Tribe Madness: 128-player tourney to determine greatest Indian
By Rick Lamborn
October 11, 2013
Who's the best?
"My favorite Indian could beat your favorite Indian!!!" FellerFan says.
"No way, Rocky Colavito would take him deep every time!!!" says TheRockforHOF.
Yes, fans will argue over just about anything. So, how do you rate the best?
In 1960 TV put together a series of the best home run hitters pitted against each other in a Home Run Derby to determine the best home run hitter. In fact, 26 episodes were aired and the show included Colavito but the overall winner was Hank Aaron. But that show didn't settle the best player and certainly not the best player in Indians history.
So how does one pit a player from the 1940's against a star from the 1920's or 1990's and how do you have a pitcher compete with an outfielder? Well you can't - at least not in real life - but you can in the fantasy world of OOTP baseball.
128 player tournament Bonanza
One of the most exciting times of the year in sports is March Madness where 64 college basketball teams are pitted against each other in a knockout tournament featuring 63 games.
Well, I set out on a mission to create a tournament for the top 64 Indians players but there were so many that I expanded the tournament to 128 players. To go about selecting the players, I used the WAR stat and selected every Indian that had a WAR of 4.3 or above in a season. This gave me 113 Indians and then I personally selected 15 Indians to fill out the 128 player tournament field.
Each player is only represented once in the field with their best WAR season used for the simulation. Then each player was seeded 1-16 for eight regionals named as follows: Municipal Stadium, Jacobs Field, First Energy, League Park, Dunn Field, Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, and Cleveland Stadium. Brackets were created.
With the players chosen, next was to determine how to proceed. To mark each player's value, I decided to drop them onto duplicate copies of the most inept team in modern baseball history. No not the 2012 Indians of August and September but the 1962 Mets, an expansion team which lost a whopping 120 games. So when he plays, Bob Feller will pitch every fourth day with the 1962 Mets and Rocky Colavito will play right field every day for another copy of the expansion Mets. Seasons are set at 162 games with 2011 settings and each player will play their home games in their own stadium.
So sit back and enjoy seeing how each player competes for the title of the Indian Cup. With all of that out of the way, here is the first preview of the eight regions…
Round 1: Municipal Stadium Region matchups
Our first matchup pits a pitcher against a hitter. It will be interesting to see the contrast. Gromek will pitch every four days but Trosky will be in the line-up daily.
With World War II winding down in 1945, the MLB season started with many of the baseball stars serving in the war. During the season, Germany surrendered on May 8th and Japan surrendered on August 15th ending hostilities.
Some of those stars started to trickle back onto MLB rosters and under that backdrop 25-year old Steve Gromek posted a 19-9 record with a 2.55 ERA as the Indians finished 73-72 which was good for fifth place in the AL and 11 games behind the Tigers. The 1945 season put Gromek into the tournament with his 5.5 WAR.
Gromek was a right-handed pitcher for the Indians from 1941 until the 1953 season including their championship season of 1948. Gromek went 78-67 in 309 games for the Indians mostly pitching out of the bullpen but he did make 137 starts. Steve left Cleveland in a 1953 trade with the Detroit Tigers and would pitch in Detroit until 1957 including his best season in 1954 when he went 18-16 with a 2.74 record (5.7 WAR). Steve's highlight for the Tribe was besting Johnny Sain in Game 4 of the 1948 World Series 2-1.
The Indians went 85-69 in 1934 and finished in 3rd place 25 games behind the Tigers. Indians manager Walter Johnson penciled in the 6'2" 207-pound Hal Trosky at first base for all 154 games and the lefty hitter responded by leading the team with 35 bombs and 142 RBI while putting up a .330/.388/.598 slash for a .987 OPS. This was good enough to lead him to a 7th place finish in the MVP voting and his 5.8 WAR entered him into this tournament.
Trosky spent the first nine years of his career with Chief Wahoo on his sleeve hitting 216 home runs but migraine headaches cut his career short - although he did try to make a comeback for the White Sox in 1944 and 1946. Trosky is considered the best player to never make an All Star game mostly because he played in an era with hall of famers at first base like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg. Trosky would go on and lead the AL in RBI in 1936 with 162 (he drove in at least 100 runs six times in his career).
Two top of the order hitters square off in this matchup of Indians from contrasting eras in Tribe history. While these guys were contemporaries, their respective eras in Cleveland were a world of difference. In 1987 the Indians were in the midst of a 35 year slump in a monolithic stadium while Omar Vizquel manned shortstop during the Indians revival which saw the team win six division titles and make two appearances in the World Series.
Butler suffered through a tough 1987 season where the Indians sunk to a 61-101 record and finished last at a distant 37 games behind the Tigers. After 87 games the Tribe canned manager Pat Corrales and installed Doc Edwards as manager, but the team only mustered 742 runs while surrendering 957. Despite all of that the Indians featured three 30 home run guys but none had as fine of a season as leadoff hitter and center fielder Brett Butler.
Butler swiped 33 bases and scored 91 runs while hitting .295 (.825 OPS). That season Butler posted a 4.9 WAR to qualify for this tournament. After spending three seasons with the Braves, he came to the Indians via a trade involving Len Barker (the Indians also acquired Brook Jacoby in the deal). Butler would patrol center field for the Indians for four seasons culminating in 1987. In those four seasons Butler hit .288 and stole 164 bases before leaving as a free agent. Butler's excellent '87 season would further help the Tribe as they would receive a compensation pick from the Giants (who signed Butler) and the Indians used that pick for Charles Nagy. Butler would go on to play 17 seasons in the majors earning one All Star appearance (1992, Dodgers).
Vizquel was a defensive wizard the solidified the ‘90s Indians as he won 11 Gold Gloves (eight with the Tribe), but in 1999 he was more than that as he hit a career high .333 (.833 OPS). Omar also did it on the base paths stealing 42 bases and scoring 112 runs as the Indians finished in first place with a 97-65 record. That Indians team scored 1009 runs on the season but after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in a five- game series with the Red Sox in the ALDS the pitching collapsed and the Red Sox won the final three games. Nothing hurt more than the 23-7 shellacking the Beantowners put on the Indians in Game 4 of that series.
Vizquel came to the Indians in a December 1993 trade with the Mariners (for Reggie Jefferson and Felix Fermin) and played 11 seasons with the Indians. Overall, he played 24 seasons in the majors and stole 404 bases (279 as an Indian). He also made all three of his All Star appearances in an Indians uniform.
#11 CF Jimmy Piersall (1961) vs. #6 RF Shin-Soo Choo (2010)
In 1961, the Indians finished 78-83 (5th place) but 30.5 games behind the Yankees. Manager Jimmy Dykes (andMel Harder for one game) used Piersall in 121 games and Piersall responded with a slash line of .322/.378/.442/.820 while winning his second Gold Glove award. Piersall's 4.9 WAR earned him the 11th seed in the Municipal Stadium region of this tournament.
Piersall was the subject of the book and movie "Fear Strikes Out". He came up with the Red Sox and suffered from "nervous exhaustion" but returned to the Red Sox with a stellar 1953 season (finishing 9th in the MVP balloting). Piersall came to the Indians in a 1958 trade for Vic Wertz and would patrol center field for three seasons culminating in his stellar 1961 season. Piersall would leave the Indians for Washington and play in the majors until 1967 but 1961 was his best season (according to WAR).
Korean born Shin-Soo Choo came to Cleveland in a deal with the Mariners in 2006 for Ben Broussard. He suffered an injury in 2007 which required Tommy John surgery but came back in 2008 and was a fixture in right field for the Indians through 2012.
In 2010, the 27 year old Choo, hit .300 with 22 bombs and 90 RBI on his way to a 14th place finish in MVP voting. He posted a 6.0 WAR for the 69-93 Indians which finished in fourth place 25 games behind the Twins. Choo spent seven years with the Indians playing in 685 games and hitting 83 home runs while hitting .292. Choo is currently played with the Reds this season and is a free agent.
While America was involved in World War II, President F. D. Roosevelt expressed his desire that baseball continue to play because of its impact to the citizenry. So baseball continued but several stars enlisted and served their country in the war.
During this time, the Indians went to 26-year old Les "Mae" Fleming to man the first base position. Fleming had a whole 10 games in the majors (eight with the Tigers in 1939 and two with the Indians in 1941) and the lefty responded by putting together his best season of his career. Fleming hit .292 with 14 home runs to lead the fourth place Indians to a 75-79 record. His 4.6 WAR earned him a spot in this tournament. Fleming would not return to the Indians until 1945 (presumably he enlisted after the 1942 season) but only played three more seasons with the Indians before a brief comeback with the Pirates in 1949. Fleming's five years with the Tribe included 402 games and a .281 batting average playing both first base and outfield.
In 1936 former Indians catcher Steve O'Neill managed the Indians to an 80-74 record which put them in fifth place 22.5 games behind the Yankees. O'Neill was blessed to have two solid starting pitchers in Mel Harder and Johnny Allen. Allen would lead the team with a 20-10 record with a 3.44 ERA while throwing 243 innings and striking out 165.
The 31-year old Allen came to the Indians from the Yankees in a trade the previous winter for Monte Pearson andSteve Sundra. Allen responded to his new home by winning his first 15 decisions on his way to his only 20 win season and a 7.0 WAR. In 1938, Allen would win his first 12 decisions and appeared in his only All Star game but an undisclosed injury hurt him through the remainder of the year and he finished 14-8. While the injury is officially unknown, it is rumored that he slipped on a bar of soap in the shower. Allen's tenure in Cleveland lasted five years and he compiled a 67-34 record with a 3.65 ERA. In all, Allen pitched 13 years in the majors going 142-75.
Coming off of the Tribe's first World Series title, the Indians went 94-60 in 1921 but finished second to the Yankees and 4.5 games back. The Indians were tied for first on September 24th but lost five of six including two against the Bronx Bombers dashing their hopes of defending their title. The 35-year old third baseman Larry Gardner hit .319 and drove in a team leading 120 runs. His .828 OPS was second on the team to player-manager Tris Speaker.
Gardner came to Cleveland in 1919 from the Athletics for Braggo Roth and the deal also landed Charlie Jamiesonand Elmer Myers for the Wahoo’s. Gardner would spend the last six years of his 17 year major league career playing for former Boston teammate Speaker. Over his six years in Cleveland, Gardner hit .301 and drove in 401 runs. Gardner won four World Series titles as a player (three with Boston) and drove in the winning run in the 1912 World Series.
Larry Doby was the first African-American to play baseball in the American League joining the Indians just months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. In only his second year, Doby helped lead the Indians to their second World Series championship while finishing 29th in the MVP voting. Then Doby's career took off and by 1952 Doby - then 28 years old - he hit his stride with a .276 average, a league leading 32 bombs, 104 RBI and 104 runs scored. Doby was rewarded with an All Star performance (seven straight from 1949 to 1955) and finished 12h in the MVP balloting.
Doby finished 2nd in the MVP in 1954. In 1952, the Indians would finish 93-61 just two games behind the hated Yankees. Despite winning nine of their last 10 games they couldn't cut into their opponent’s lead. For his efforts, Doby put up a 7.0 WAR good for a #5 seed.
Our first relief pitcher enters the fray at #14 as Raffy-Right takes on #3 Early Wynn. In 2007, Betancourt teamed up with Rafael "Raffy-Left" Perez to setup for closer Joe Borowski. Raffy-Right, 32 years old, went 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 68 games for Eric Wedge’s division champions. In 79.1 innings Raffy struck out 80 and walked only nine batters as he put up a 4.3 WAR. Signed as a free agent after he was released by the Red Sox, Raffy made his MLB debut in 2003 with the Tribe and pitched seven years with the Indians going 23-22 with a 3.15 ERA and 17 saves. Traded to Colorado, Raffy has been the Rockies closer since.
In 1956, the Indians sported a trio of 20 game winners and Early "Gus" Wynn was one of them going 20-9 with a 2.72 ERA. Wynn went 277.2 innings to lead the staff while striking out 158 and walking 91 to qualify for this tournament with a 7.8 WAR. Gus joined the Indians after they won the World Series in 1948 and soon became one of the Big Four starters for Al Lopez's Tribe teams of the 1950's winning 20 games four times in his 10 seasons with the Wahoo’s while leading the league in ERA in 1950. Wynn posted a 7.8 WAR in 1956 as the Indians finished second to the Yankees with an 88-66 record.
Wynn spent his first eight years in Washington posting a 72-87 record but Mel Harder taught him the curveball, slider, changeup and knuckleball. After adding those pitches to his arsenal, Wynn's career took off and in his 10 years in Cleveland he went 164-102. Wynn would be traded to the White Sox after the '56 season for Minnie Minosoand Fred Hatfield but return to Cleveland in 1963 at the age of 43. Overall Wynn won 300 games and lost 244 and won 20 games five times which was good enough to be elected into the Hall of Fame in 1972.
The 1906 Cleveland Naps rolled to an 89-64 record but finished seven games behind the White Sox. The team had three 20 game winners including the 27-year old Otto Hess who went 20-17 with a 1.83 ERA. Hess threw a whopping 333.2 innings while striking out 167 and walking 85. Hess' 4.3 WAR narrowly got him into this tournament.
Born in Switzerland, Hess made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Bronchos in 1902 at the age of 23 and spent six years in Cleveland going 46-49 with a 2.50 ERA. His final year in Cleveland only saw him step on the mound eight times. Four years later, Hess surfaced with the Boston Braves and went 12-17. In 1914, he was a member of the Braves team which went from last to first in one month and went on to win the World Series. In all, Hess spent 10 years in the majors compiling a 70-90 record with a 2.98 ERA.
Wes Ferrell went 25-13 with a 3.31 ERA hurling 296.2 innings while striking out 143 and walking 106 in 1930 as the Indians went 81-73. The 1930 finish put them in fourth place 39 games behind the Athletics. At just 22 years of age, the right-hander had already posted a 20 win season (1929) and would add two more for the Indians before adding two more with the Red Sox. His 7.9 WAR in 1930 would be his second highest (8.4 in 1935 with the Red Sox).
Ferrell made his MLB debut as a 19-year old in 1927 but didn't establish himself until 1929. Ferrell went 102-62 (3.67 ERA) in his seven Tribe seasons before being traded to the Red Sox. In 1931, Ferrell threw a no-hitter against the Browns and his brother Rick was the Browns' catcher. Ferrell pitched 15 years in the majors going 193-128 with a 4.04 ERA.
Jim “Shanty” Hegan was given an at large entry despite a 1.5 WAR in 1948. Many consider Hegan the best defensive catcher in Indians history so I selected him as being deserving of an entry into this tournament. In 1948, Hegan donned the tools of ignorance 142 times in the regular season and put up the best offense of his career. He had a slash line of .248/.317/.407/.724 with 14 dingers and 61 ribbies.
Shanty joined the Indians in 1941 at the tender age of 20. After spending three years in the military, Hegan took over the regular catching duties in 1946, a role he would hold on to until 1957, and was instrumental in the success of the Big Four pitching staff. His 1948 play helped lead the Indians to a 97-58 record and a 4-2 World Series win over the Boston Braves. Shanty played 14 of his 17 major league years in Cleveland hitting 90 home runs and driving in 499 before being traded to the Tigers in February 1958.
Hegan drew the overall number 1 seed in Gaylord Perry, whose 1972 season was fantastic. The 33-year old Perry had just arrived in Cleveland from the Giants and demonstrated maybe the best season of any Indian. Despite his team winning only 72 games, Perry went 24-16 on the mound with a 1.92 ERA. His 11.0 WAR is the best by an Indian, Nap or Broncho.
Perry, who has been accused of doctoring the ball, threw 29 complete games en route to logging 342.2 innings and striking out 253 batters. All of this led to the team's first Cy Young Award winner. Gaylord spent three-plus seasons in Cleveland going 70-57 and twice winning 20 games. He was the last Indian hurler to win 20 games until Cliff Lee in 2008. In total Perry pitched 24 MLB seasons going 314-265 and winning two Cy Young Awards in a career that led him to getting voted into the Hall of Fame.
What a good way to pass the time while waiting for Spring Training.