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IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Third Baseman of All-Time?

IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Third Baseman of All-Time?
January 21, 2013
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In this week’s IBI Power Poll, we’ll be taking a look at the all-time great third baseman in Cleveland Indians’ history, and it’s not going to be easy.

In my research, I came up with no less than 20 names that had a legitimate reason to be considered. Some of them aren’t considered all-time greats in the pantheons of the major leagues, but all of them made an impact on Cleveland Indians’ baseball. With that said, I had to make this a manageable poll, so I had to take a few names off the list, including a hall of famer who did most of his damage at another position.

Here is the honorable mention list, with the reasoning behind them not being considered.

Terry Turner played in Cleveland for 15 seasons from 1904 through 1918. He played third base for the Tribe from 1910 through 1918, but only three times was it more than half his games played, and only twice over 100 games. Still, he played 601 games at the position during that nine-year stretch. The only season that he hit above .262 was when he hit .308 in 1912. He’s a player that needs to be noted, but he did play more games at shortstop, and his career slash of .253/.308/.318 just won’t make the cut here.

Joe Sewell is a Hall of Famer, but most of that was as a shortstop. He played one full season as the Tribe third baseman in 1929, and it was a great offensive year, as he hit .315, with a .372 OBP and a .427 slugging. He just didn’t have enough games to be considered for two positions. He certainly will make shortstop interesting next week though.

Odell Hale was already mentioned as a second baseman, which was his most prominent position with the Tribe. He only played two full seasons at third, and they were two really good seasons, in which he hit .304 and .316. I just don’t think that he has enough games to qualify with some others in the conversation, but he’s definitely worth mentioning because of just how good those seasons were even though it wasn’t his primary position.

Matty Williams had a tremendous season with the Tribe, and helped lead them to the 1997 World Series. Williams pounded out 32 homers and drove in 105 RBI. He would only play one season for the Indians before they dealt him closer to his kids, but it was a good one.

Here are the candidates for the Indians best all-time third baseman:

Bill Bradley (1901-1910)

Upon the inception of the American League, Bill Bradley was considered one of the best, if not THE best up-and-coming player in the entire league. He was a power hitter in a league that specialized in sacrifices during the “Deadball Era.”

Bradley started his career with the Cubs in the National league in 1899, but after he asked for a raise from his $300 salary and was rejected, he jumped to the newly formed American League to play with the Cleveland Blues for $3,500.

In his first season in 1901, Bradley hit .293 and scored 95 runs. It was nothing compared to what he would do in the 1902 season, which was his finest season to date. Bradley’s slash-line was .340/.375/.515, and he blasted 11 homers and drove in 77, while scoring 104 runs. He homered in four straight games, and was the first to ever do that. He had a 29-game hit streak that season, and was only 24-years old.

In 1903, he followed that majestic season with another solid year, hitting six homers and driving in 68, while scoring 101 runs, with a slash-line of .313/.348/.496. He had 22 doubles, including a game with three, and also hit for the cycle that season. In 1904, he again proved to be one of the best hitters in the game with six more homers, 83 RBI, 94 runs and a 300 average.

Bradley was considered one of the most aggressive fielders in the game, and the kind of baserunner that could make pitcher’s lives miserable. Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins believed that Bradley just might be the best third baseman of the era.

Until injuries began to take their toll…

A stomach illness caused his average to drop to .268 in 1905, and he didn’t hit a home run. He broke his wrist in 1906, playing in only 82 games. He was sick again in 1907, and hit only .223. He tore a ligament in 1908, but still played, finishing the year off hitting .243.

He did manage to change his game. He had 46 sacrifices in 1907, which was then an American League record. He shattered it the following year with 60 sacrifices, which ranks second all-time (behind Indians’ Ray Chapman).

In his final two seasons, he failed to hit .200, and was released in 1910.

His final numbers with Cleveland was .272/.317/.373 over his career, which certainly took a turn for the worse after 1904. He was one of the first stars of any team in Cleveland, and was the first true power-hitting third baseman.

Larry Gardner (1919-1924)

Gardner was a known commodity in the big leagues before coming to the Indians in 1919, winning World Series titles in Boston for the Red Sox in 1912, 1915 and 1916. In 1919, he was traded to the Indians with Charlie Jamieson and Elmer Myers for Braggo Roth. The move would pay off. Gardner would man third base, and Jamieson would be an all-star caliber outfielder for the Tribe for years.

From 1919-1922, Gardner would be the full-time third baseman for the Tribe, and played the position during their 1920 World Series season. Gardner would never hit below .285 as a regular, and hit above .300 in his first three seasons.

In 1919, Gardner hit .300, scoring 67 runs. In the 1920, World Series season, he would play in all 154 games, hitting .310, driving in 79 runs, while scoring 67. In 1921, Gardner would continue to climb the ladder, hitting .319, with 101 runs and 120 RBI. He would conclude his full-time gig in 1922 by hitting .285, with 74 runs and 68 RBI.

In those four seasons with the Indians, he hit 29, 31, 32 and 31 doubles, and was one of the best defenders in the league.

In six seasons with the Indians, he had a .301/.377/.728 slash-line, with 401 RBI, 128 doubles and 321 runs. Not too shabby.

Willie Kamm (1931-1935)

Kamm was a fan favorite of the Chicago White Sox for seven seasons before he was dealt to the Indians. His relationship with management had soured so much with the Sox, that they never bothered to tell him he had been dealt. He found out thanks to a phone call from an operator and in the newspapers.

He immediately became the starter for the Tribe, hitting .295, with 66 RBI and 68 runs in only 114 games that first year. He followed that up in 1932, his first full season with Cleveland, by hitting .286, with 83 RBI and 76 runs.

His offensive numbers would drop a bit in 1933 and 1934, hitting .282 and then .269, but his defense was clearly solid, leading the league in fielding both seasons.

Kamm would have a falling out with Cleveland manager Walter Johnson, which took several odd turns, but ended with Kamm in the commissioner’s office discussing the feud. Commissioner Landis would clear Kamm of any issues, but his time with the Indians as a player was over.

In his five seasons with the Indians, Kamm had a .284/.375/.370 slash, with 239 RBI and 257 runs in 522 games.

Ken Keltner (1937-1949)

Keltner grew up and developed his game in Milwaukee, playing for the independent Milwaukee Brewers as a youngster. Keltner was one of those hitters that launched mythical blasts, and created a buzz that had many major league teams taking notice.

The Indians wouldn’t outbid the Brewers with money, but did give the Brewers a slew of young players for Keltner, thus creating a pipeline from the Brewers to the Indians.

There was no rookie-of-the-year award in the 1930’s, but Keltner certainly would have been a top candidate in 1938. Keltner played 149 games for the Indians, hitting .276, scoring 86 runs, hitting 26 homers and driving in 113.

In 1939, Keltner would play in all 154 games of the season, hitting what would be a career high .325, with 13 homers and 97 RBI. He would also lead the league in fielding that season, and it would continue for two more after. He also had 35 doubles. He would finish 12th in MVP voting that season.

For the next five seasons, Keltner’s average would drop below .300, including seasons in which he only had six and four homers. He was such a good all around player though that in those two sub-10 totals for homers, he would get votes for MVP. He also would make the All-Star game in all five seasons, but would have his string broken in 1945 when he went to serve for World War 2.

1941 would prove to be, in many ways, Keltner’s most memorable season. In the 1941 all-star game, Keltner pinch-hit with the AL down four in the ninth. He would hit a one-out single that would start a rally that would end with a Ted Williams, two-out, game-ending, three-run jack.

On July 17, 1941, Joe DiMaggio would come to town sporting a 56-game hit streak. Keltner may have been the single reason why DiMaggio’s streak ended that day. The Yankee Clipper would later call Keltner “The Culprit” to his ended streak.

Keltner wasn’t worried about DiMaggio bunting, so he played the Yankee great deep and towards the line. In the first inning, DiMaggio smashed a drive down the third base line that Keltner would dive into foul ground and beat the centerfielder by a step in a bang-bang play. Again, in the seventh, Keltner would see DiMaggio smash a ball down the line. Again, Keltner would dive to field it. Again, Keltner would get up and fire to first base. Again, Keltner would beat DiMaggio by a step.

Keltner would return from military service in 1946, and would make the all-star game again even though his numbers were middling at best. He was saving his best for the 1948 season. Keltner hit .297 that season, while he blasted 31 homers and drove in 119 RBI. He scored 91 runs and hit 24 doubles. He saved his biggest hit for his playoff with the Boston Red Sox. With two runners on and nobody out in a 1-1 game in the fourth inning, Keltner came up expecting a bunt sign from manager Lou Boudreau. Boudreau told him to swing away, and Keltner crushed a three-run jack over the Monster, and the Indians would never look back. Keltner would also have six assists in that game.

Keltner would struggle in 1949 after getting spiked (it happened several times in his career), hitting .232, with eight homers and 30 RBI. The Indians had a top prospect in Al Rosen, who had been stuck in the minors for years because of Keltner, and the Indians would release him.

In the end, Keltner would play in seven all-star games, lead the league in assists four times and fielding percentage twice (he finished 2nd or 3rd seven other times). He ended his career with a .276/.337/.441 slash, with 163 homers and 850 RBI, while scoring 735 runs.

Al Rosen (1947-1956)

As I mentioned in the Keltner piece, Rosen was stuck behind the Tribe great for years. In 1946, Rosen hit .323, with 16 homers and 86 RBI in the Canadian-American League. He would improve on that in 1947, hitting .349, while driving in 141 runs with 25 homers in the Texas League. He would win the MVP in both leagues.

Rosen was brought up to compete for the position for a bit in 1948, but Keltner fought him off, and Rosen was sent to the Kansas City Blues, where he hit .327, hit 25 more homers, drove in 110 RBI and scored 102 runs. He had a two game stretch in which he hit five homers in a row. The Indians would reward him by bringing him up to the team where he would have an at bat in the ’48 series against the Boston Braves (he went 0-for-1).

Rosen again was beat out by Keltner for third in 1949, and while he would play some games in Cleveland, spent the season in the PCL. He would hit .319, with 14 homers and 51 RBI.

He wouldn’t play in the minors again, and you do have to wonder what would have happened had he gotten called up before he turned 26.

Rosen simply mashed. In 1950, Rosen would set the rookie record for homers with 37, while driving in 116 RBI. He scored 100 runs, hit 23 doubles, and walked 100 times, and only striking out 72 times. The 37 homers would remain an American League record until 1987, when Mark McGwire would pass him.

Rosen would have a down year in 1951 (.265, with 24 homers and 102 RBI and an .809 OPS by the way), but would really take off in 1952 and beyond. In 1952, Rosen rebounded by hitting .302, drove in 105 runs while scoring 101. He would hit 28 homers, and led the AL with 105 RBI.

Then came 1953. Rosen would lead the league in runs (115), homers (43), RBI (145), slugging (.613), and OPS (1.034), and would win the A.L. MVP award. He hit .336 on the season. Rosen could have had the triple crown, but was called out on a close play at first on his last at bat. His unanimous selection as MVP was the first such vote since 1935. Not winning the triple crown couldn’t take away from the brilliance of the season.

Rosen would play three more seasons, but injuries began to become an issue. He would hit .300 for the last time in 1954, blasting 24 homers and driving in 102 runs in only 137 ballgames. His average would dip to .244, with 21 homers and 81 RBI, while scoring 61 runs. His final season was 1956, with a .267 average, 15 homers and 61 RBI.

Rosen would retire after that season after his former hero and now GM, Hank Greenberg, wanted to give him a paycut. At the end of the day, Rosen hit 192 homers, drove in 717 runs, scored 603 runs and hit .285. He never played a full season until he turned 26, and in his final season, he was only 32. He only played seven seasons, but you have to wonder what his career would have been had he played more, in particular in the late 40’s.

Max Alvis (1962-1969)

Alvis was another home grown product that the Indians would call up after big numbers in the PCL league in 1961 and 1962. He would play 12 games for the Tribe in 1962, but would become the full-time starter in 1963.

Alvis would lead the Indians in nearly every offensive category in 1963. He hit 22 homers, drove in 81, had 32 doubles, seven triples and 67 RBI. Alvis would follow that up in 1964 with another solid year. He would hit .252, with 18 homers and 53 RBI, but would miss six weeks of baseball thanks to spinal meningitis.

Many wondered if he should have taken more time off after his illness, and while his numbers didn’t take a significant dip, they didn’t improve the way many thought they would in the coming years. He would play in 159 games in 1965, hitting .247, with 21 homers, 61 RBI and 88 runs scored.

Alvis would hit .245, with 16 homers, 55 RBI and 67 runs scored in 1966, and would make the All-Star team in 1967, hitting .256, with 21 homers and 70 RBI. In 1968, Alvis had some injury issues and hit only .223. He followed that up with more injury issues in 1969, hitting .225 while playing only 66 games. The Indians would deal Alvis to Milwaukee in 1970.

His overall numbers for the Indians was .249, with 108 homers and 361 RBI, while scoring 405 runs.

Graig Nettles (1970-1972)

I almost didn’t include Nettles, as he only played three seasons with the Indians, but they were solid years.

Nettles played for the Twins, and some guy named Harmon Killebrew played ahead of him, so the Twins dealt Nettles, outfielder Ted Uhlaender and pitchers Dean Chance and Bob Miller to the Tribe for Luis Tiant and Stan Williams.

Nettles would shine defensively at third base in 1970 after many in Minnesota though he wouldn’t be a good defensive third baseman. He led the league with a .967 fielding percentage and hit 26 homers. He would follow that up with another outstanding season in the field, setting records that stand to this day. He had the most double plays and assists by a third baseman. He hit 28 homers and drove in 86 runs. In 1972, he hit 17 homer and 70 RBI, while hitting .253.

His defense can’t be questioned, and he managed to hit .253, with 71 homers and 218 RBI, and was traded to the Yankees after he complained of playing time. He would often get lifted for pinch hitters in 1972. He was traded to the Yankees for Charlie Spikes, John Ellis, Jerry Kenney and Rusty Torres. Boy, what a good deal.

Buddy Bell (1972-1978)

Buddy Bell may be the single reason why I began following the Indians with fervor.

He actually started off his career with the Indians as an outfielder in 1972 as a 20-year-old, while Graig Nettles was settled in at the third base.

In his first season at third in 1973, the 21-year old hit .268, with 14 homers and 59 RBI, while scoring 86 runs. He would play in his first and only all-star games with the Indians that year. Bell would follow that season with improving numbers throughout his career with the Tribe, and along with Duane Kuiper and Andre Thornton, would give the Indians a promising, young infield.

Bell’s average would improve from .262, to .272, to .282, to .292, and would fall to .282 in his final season with the Indians. He wasn't a power hitter, and his best days were still to come, but you could see the promise of a solid player.

In a move to acquire veterans, they traded Bell to the Texas Rangers for Toby Harrah. His final numbers with the Indians were .274/.328/.382, with 64 homers and 386 RBI. He was one of the best fielders in the game, but just didn’t play on good teams. In Texas, in the 80’s, Bell would play his best baseball, and Cleveland fans would again wonder, “what coulda been.”

Toby Harrah (1979-1983)

I always held it against Toby Harrah for being the guy that the Indians dealt for Bell, but it turned out to be a fairly decent trade with regards to the fact that Harrah’s offensive numbers were better than Bell’s numbers with the Indians. Of course, Bell’s numbers took off after the trade, so you do have to wonder.

Harrah would hit .279, .276, .291 and .304 and .266 with the Tribe, and would hit 20, 11, 4 and 25 and 9 homers during that stretch. His 1982 season was far and away his best overall with the Indians, and in his career. He played in 162 games that year, scoring 100 runs and driving in 78 to go along with his 25 homers. His slash was .304/.398/.490. He would play in his only all-star game, and would finish 20th in MVP voting.

His overall numbers with the Tribe were a solid .281/.383/.417, with 70 homers, 324 RBI, and 444 runs.

Brook Jacoby (1984-1992)

I’ve always felt that Brook Jacoby is lost in the shuffle a bit with Indians all-timers, as was the deal to acquire him. The Indians sent Len Barker to the Braves in August of 1983, and the Indians received both Jacoby and Brett Butler in the return. Both would become staples of the team over the next several years.

Jacoby was always a solid defender with a pretty good bat. While it wasn’t special in today’s standards, his big 1987 season was more impressive than is given credit. It would get dwarfed in many respects by the man that would replace him in the 90’s, but his numbers can’t be overlooked.

In full seasons with the Tribe, Jacoby hit under .264 only once, while hitting .272 or better five times. He would hit 20 homers and drive in 87 in 1985, while hitting .274, and would follow that up with a .288 seaons in which he hit 17 homers and 80 RBI. His RBI total would drop 11 in 1987, but he would blast 32 home runs and hit .300. His .928 OPS that year was his only OPS over .800, just to show you how good that year was for him.

His average would fall to .241 in 1988 thanks to Sports Illustrated, but he’d rebound to a 13 homer season in 1990, while hitting .272, and he would hit 14 homers in 1990, while hitting .293.

After hitting only .234, the Indians would deal Jacoby to the A’s for Apolinar Garcia and Lee Tinsley. He would return to Cleveland via free agency in 1992 for another stint at third, hitting .261 while holding down the fort for Jim Thome.

Overall, Jacoby would hit .273 for the Indians, with 120 homers, 523 RBI and 521 runs scored.

Jim Thome (1991-1996—as a third baseman)

I’m not going to spend much time on Thome, as I’ve already mentioned him in detail in the all-time first base discussion. Thome did spend enough time at third to be mentioned here, and while he wasn’t necessarily a great third baseman, he wasn’t as bad as some folks say.

How good was he during his stint at third base? In his first full season, he hit 20 homers (98 games, strike shortened) with 52 RBI. He followed that up with a 25 homer, 73 RBI season in 1995, that saw the Indians go to the World Series. He then clouted 38 homers and 116 RBI in his last season at third.

Pretty impressive numbers, and worth mentioning here.

Travis Fryman (1998-2002)

Fryman played his early career with the Detroit Tigers before getting dealt to Arizona in 1997, then to the Indians after the 1997 seasons as the Indians moved Matt Williams to the Diamondbacks to be closer to his family.

Fryman was flat out good, and completed one of the great infields in Indians history, and maybe even in the entire game, with Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel.

Fryman would struggle with injury in his Indians career, and he would only play over 100 games in three of his five years. In his first season with the Tribe, he hit .287, with 28 homers and 96 RBI. In 1999, he would only play in 85 games, and hit only 10 homers and 48 RBI, and hit .255. He would follow that up with his best season offensively in the bigs.

He would play in 155 games, scoring 93 runs and hitting 22 homers and driving in 106 RBI. He would hit .321, and his .908 OPS was the highest in his career.

He would struggle in his next two seasons, before ending his career after the 2002 season.

His slash with the Indians during his tenure with the Tribe is .275/.339/.440, with 74 homers, 342 RBI and 288 runs.

Casey Blake (2003-2008)

Blake has to be mentioned here, as he played three full seasons at third for the Tribe, and his numbers really weren’t that bad. They weren’t hall-of-fame stuff, but they certainly are worth a mention here.

In 2003, at 28 years old, Blake played his first full season in the bigs, and it was the first time he played more than 19 games in a regular season. He responded by hitting a respectable .257, with 17 homers and 67 RBI, while scoring 80 runs. He would follow that up with an even better season in 2004, hitting .271 with 28 homers and 88 RBI, while scoring 93 runs.

He would move to the outfield in 2005 and 2006, but would return to third in 2007, and would hit .282, with 19 homers and 68 RBI, with 63 runs scored. In 2008, he would mostly play at third while he was with the Tribe, hitting .289, with 11 homers and 58 RBI, before getting dealt to the L.A. Dodgers for one Carlos Santana and Jon Meloan.

His overall numbers with the Tribe: .266/.337/.451, with 116 homers, 417 RBI and 434 runs scored in only 810 games. He did have nearly two full seasons in which he didn’t play third.

Here are the rankings:

#13: Casey Blake—He probably deserves better here, but I just was never very fond of Blake. I’m not sure why. He was a blue collar player, but always seemed to be a tweener to me. This is a hard group to rank, as there were a lot of numbers that were very, very close together. I’m not really concerned about the players outside the top five, to be honest. His career WAR with the Tribe in six years is a very solid 14.2, but his two seasons in the outfield seem to prove my point. He’s a tweener, although I feel like I should bump him up because he brought in a good haul in his trade.

#12: Brook Jacoby—He probably deserves better here, which I feel is going to be a theme. Jacoby was the third baseman during my playing days, and I loved the way that he played the game. He was a gamer, another blue collar player in a long-line of blue collar players that I just feel lacked the multiple seasons that could push him past some of the other guys on the list. Of course, I could see him being ranked much higher than this, depending on presence, as I have the guy that really MADE me an Indians fan a lot higher than Jacoby, and he has numbers that may not be as good. His career WAR with the Indians in nine seasons is 13.9

#11: Max Alvis—Alvis got a bump up past Blake and Jacoby based on my Dad’s remembering of him. He was a solid fielder, and had a power, all-or-nothing bat. “He was scrappy,” my Dad said, “and he almost died, if I remember correctly.” My Dad recalled Alvis being the kind of guy that would always do a bit more than you thought he would, and Dad said that he talked to him a few times at games, and that he seemed to be an incredibly nice person. Of course, none of that should play factor here, just like hearing the stories. My Dad said that he never seemed the same after the meningitis, and I remember reading somewhere that he had good seasons after the disease, but just didn’t improve the way folks thought. Alvis had a career WARF with the Tribe of 7.3.

#10: Willie Kamm—If Kamm had played longer with the Indians, I think I’d have him higher. He was another blue collar guy that played most of his career in Chicago, but perhaps played his best ball for the Tribe, as he hit five pints better during his tenure in the Forest City. At the end though, his WAR in his five seasons was only 7.8, and while his career at third base is better than many on this list, he just doesn’t have enough time to make it high on this list.

#9: Jim Thome—I’m not putting any numbers here, and I likely should have him higher than this. At the end of the day though, he only played two seasons with more than 100 games at the position, and he’s clearly known more as a first baseman and a DH. I always remember Thome as a scrappy third sacker, and a guy that would improve if he stayed at it. It didn’t stop the Indians from adding Matt Williams though, and moving him to first. It was a good move. Thome became a decent first baseman, and the move likely added years and years to his career.

#8: Travis Fryman—Fryman was a complete package, and when he was with the Indians, you always got the feeling that had he been here during the middle stretch of the 90’s, as was rumored more than once may happen, he would have truly been something special for the Indians. As it stands, the Tribe got two really good years from Fryman, and three seasons that were average. I honestly feel like 8 is a bit high for him here, but just can’t move him behind any of the guys I have behind him. His career WAR with the Indians is a lowish 5.7.

#7: Bill Bradley—There’s a part of me that thought that Bradley was going to be a top three or four guy on this list, and I suppose, a case could be made that that’s true. He truly had a brilliant season, and a brilliant stretch with the Indians. His career WAR with the Tribe was a substantial 33 in his ten seasons, but half of his career was brilliant, with a quarter being average, and another quarter being below average. He could be up higher, but there are just too many guys I had to put in the top five or six here. He played the second most games at the position in Cleveland, with 1,193 games.

#6: Larry Gardner—Gardner spent the bulk of his career in Boston, and here’s another guy that I think could be higher. In the end though, his four seasons, including the world series season of 1920, don’t rank ahead of the guys in front of him. His WAR in Cleveland’s six seasons is 12.2.

#5: Toby Harrah—Some of my most vivid memories at Municipal Stadium were of watching Toby Harrah playing, standing next to Julio Franco. I recall a game in which I was doing my daily “Jjjjjjuuuuulllllliiiiiooooooo” screams when Toby walked over and said, “Do you have to do that every game, couldn’t you once yell, TOBY!” So I did…every game…even after the Indians had dealt Buddy Bell for him. He was a great player, and by 1983, I had forgiven (mostly), and forgotten (mostly). His WAR in five seasons with the Indians was a really good 17.5.

#4: Graig Nettles—I purposely didn’t put Nettles down until one of the last two or three to see what spots would be left for him. When I plopped him into five, it didn’t seem right, so I moved him in front of Toby Harrah, and it all clicked. My Dad stopped rooting for the Indians when they traded Nettles, and after watching him for years in New York, I could see why. He only played three seasons in Cleveland, and because of that, I thought that I had to keep him out of the top five. In the end, I just couldn’t. Another couple of years though, and he may have been a guy you put in first or second. His three seasons in Cleveland were that good though, both offensively and defensively, and his three-year WAR with the Indians was a stellar 16.7, and was never below 4.3.

#3: Buddy Bell—He may be my favorite Indians’ player of all time, and as good as he was, his seasons in Texas were better. When Bell left the Indians, I nearly did as well. This guy could flat out play, and having season tickets on the third base side left me watching his ability on a nightly basis. Had he stayed with the Tribe for another eight seasons, he’d be either at the top of the list of all-time greats, or pretty close. His WAR with the Tribe in his seven seasons with the Indians was 22.4, and was never below 1.7 in any seasons. It happened to be his rookie year.

#2: Ken Keltner—Keltner started off in the #1 slot, and I do think #1 and #2 are interchangeable in many, many ways. If they would have moved Keltner to first base in 1947, and brought up Rosen, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened to both. While Keltner isn’t Hall of Fame material as his numbers stand now, you get the feeling that Rosen lost three or four years waiting for Keltner to move on. Keltner may have actually kept Rosen from seriously being considered for a hall run. As it stands though, many believe Keltner to be the best hitting and fielding third baseman of the 40’s, and that’s nothing to shrug at. In 12 seasons with the Indians, his WAR was 30.4. Keltner played the most games at the position, and by 300.

#1: Al Rosen—The “Hebrew Hammer” was a special ballplayer who didn’t get his chance until he turned 26 years old. To put it in perspective, imagine if Matt LaPorta broke out last season with 37 homers. Alright...stop laughing…I know…I know. That said, Rosen was spectacular, and while he played ten seasons, only seven were full seasons. Had he added three or four years of statistics to his numbers, he certainly would have been considered for the hall, and perhaps even as the Indians greatest player. His WAR over ten years was 30.8.

You can vote for the others by clinking on the links below:

Best Indians' catcher of all-time

Best Indians' First Baseman of All-Time

Best Indians' Second Baseman of All-Time

All-Time Indians Thusfar:

Catcher: Victor Martinez (lead widening a bit over Sandy Alomar)

First Base: Jim Thome (not close)

Second Base: Nap Lajoie (not close

Third Base: ???

Have your vote, and I think this one will be a bit more interesting than some of the others done so far:

 

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 jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Frank
January 23, 2013 - 12:01 PM EST
Nailed this one with the top 2 choices. Names 3-10 could almost be put in a hat & pulled out, that close. But 1 & 2, no-brainers.
DD
January 22, 2013 - 7:12 PM EST
As I seven year old, I was befriended by Rosen after the 1950 and received from him an autographed ball. Unfortunately, my mother lost it several years later. If I remember correctly, while playing for the Tribe, he was named one of the ten best dressed men in the U.S.
Jim
January 22, 2013 - 5:22 PM EST
Yeah...it's the same for me...Buddy Bell is the guy that I really followed, and for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I had those third base season tickets...so my first memories were of Bell and Duffy...and Bell and Veryzer...

So when Harrah came on board, and it was because they dealt Bell...I wasn't happy...moved my flag to Kuiper, Thornton and Bonds...

It wasn't until '83, when Harrah seemed to come over and talk to us regularly, that I let bygones be bygones.

I have to tell you...I loved that team...Hassey, Thornton, Gorman Thomas (they dealt Manning for him, if I remember, and he was coming off that 40 homer year...maybe less...40 sticks out though), Julio...Sutcliffe and Bert "Be Home" Blyleven...

It was the year before they dealt Sutcliffe for Joe Carter and Mel Hall...and I loved that team too...

But I went with the guy who I thought was best...I never saw them play, but Keltner is always described to be as being the best third baseman of the 40's...but Rosen was no slouch, and his offense was elite...

Not that Keltner's wasn't...I really think they are interchangable...and if you look at the next three-to-five guys, they are interchangable as well...The Indians really did have a lot of quality third basemen...

There are only 11 or 12 third basemen in the hall, and a lot of these guys for the Indians are in that level right below the hall. Rosen is a guy who WOULD have gotten in had he had two or three more above average to elite seasons, and Keltner was a guy that is a fringe thought-of hall of famer (Keltner Rules were created by Bill James to snuff that out...correctly).

But if you look at Rosen's best five seasons...they are elite...and right up there with hall of fame third baseman. Had he not served in the Navy (42-46), he would have likely been the Tribe's third sacker long before 1950....but you can't fault ANYONE for their service...

Love doing this series...
Rich Tribester
January 22, 2013 - 11:31 AM EST
I only have memories from Greg Nettles to present. Purely in defensive terms, I don't think the Indians have had anyone better than Matt Williams. Boy, could he pick a sharply hit ball and come up on a short ball and make the play to first.

I didn't realize until I saw this list how many good 3rd basemen the Indians have had. I hope Chisenhall can continue that streak.
Tony
January 22, 2013 - 10:23 AM EST
I love these lists. They pull at your heart and mind. On one hand you want to vote for the guy that obviously was the greater player, but on the other hand you have a soft spot for some of these guys even if they weren't the best at the position. That's what I did with Toby Harrah. He and Andre Thornton were my Tribe heroes in my youth, and for that, I will always hold them in special regard.

By the way, isn't it amazing how when you go back and look at some of the players from the past, how they struck out so much less? I just reminisced with Harrah and looked at his stats....1153 walks and 868 strikeouts in 8767 career plate appearances. This trend is the same for a lot of pre-90s players.
Rocky55
January 22, 2013 - 9:47 AM EST
I liked Harrah & Fryman, who are actually pretty similar players. I had to vote for Keltner because of my Dad. "Keltner, Keltner, Keltner" is all I heard growing up. "Boy, that guy could play." So, Keltner. You're welcome, Dad.
Adam
January 21, 2013 - 8:45 PM EST
My top 2 were guys who could have been even better if things have worked out better. I went with Rosen but he could have been even better had he started in the majors when he was ready. Of the players I have seen it was Fryman but unfortunately he had health issues by the time he arrived in Cleveland.

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