IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Outfielders of All-Time: Part 2
By Jim Pete
February 5, 2013
In part 2 of this week's power poll, I will attempt to rank the top 15 Indians outfielders. Not only will I rank them by their product on the field, but I also will list my All-Time Indians outfield, by position.
My gut instinct was to be done with it and put Lofton in center, Belle in left and ManRam in left. While they were the best outfield I've seen, to do a true all-time, all-Indians outfield, there are many others to consider, including five hall-of-famers, and five-plus others who COULD/SHOULD be considered.
Have fun with this one, because the options truly are endless. Whether you are focused on personal preference, the eyeball test, sabermetrics, stats, or the Hall of Famers, there's a Tribe great here for everyone.
The Top 15
This week, I’m going to do things a bit differently, and rank the players as I bio the players, so here is your top 15 Indians outfielders of all time:
#15: Dale Mitchell, Left Field (1946-1956)
The fact that Mitchell is the 15th ranked outfielder on this list should let you know just how good this category is for the Indians. Mitchell played parts or all of 11 seasons with the Indians, with a .312/.368/.417 slash. Mitchell was a two-time all-star, and finished in the top 30 of the MVP voting three times, including his first season as a regular in 1947. He hit over .300 seven times in his career, and played in two different World Series for the Tribe.
In 1947, his first full season, he hit .316, and followed that up with a .336 season during the 1948 year. His best year was arguably during the 1949 year when he lead the league in at bats (640), hits (203) and triples (23), which was seven more than he had doubles. His average was .317.
He was never a splashy player, and is never really mentioned with the Tribe greats, but was some of the glue that held together those great Indians teams of the late 40’s and early 50’s. How good was he? During the time period of 1943 through 1960, which some say is the golden era of baseball, only two players hit for a higher average: Ted Williams and Stan Musial.
He had incredible bat control, and walked 349 times compared to only 116 K’s during his Tribe career, while scoring 552 runs and driving in 402 runs during his 1108 games. His career WAR was 17.9, and was one of the most unheralded Indians of all-time.
#14: Joe Vosmik, Left Field (1930-1936)
Joe Vosmik was born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio. He tasted the big leagues for nine games in 1930, and became the full-time Indians left fielder for the next six seasons. He was a prodigy in the minors, hitting .381 during the 1929 season in Frederick, and nearly hit .400 with Terre Haute in 1930 when he hit .397 with 13 homers, 15 triples and 25 doubles.
In his first full season, Vosmik was nearly untouchable during his first seven games. In six of those games, the Tribe outfielder had multiple hit efforts, including his first five ballgames in which he went an unbelievable 14-for-22, with six runs, five doubles, two triples, a homer and four RBI. He went hitless in game six, before going 3-for-4 in his seventh game. The streak included a game in which he went 5-for-5 in front of a visiting Tris Speaker, Vosmik’s hero who had given him pointers in 1930 that helped him take the next step to the big leagues. Vosmik hit .320 during that first season, with 117 RBI, 14 triples and 36 doubles.
He followed up the tremendous rookie year with a season nearly as good. He hit .312 in 1932, with 97 RBI and 106 runs scored. He struggled in 1933 to a .263 average, and had some injury issues in both ’33 and ’34, but rebounded offensively during that 1934 season. He hit .341 that year, with six homers, 78 RBI, 33 doubles, 71 runs and 35 walks, while striking out only 10 times.
His best season came in 1935 though. Vosmik finished the year with a career highs in average (.348), on base percentage (.408), slugging (.537), OPS (.946), homers (10), triples (20, led the league), doubles (47, led the league) and hits (216, led the league). The last player to lead the league in hits, doubles and triples outright was a fairly decent player named Ty Cobb, who last did it in 1919. He finished third in the MVP voting, and played in front of a hometown crowd during the All-Star game that season, as it was held in Cleveland.
1936 was his final year with the Indians, and he “struggled” to a .287 average, with 94 RBI and 76 runs scored. The Indians traded their native son to the St. Louis Browns in January of 1937.
He finished his career with a .313/.376/.459 slash, with 44 homers, 556 RBI, 1003 hits and 480 runs in 824 ballgames. His career WAR was 15.2 with the Indians.
#13: Charlie Jamieson, Left Field (1919-1932)
Jamieson was traded to the Indians on March 1, 1919, along with Larry Gardner and Elmer Myers, for Braggo Roth. It turned out to be a pretty solid deal for the Indians, as Jamieson played in nearly 1500 games for the Indians during his 14 years in town. Jamieson played sparingly during the 1919 season, but became a factor during the 1920 World Series season. He hit .319 in 108 games, and hit .333 during the series, scoring two runs.
His average dipped in 1921 to .310, but he became the rock-solid starter in left that season, scoring 94 runs and hitting 33 doubles in 140 games. In 1922, Jamieson began to showcase MVP talent. He hit 11 triples, scored 87 runs and hit .323, and finished 19th in MVP voting that season. That was nothing compared to his 1923 season. He led the league with 644 at bats and with 222 hits, and hit 36 doubles, 12 triples, stole 18 bases and hit .345 in 152 games. He finished sixth in MVP voting that season. In 1924, he continued his climb in statistics, hitting a career best. 359, with 213 hits, 34 doubles, eight triples and a career high 21 stolen bases while finishing third in MVP voting.
His numbers dropped in 1925 and 1926, but were more than respectable, but he rebounded in 1927 by bringing his average over .300 for the first time since 1924, and following up with another .300 season in 1928. He played in over 100 games in 1929 (.291) and 1930 (.301) at ages 36 and 37, and finished his career in 1932 after playing in less than 30 games both seasons.
When it was all said and done, Jamieson hit .316 lifetime for the Tribe, and finished in the top ten all time for the Tribe in games played, runs scored (942), hits (1753), doubles (296), triples (74), walks (627), and singles (1,365).
#12: Shin-Soo Choo, Right Field (2006-2012)
A case could be made to move Choo up this list, and like all of the contemporary players on this list, may get a bum rap for whatever reason you see fit to make. Choo was an on base and an OPS machine, who hit .300 for the majority of his Indians career, was a solid outfielder, had good power, good speed and had some good back story throughout his career.
The Indians acquired Choo in one of the Seattle steals when they dealt Ben Broussard to the Mariners for the services of Choo. They never looked back. Choo hit a solo shot against the Mariners two days after the Trade that gave the Indians a 1-0 win. In 2007, Choo never really got a chance thanks to injury and perhaps dumb management. He had Tommy John surgery that ended his season before it began. In 2008, he finally got his chance after getting called up in 2008, thanks to the TJ surgery and rehab the year before. During the second half of 2008, there weren’t many better players in all of baseball. He hit .343 during the final 58 ballgames, with 11 homers and 48 RBI, and an impressive 1.038 OPS.
His first full season was the 2009 season, and it was everything it was advertised to be. Choo played in 156 games, belting 38 doubles, 20 homers, 86 RBI, and had 21 stolen bases. His slash was .300/.394/.489. He celebrated his monster year by hiring Scott Boras, and while the writing was on the wall for his future, he had four more seasons under Indians’ control.
Choo hit 22 homers and 90 RBI in 2010, with 81 runs, 31 doubles and 22 stolen bases, matching his big 2009 season nearly hit-for-hit. His average was an identical .300, with a .401 OBP and a .484 slugging. Choo also made waves as a defender thanks to a strong and accurate arm, and he led AL right fielders with 14 assists.
As consistent as Choo was, 2011 put a dent in his armor. Choo struggled off the field with a DUI, and on the field as well. He only hit eight homers, and drove in only 36, and hit a career low .259. He broke his left thumb in June when he was hit by a pitch, then missed the second half of September with back issues.
Choo rebounded in 2012, playing in 155 games, hitting .283, with 16 homers, 67 RBI and 21 stolen bases as the Indians lead-off hitter. He also had a career highs with 43 doubles and 88 runs. Choo was traded this past offseason to the Reds in a three team deal that brought the Indians Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer.
His career OPS was an impressive 20.3 with the Indians during his seven seasons, which is particularly impressive when you consider he only played in three seasons over 100 games.
#11: Jeff Heath, Left Field (1936-1945)
Heath began his career in the Indians organization with Zanesville in 1936, and hit .383, with 208 hits, 47 doubles, 14 triples, and 28 homers, with 187 RBI. How’s that for some eye-popping numbers. The massive numbers got him a peak at the bigs, and he took full advantage, hitting .341 in his 12 games with the Tribe that season.
He started the 1937 season with the Indians, but was sent down to Milwaukee shortly thereafter, hitting .367, with only 14 homers, nine triples and 34 doubles. They were big numbers, but nothing compared to his 1936 season, until you take into account he played in 24 less games.
He opened 1938 in Cleveland as the full-time left fielder, and boy, what a debut it was. Heath hit .343, finishing second to Hall of Famer Jimmy Foxx. He led the league with 18 triples, and hit 31 doubles, 21 homers and drove in an impressive 112 runs. He scored 104 runs, which was the most he scored in one season by 15. He finished 11th in MVP voting.
His stats plummeted over the next two seasons, and there were rumors that the issues were based on the fact that Heath felt he should be paid more money. He held out during the 1939 season, and he saw his average drop to .292, with only 14 homers. He also ran into issues on the team that year, as he was quickly becoming one of the least favorite players. He fought in the dugout with teammates, and punched a fan in a two-game stretch. He even confronted a writer and removed him from the locker room.
It got even worse in 1940, when he hit .219, with 14 homers once again. Heath was targeted as a ringleader in getting manager Oscar Vitt fired. It appeared as though his career was over.
Heath led the league with 20 triples, hit 24 homers, and had a career high 123 RBI. He stole 18 bases, had 199 hits and 89 runs, and hit .340. In other words, he returned to the player he was in 1938. He was the first player ever to have at least 20 doubles, triples and homers during the same season.
Heath’s numbers dropped off from that point, other than a brief resurgence in 1944, where he only played 60 games. By all indications, Heath was a miserable player. He hated Municipal Stadium, blaming it for many of his statistical struggles. He was a hard worker, but gave up if he felt the least bit of friction. He argued constantly with the brass about his contract, and struggled with the fact that Lou Boudreau, two years his junior, was his manager. He was the type of player you liked to be around when he played well, and stayed away from when he didn’t.
He was traded after the 1945 season, but finished his Indians career with a healthy .298/.366/.506 slash, 122 homers and 619 RBI over his career. His career WAR was a healthy 22.6 for the Indians. Had Heath had the drive of several other players on this list, he had top-five potential, and perhaps even a Hall candidate.
#10: Rocky Colavito, Right Field (1955-1959, 1965-1967)
I thought Colavito was going to be a top five or six guy when I started, and it never occurred to me that he might barely make the top ten. You could make a case that he is further up this list, but you could also make a case that he’s behind some of the guys behind him. When you consider the five Hall of Famers as well and some of the greats who are tainted by eras or suspensions, it’s hard to put Colavitio IN the top ten.
Colavito signed with the Indians in 1951 after a scout witnessed his cannon of arm. By 1955, he had excelled in the minors, hitting 38 homers in Triple A Indianapolis, but found himself behind Ralph Kiner, Larry Doby and Al Smith. He was sent to Indianapolis again, where he hit another 30 homers, with 104 RBI during that 1955 season. Colavito received a call up in 55, and had a 4-for-4 game and also threw out a runner trying to tag on him from right to third, beating the runner by several steps.
Colavito struggled in 1956 when he started with the Indians, and was sent down to San Diego in the Pacific League. In only 35 games, he destroyed PCL pitching to the tune of 12 homers, 32 RBI and a .368 average. He wasn’t happy about the demotion, and he showed it. He returned to the Indians for good…sort of.
He finished the 1956 season with 21 homers, 65 RBI, 11 doubles and 55 runs in only 101 games. He was hitting .215 at the time of his demotion, but finished the year at .276. In the second half, he hit .301, with 16 homers and 48 RBI.
His average dropped to .252 in 1957, but his power improved, as he hit 25 homers and drove in 84 runs, with 26 doubles and 66 runs. Colavito lost his roommate Herb Score early in the year when Gil McDougald hit Score with a line drive. It was a good season for Rocky, but nothing compared to what he did in 1958, in what was one of the greatest seasons in Indians history.
Colavito set personal bests in nearly every offensive category in 1958. He scored 80 runs, with 26 doubles, 41 homers and 113 RBI, while hitting .303, with a league leading .620 slugging and a 1.024 OPS. As good as that season was, it was the tenth highest single season OPS up to that point in club history. He finished third in MVP voting that season. It was during this season that Frank, “Trader” Lane made his debut.
Little did we know that Rocky Colavito’s days were numbered. It was during 1958 that Lane tried to deal Colavito to Washington. Then he tried to deal Colavito to Kansas City for seven players. Lane eventually traded Maris to Kansas City in a deal that involved many of the same players that they would have received in the Colavito deal.
According to several sources, Lane hated Colavito. Colavito and Lane had contract issues at the beginning of 1958, and according to Colavito, Lane gave him a $1,500 raise at the beginning of the year, and promised him $1,500 if he produced. He never got it after hitting 41 homers.
After squabbling, Lane doubled his salary in 1959, but the writing was on the wall. Rumors of a potential Colavito deal circulated all season long. Colavito had another massive season, but not before a slump began in May of that season. Colavito was mired in a 4-for-30 slump, when he blasted four homers against Baltimore on June 10th. He played in his first all-star game.
Colavito hit 42 homers and drive in 111 RBI. His average dropped to .257, but he’d score 91 runs and hit 24 doubles. He struggled through the final months of the season though, hitting only .207 during September. In 1960, Colavito and Lane again squabbled about his contract. Lane argued that Colavito shouldn’t even get a raise.
Colavito eventually signed, and things looked good as the season was about to start in 1960. Colavito was one of the most popular players in Indians history, and most thought he’d break home run records. Lane had been throwing out rumors of a potential deal for Detroit’s Harvey Kuenn, but after Colavito and Kuenn both signed after holdouts, Lane promised a deal wouldn’t be made.
It wouldn’t be, until the day prior to the regular season was set to start. The deal was made, and so started the “Curse of Rocky Colavito.”
Colavito returned to Cleveland and hit 26 homers in 1965, with a league leading 108 RBI and 93 walks, and then hit 30 homers in 1966. He played a part of the 1967 season with the Indians before he was dealt to Chicago.
When it was all said and done, Colavito had a .267/.361/.856 OPS, with 190 HR and 574 RBI, and 464 runs scored. His WAR with the Tribe was 21.4.
#9: Manny Ramirez, Right Field (1993-200)
A case could be made for Manny to show up anywhere on this list, or not on the list at all. That’s Manny. His numbers are incredible, and had he played for the Indians for three or four more years, he may have owned nearly every major offensive statistic. As it stands, Manny’s numbers are pretty impressive. He’s 12th all-time in average, 4th in OBP, 1st in slugging, 1st in OPS, 3rd in homers, 8th in RBI, 3rd in AB per HR and 8th in extra base hits. He had 13 post season homers with the Indians and 26 RBI, and was as impactful an offensive player as has ever played the game.
He also was an enigma, and that’s BEFORE the PED stuff came out.
I’ve always been a fan of Manny, but for now, I have to put him down at ninth. I can’t put him ahead of Hall of Famers, and there are other contemporary players that have questions, but perhaps not as many. Manny was a great, great player, and he may even be my starting right fielder. At the end of the day though, he’s #9 on my list.
#8: Elmer Flick, Right Field (1902-1910)
Flick was another player that joined the Cleveland in the early days of the American League. In his first full season, Flick hit three triples in a single game, which is a record that has been tied, but still stands. In 1904, he led the league with 38 triples. In 1905, he began a string of three seasons in which he led the league in triples with 18, 22 and 18 respectively. He also led the league in average, slugging and OPS in 1905. In 1906, he led the league in games, runs and stolen bases.
In 1907, the Tigers tried to deal Ty Cobb to the Naps for Flick in a straight up deal, and the Indians would flat out turn the deal down. Unfortunately for Flick, 1907 was his last effective season. Gastric troubles kept him from playing in more than 66 games over the next three seasons, including only nine games in 1908 and 24 games in his final season in 1910. It was never known what caused the gastric issues.
Flick was a forgotten player until Ty Cobb died in 1961 and some articles were published discussing the trade that never happened. Flick was inducted into the Hall in 1963.
His final numbers with the Indians were impressive. His slash line was .299/.371/.422, with 376 RBI and 535 runs in 935 games.
#7: Jesse Burkett, Left Field (1890-1898)
Burkett is the first member of any ranking here at IBI to have left Cleveland prior to 1900, and to have even played for the Cleveland Spiders. Not only was Burkett worthy of the list, but he’s a Hall of Famer, and deservingly so. He wasn’t on my initial rankings list because I can honestly say that I hadn’t heard his name in over 20 years. After my initial digging, he wasn’t in my top 20, and I only found him when I went on my final expedition through the Hall archives.
Who was Burkett? He was a hitter to the extreme, and baseball reference has him ranked 103rd all-time. He hit .400 twice in a season, and his .355 average is second all-time in Cleveland history, which is one point better than one of the greatest hitters of all-time in Tris Speaker.
By all accounts, Burkett was similar to Ty Cobb in many ways. He was a cantankerous sort, who argued with everyone at every chance. He got in his fair share of fist fights during games with players, umps and fans. He hit under .300 in his first two seasons in Cleveland, then took off from there. He hit .348, .405, .410, .383, and .341 over the next six seasons. He was considered a bad defensive player with limited range and a weak arm.
“Crab” was assigned to the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899, but his career numbers with the Spiders are impressive. His slash is .355/.435/.466, with a career WAR of 28.
So, how in the world did two Hall of Famers be relegated to #7 and #8 with only three HoF’ers left? Easy. While there are only three HoFers left, the other three had Hall of Fame numbers while they were in Cleveland. One player is banned from the hall, one got the raw deal, and one player was just a larger-than-life guy that made the biggest mistake of his career when he left.
#6: Albert Belle, Left Field (1989-1996)
There wasn’t a player I hated more than Belle when he left. There wasn’t a player I loved more than Belle when he was here. Belle was our guy. He was the guy that nobody else liked but us. He was the black sheep of Major League baseball, who had more intrigue and backstory than anyone else in the league. He was Joey.
He also was an incredible baseball player.
He led the league in RBI three times in four seasons with the Indians, and had five straight seasons with 100 RBI or more before he left for the hated White Sox. He had 30+ homers five seasons in a row, and 28+ homers in six times in a row. His two season in 1995 and 1996 were as big as two seasons could be. In 1995, he led the league with 121 runs, 52 doubles, 50 homers, 126 RBI and a .690 slugging. He’s still the only player to hit 50+ homers and doubles in the same season.
He followed that up with a season in which he scored 124 runs, hit 38 doubles and 48 homers, with a league leading 148 RBI. His slash line was .311/.410/.623.
As good as those two season were, his best season may have been the less advertised 1994 year in which the season was cut short by the strike. In 106 games, Belle scored 90 runs, hit 35 doubles, 36 homers and drove in 101 runs. He hit a whopping .357, with a .438 OBP and a .714 slugging, with a 1.152 OPS. The slugging that season was the highest of any player in any single season in Indians history.
It’s hard to argue that Belle was the best player in baseball during this stretch, but he never won the MVP award. He finished 3rd in 1994, 2nd in 1995, and third again in 1996. Why? His sparkling personality.
You remember Belle. He beaned a fan who was heckling him. He beaned a photographer who was taking his picture. He chased down trick-or-treaters with his SUV. He sent Jason Grimsley to confiscate his corked bat.
But the quintessential moment of the Indians in the 1990's was Belle in the dugout, flexing for the Red Sox during the 1995 playoffs after they confiscated his bat.
He was an enigma, but he was our enigma. He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but boy could he play the game of baseball.
#5: Shoeless Joe Jackson, OF (1910-1915)
“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
Jackson was good enough to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and had he made it, it would have been interesting to see if it would have been as a member of the Naps, or as a member of the White Sox.
Jackson was banned from baseball for his role with the 1919 Black Sox, and regardless of whether you believe he was complicit in the scandal or not, it doesn’t hurt his place here with the Naps all that much. His time with the Indians was impressive, and had he played longer than six seasons, he’d be much higher than this.
Connie Mack traded Jackson to the Naps in 1910 for Bris Lord and some cash, and Jackson, who struggled with the Athletics, found some piece in Cleveland. With the Athletics, Jackson had never hit above .200. With the Naps, he never hit below .327.
In his first season in Cleveland, Jackson hit .387 in 20 games in 1910. He followed that season with perhaps his best ever in 1911, and that’s saying a lot. Jackson hit .408 with a league leading .468 OBP. He had 233 hits, hit seven homers, 45 doubles, 19 triples and drove in 83 runs. He scored 126 runs and stole 41 bases.
In 1912, Jackson had a league leading 226 hits and 26 triples. He hit 44 doubles, three homers and 90 RBI. He stole 35 bases, and hit .395 on the year. The 26 triples was the most ever in the big leagues, and has been matched once, by Sam Crawford in 1914. In three seasons, he hadn’t hit below .387, and hadn’t won the batting crown yet.
In 1913, Jackson led the league for the second season in a row, with 197, and led the league with 39 doubles as well. He had 17 triples, seven homers and 71 RBI. His .373 average again finished behind one Ty Cobb, but he lead the league with a .551 slugging and a 1.011 OPS.
Jackson broke his leg in 1914, and missed 35 games. His average dropped to .338, and he scored 61 runs and drove in 53. Jackson then took an odd turn prior to the 1915 season in a vaudeville show. He liked it so much that he almost quit baseball. His wife nearly divorced him over it, so he returned to play. He was shuffled to first in May, but returned to the outfield in June. With the team struggling to make money, he had to trade one or both of his stars, either Shoeless Joe or Ray Chapman.
The Indians owner was worried that Jackson was going to bolt to a new Federal League, leaving him with nothing, so Jackson was traded to the White Sox.
The rest was history.
Jackson’s slash was a lofty .375/.441/.542. He is an all-time top ten in WAR (33.6), Batting average (.375, first), OBP (.441, 2nd), slugging (.542, tied for 2nd), OPS (.983 2nd) and triples (89, 4th).
#4: Kenny Lofton, CF (1992-1996, 1998-2001, 2007)
Perhaps this is a preference of mine, perhaps it’s reality. Either way, I have Lofton as a top five player for the outfield. Lofton is rated as the #97 hitter all time by baseball reference, and it is well deserved. Lofton was bounced out of hall voting this season in his first opportunity in one of the biggest travesties I’ve ever seen. I’m sure part of that is bias, but when you look at Lofton’s stats, you see a sure-fire member of Cooperstown.
The Indians dealt for Lofton in 1991 for Willie Blair and Eddie Taubensee. I remember thinking that it was a great deal for the Indians the second that they made it. I knew Lofton as a basketball player for the Arizona Wildcats, but everything I read about him said he was a lead-off hitter in the making. With Belle, Baerga and Alomar already a major part of the puzzle, the team really started taking shape with Lofton. In three seasons in the minors, Lofton had stolen 168 bases. He wasn’t perfect, but his raw ability was promising.
He exploded in 1992. Lofton immediately scored 96 runs and stole 66 bases. He was electrifying, and while most felt he would be a solid player, few saw his first year being the type of year that he had. He never hit below .300 in the rest of his first tenure with the Indians. It also began a five year run in which he led the AL in stolen bases, with 66, 70, 60, 54 and 75.
His best season with the Indians came in the strike shortened 1994 year. He led the league with 160 hits, had 32 doubles and hit .349, which was his career high.
He was dealt to the Atlanta Braves prior to the 1997 season in exchange for David Justice and Marquis Grissom, but resigned with the Tribe in 1998. He only hit over .300 once during that stretch, and while he was surely declining in as a player, he was still one of the best lead-off hitters in the game.
He left via free agency in 2001, but wasn’t done with the Tribe yet. The Indians sent Max Ramirez to the Texas Rangers in 2007, and nearly rode the Indians back to the World Series. It was his last season in the bigs.
Lofton played all or part of ten seasons with the Indians, and his slash line was .300/.375/.426, with an .800 OPS. He finished in the top ten all-time in WAR (46.3 4th), runs scored (975, third), hits (1,512, ninth), singles (ninth), and of course, stolen bases (first with 452).
Lofton may have been the best defensive outfielder to ever play for the Indians. While I don’t think it’s even arguable, others may disagree. His defensive WAR, which isn’t the end all, is tops for outfielders at 12.7. The next closest outfielder on the all-time list is Jimmy Piersall, who is 20th all-time for the Tribe at 4.7.
#3: Larry Doby, CF (1947-1955)
I initially had Lofton ahead of Doby, but just couldn’t do it at the end. Doby’s numbers are extremely good as a centerfielder, and when you combine that with the fact that he was the first black player in the history of the American League, it elevates him even higher. There’s a small part of me that could see Doby being #1 or #2, but in the end, his numbers just weren’t close enough to the top two players to move past them.
Doby made a name for himself with the Negro Leagues, like many before him. He played for the Newark Eagles while still in high school, and was a star right away. He served in the military and return to the Eagles after being honorably discharged in 1946. Doby was focused on becoming a coach and a teacher when Jackie Robinson was signed by Branch Rickey. Doby played in the Negro Leagues All-Star game that year, and the Eagles won the 1946 Negro Leagues World Series, beating Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs.
Bill Veeck took notice. He wanted to integrate the A.L. and Doby looked to be the perfect player. Doby started the 1947 season with the Eagles, but secretly signed a deal with the Indians. He was brought up to the Tribe on July 5th, 1947, and faced the same issues as Jackie Robinson in the National League. 1947 was a bust for Doby, hitting only .156 on the season in only 29 games. Things changed though in 1948.
Doby hit 14 homers and drove in 66 RBI in his first full season. He hit .301 during the season, and scored 83 runs. He became the first black player to hit a home run in a World Series, and hit an impressive .318 during the series, adding a double and a run. How good was Doby? He never hit less than 20 homers again for the Indians. His best season in the bigs came in 1950. He scored 110 runs while hitting 25 doubles, 25 homers and driving in 102 runs. His slash was .326/.442/.545, and his OBP was tops in the league, as was his .986 OPS. He led the league in runs in 1952 with 104, and also led the league in homers and slugging in ’52. In 1954, he again led the league in homers and added the RBI title as well, with 126.
His final season with the Indians was in 1955, and he hit 26 homers and drove in 75, ending a fantastic career with the Tribe. His OPS was never below .847 in a full season with the Indians. Doby finished in the top ten in WAR (41.4, 8th), runs (808, 10th), homers (215, 6th), RBI (776, 9th) and Walks (703, 6th), and #1 in courage.
#2: Earl Averill, CF (1929-1939)
Averill’s first season with the Indians came in 1929 when he was 27 years old. He had big shoes to fill after Speaker left the team in 1926, and he started off his season with a bang. Averill became the first A.L. player to ever hit a home run in his first at-bat. He also became the first player to hit four homers in a double header in 1930.
Averill ended up hitting .332 during his rookie season, and hit over .300 eight times in his 11 years with the Tribe. His OPS never dropped below .817 in his career. In 1931, 1932 and 1934, Averill hit 32, 32 and 31 homers, and drove in 143, 124 and 113 RBI.
Averill’s best season was likely his 1936 year in which he hit a career high .378. He led the A.L. in hits with 232 and also led the league with 15 triples. He belted 28 homers, and drove in 126 RBI. While he had over 90 RBI over the next two seasons, he never hit over 100 again.
Averill had overcome a rough 1935 season in which injuries had derailed him a bit. His injuries were caused by a Fourth of July firecracker incident.
Overall, Averall finished in the top 19 for MVP seven times, in the top eight four times and in the top four three times. He was a six-time all-star, and finished in the top ten in several Indians all-time categories. He finished fifth in WAR (45.2), 8th in batting average (.322), 7th in OBP (.399), 5th in slugging (.542), 6th in OPS (.940), 8th in games played (1,510), 2nd in at bats (5,909), 1st in runs scored (1,154), 3rd in hits (1,903), 1st in total bases (3,200), 3rd in doubles (377), first in triples (121), fourth in homers (226), first in RBI (1,084), 4th in walks (725), 8th in singles (1,179), and 1st in extra base hits (724). If he’s not #1, he’s certainly 1A, or in my case, #2.
#1: Tris Speaker, CF (1916-1926)
Speaker is the #4 hitter of all-time according to the baseball reference stats, and he was the clear #1 choice here if he didn’t have such a substantial career with Boston prior to joining the Indians in 1916. When Nap Lajoie was sold in 1915, Tris Speaker took over the role as the resident star in 1916. With all of that said, Speaker’s role on that 1920 team as a player/manager is equal if not greater than that of Lou Boudreau. With the death of Chapman, you could say his team overcame even more than Boudreau, although it’s a toss-up.
The “Grey Eagle” was sent to the Indians when he refused to take a pay cut for only hitting .322 in 1915. Speaker made $40,000 in 1916, which was the most in baseball. It’s ironic considering that Shoeless Joe Jackson was traded the year before because of money issues.
Speaker hit .344 or better in eight of his 11 seasons with the Tribe, and hit over .300 in all but one. In his first year, he led the league in hits with 211, doubles with 41 and all three slash-marks with .386, .470, .502 and a .972 OPS. He led the league in doubles five more times with the Indians, with 33 in 1918, 50 in 1920, 52 in 1921, 48 in 1922 and an incredible 59 in 1923. The 59 doubles is second all-time to George Burns for the Indians.
Speaker became player-manager of the Indians in 1919, and when the Indians won the World Series in 1920, became the first of two player-managers to win the Series for the Indians (there’s the key, Terry Francona has to play in 2013!). How important was Speaker in 1920? One of his stars, Ray Chapman, died after being struck by a pitch, and had only continued playing because he wanted Speaker to win a Series. He also made the pennant clinching catch when he was reportedly knocked out while making a catch on a hit by Shoeless Joe Jackson. Jackson played in only two more games before his lifetime suspension.
Speaker hit .320 during the 1920 Series, and was the unquestioned star of the team. He scored six runs, hit two doubles and a triple, driving in one run. He led the team with six runs, scoring nearly a third of their 21 total.
Speaker’s numbers with the Indians were impressive. He finished in the top ten in WAR (71, 2nd), average (.354, 2nd), OBP (1st, .444), slugging (.520, 8th), OPS (.965, 4th), Games (1,519), Abs (5,546, 9th), Runs (1,079, 2nd), Hits (1,965, 2nd), Total Bases (2,886, 2nd), Doubles (486, 1st), Triples (108, 2nd), RBI (884, 5th), BB’s (857, 2nd), singles (1,298, 3rd), SB (155), and Extra Base hits (667, 2nd).
My current All-Indians Team:
Catcher: Victor Martinez
1st Base: Jim Thome
2nd Base: Nap Lajoie
3rd Base: Al Rosen
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau
Outfield: Tris Speaker, Earl Averill, Larry Doby
CF: Tris Speaker
LF: Albert Belle
RF: Manny Ramirez (executive decision over Flick)
IBI Power Poll All-Indians Team:
Catcher: Sandy Alomar
1st Base: Jim Thome
2nd Base: Nap Lajoie
3rd Base: Al Rosen
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau (but it’s close—85-83)
Your chance to vote in past polls:
There are four polls today:
Vote for your three top overall outfielders in the first poll.
Vote for your top LF in the 2nd, your top CF in the 3rd and your top RF in the 4th.
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.
I do love these polls but they are so frustrating too!!
Are just some of the ones that I know of.
This study says HR's peak at age 28. http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/article/best_fit_equations_for_component_aging_curves/
Nobody is arguing Lofton was every a power hitter, demonstrating improved HR at age 27 is entirely consistent with statistical research. I am suspicious of the HR totals he generated at 33 and 34, but that's not the point.
I encourage you to do some more research on this topic.
Plus, power doesn't magically come just because a guy gets older. They have to have the body type, swing, frame and such to add power and use it. Lofton never had such a frame. It's not like he had the body to add power. Guy had 3002 career total plate appearances in minors and big leagues from 1988-1993 and knocked out 12 total homers over that entire time. Yet in 1994 he equals his career home run total in one season with 12? If we were not Indians fans, I think there would be a lot of people wondering about him even more. And, unfortunately, this is the veil of suspicion that everyone in that era will always be under.....
In any case, not to make this a PED debate.....just something I always wondered about Lofton as I feel he and many others dodged a few bullets not being named in any reports over the years.
I would actually think Omar's post-2001 performances are more suspect. 14 HRs? .295/.361/.389 as a 39-year-old?
Oh man, that won't sit well on the mean streets of the East Side. I got nothin but respect for K-Luv.
Yeah, Jwahoo, it is...but it's pretty damn fun to do...;)
Maybe Doby...but that's arguable. Like Robinson, Doby is more than numbers, although the were outstanding...
I like Lofton a lot but there were better center fielders than him. That doesn't discredit him as he was a great player, but it's a deep mix of center fielders he has to contend with, and a few of them Hall of Famers. Lofton's numbers may stack up better, but remember, he played in the "live ball" era of the mid-90s to mid-00s and I still to this day wonder if he was ever on anything. He went from a scrawny light hitting outfielder in 92-93 to a guy jacking homers and ripped in 94-95.
Just a little common cents is all I ask for.
K-Luv is the best Cleveland Indian outfielder of all time. I'm serious. He was a tremendous lead off hitter and his range in CF was outstanding.
I would love to see an OF with Lofton and Sizemore in it, those two would have been so great in the field that it the defensive prowess of anyone else would barely matter. Sizemore's 2006 and 2008 were amazing, Lofton's 1994 was amazing, combine that with Belle's 1995 campaign and that OF is jaw dropping.