as an Indian, also accounting for 740 RBI during his time in Cleveland. He made the All-Star Game 7 times with the Indians and was the team’s manager during their last World Series title in 1948. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970 and his number 5 is retired by the Indians.

Albert Belle: In his 8 seasons in Cleveland from 1989-1996, Belle hit 242 home runs. That alone should tell you how talented Belle was with a bat in his hand, but his slash line over that time of .295/.369/.580 only echoes that statement. Belle won 6 Silver Sluggers and made 5 All-Star teams as an Indian. The only thing Belle was known more for than his hitting was his aggressive nature, which most of you understand. Had it not been for a hip injury that helped to prematurely end his career after 12 seasons in 2000, Belle could have been a Hall of Famer.

Joe Gordon: Gordon only played 4 of his 11 seasons in the major leagues with the Indians, but in his second season, 1948, he hit .280/.371/.507 with 32 home runs and 124 RBI while the Indians won the World Series. He would go on to hit exactly 100 homers in an Indians uniform with 358 RBI. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

  •  Manager

Al Lopez: Lopez is my choice as the Indians’ all-time manager despite competition from others like Tris Speaker, Lou Boudreau, and Mike Hargrove. In 6 seasons as the Tribe’s manager from 1951-1956, Lopez led the Indians to a mark of 570-354, a winning percentage of .617. The Indians finished in second place in the American League every year Lopez managed the Indians except for 1954, when the team went 111-43 (.721) and were swept in the World Series by the New York Giants. Lopez never won fewer than 88 games as the team’s manager.

 

As you can see, the Indians organization certainly has had its fair share of impact players since being formed in 1901. Although the team has only won two World Series titles, the legacy of baseball in Cleveland can never be forgotten.

However, maybe current Indians like Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson, and Jason Kipnis can write their own legends. Stay tuned. It should be a great ride.

Tags: All-time Indians Bob Feller Cleveland Indians Featured Herb Score Jim Thome Nap Lajoie Popular Sam McDowell

  • tribescribe

    Lofton deserves Averill’s spot in the outfield. A six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, Lofton ranks 7th in career WAR among center fielders and has the 8th-best JAWS score. Averill, by comparison, ranks 29th and 27th respectively. Though well-traveled, Lofton played 10 seasons in Cleveland, one fewer than Averill, and amassed over 5,700 PA in a Tribe uniform.

    Averill was the better hitter, even after adjusting for the lively-ball era that he played in, but Lofton’s baserunning and defense more than make up the difference in OPS+. Averill was 27 runs below average as a fielder and 14 runs below average as a baserunner in his 11 seasons as an Indian. Lofton, however, was nearly 100 runs above average as a fielder and 46 runs above average as a baserunner, a net difference of roughly 19 wins over Averill

    Though Averill was a perennial MVP candidate, he did so in a league with only 8 teams and thus less competition for MVP votes. Lofton also received MVP consideration in four seasons, finishing as high as 4th in 1997, and he was the rightful AL Rookie of the Year in 1992 no matter what Pat Listach’s supporters might tell you.

    Lastly, Averill played his entire career in baseball pre-Jackie Robinson (and Larry Doby). Were he and Lofton contemporaries, they could only have played on the same field in barnstorming exhibitions. If Averill had played in Lofton’s era, he would have faced the best players the world had to offer, including not only African-Americans, but Latin-Americans, Venezuelans, Japanese, Koreans, and Taiwanese.

    While I commend you for not falling into the trap of overrating modern-day players just because they are familiar to us, we should also take care not to give too much reverence to the past. Averill was a fine player in his own right, but Lofton deserves a higher place among the all-time greatest Indians.

    • Michael Chaney

      I understand your argument, but I feel that Averill’s overall game was better than Lofton’s. He was a much better hitter, and while Lofton’s defense and baserunning were superior, the only player who amazed me enough in either of those categories was Jim Hegan, and he was arguably one of the best defensive catchers in history.

      Lofton’s 1997 season was spent in Atlanta, and since I only considered what players did in Cleveland, I didn’t use what he did that year (although he did finish 4th in 1994 if that’s what you were thinking of).

      All in all, a good argument could be made for Lofton (and a lot of others) to be on this list, and I definitely appreciate your opinion. Lofton was one of the final few I considered, so maybe I would have added him as the 26th man if there was a doubleheader.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Jerze

    This list is horrible. R.Alomar not starting at 2B, S.Alomar not at C (a .228 hitter starting at C instead!), No many and no Lofton on the OF, no Larry Doby, He goes all Defense at some spots, yet Vizquel doesn’t make the team (same story on R.Alomar). what a joke.

    • Michael Chaney

      You could make a case for a lot of guys here, so I understand you. Thanks for the feedback and thanks for reading.

    • Robby

      I am going to defend Mike here. Numbers are not always true to a players value. Sometimes when you saw a player play you knew. I grew up in NY a Mets fan. You look at Keith Hernandez and he has decent numbers but if you saw him play it was another story.

    • Ed Carroll

      There have been more Indians players than those who played for the team in the 1990′s … Omar Vizquel was an excellent defender, but his bat was never good. Robbie Alomar also spent 3 seasons in Cleveland to Lajoile’s 13.