The Cleveland Indians Franchise Five?

There's nothing like a little controversy to erupt during the All-Star break, and I'm not even talking about the ridiculousness of the game itself. Instead, I'm talking about the recently announced "Franchise Four," the 'Grade-A,' official 'Mount Rushmore' for your Cleveland Indians, as voted on by you (us), the fans.

You know, because us fans don't get kicked around enough for not knowing our asses from a hole in the ground regarding Major League Baseball. Why not magnify screwing up the players selected to the All-Star game itself, by equally screwing up the history of each franchise's best ballplayers. If you're going to go there anyways, you might as well swing for the fences, right?

Major League Baseball's definition of the "Franchise Four" was simple, right? "Vote for the most impactful players who best represent your Major League franchise." Yeah, I said simple. I should have said impossible.

I'll get into that in a bit, after we take a look at the four players selected by the public.

Your Cleveland Indians' franchise four are:

Without trying to define whatever "impactful" means, Bob Feller epitomized that very word on and off the field for the Indians, since the day he signed with the club by scouting legend, Cy Slapnicka, in 1936. He was the greatest pitcher to ever put on a Tribe jersey, and he was the most influential Indians' ambassador after he retired. We don't have to get into the numbers, because Feller was a given.

While some would argue that Tris Speaker wasn't as "impactful" to the franchise as someone like the great Napoleon Lajoie, I would counter that with two words: World Series. But it goes far beyond that. The obvious impact in Indians' lore of winning a championship aside, Speaker was one of the greatest managers in the history of the organization.

In 1920, Speaker had to overcome perhaps the worst in-house trauma any manager has had to go through when star shortstop Ray Chapman was killed on August 16th of the stretch drive. At the time Chapman died, the Indians were in first place by a half-game, and in a dog-fight with the Chicago Black Sox, who were yet to be suspended for their reported "fixing" scandal.

The Indians dropped as low as third-place in the aftermath of Chapman's death, going 3-8 over their next 11 games. Speaker righted the ship, and closed the season with a fantastic 24-8 record, to hold off both the White Sox and the Yankees.

Speaker was also considered one of the greatest center fielders of all time, and was top five in nearly every important offensive category in the history of the franchise.

He also created the platoon system, still used today by several major league franchises. Worst-case scenario is that you put BOTH Nap Lajoie and Speaker into the top four, but Speaker deserves to his place here.

Then come Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, both whom I consider some of my "favorite" players of all-time, simply because I was alive to see them do their damage.

With Thome, it feels like we're making the "should he have a statue" argument all over again. He doesn't make a "weak" case for either a statue, or a place on this list of four. He holds the franchise record, with 337 home runs, and was the backbone during the full run of the 1994-2002 Indians' teams that were some of the best in baseball.

He's also top five in several offensive categories, and is likely the greatest first baseman to ever play the position on the North Coast. But understanding Thome is an interesting case study. I loved him from the start, but was he the most important Indians player throughout his tenure? Is that even important?

In the Mid-90's, the big three were easily Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle. This isn't a knock on Thome, who was a fantastic offensive player from the start, but Baerga, Lofton and Belle were doing historic things. Baerga was getting comped to Rogers Hornsby, while Lofton was the quintessential lead-off hitter. Belle, hated by everyone outside of Cleveland, was busy carving up American League hitting at a prodigious rate.

Baerga ended up losing it, and Lofton was traded, re-signed, and let go in free-agency. Belle left, and went to the hated White Sox, after causing tons of trouble on-and-off the field.

In 1997, Thome moved to first base and took over the team offensively. He wasn't the only player. Matt Williams and Manny picked up the slack, and the Indians were still one of the best offensive teams in baseball, but it was the first year Thome was the focal point. He would continue to crush the ball over the next five season, but shared the stage with Manny from 1998-2000, when Ramirez took the money and ran.

He was a star, but wasn't often THE star of those great teams of the 90's and early 2000's. This isn't a knock, but I'm not sure you pick a guy that outlasts the other guys as your most "impactful," but you CAN make a solid case that he's in the discussion.

Again, opinions.

Then we come to Omar Vizquel, who was definitively the sixth or seventh guy you talk about in the 90's, and not even the greatest shortstop in franchise history. I hate saying "bad things" about one of the greatest shortstops in our generation's history, but he's just not a guy that's most "impactful," even on the teams he played on.

Okay, I realize I'm soft-selling Omar a bit. He made numerous plays on the field that were game changing, and his offense in the two-hole often goes overlooked. That said, he's not the "face" of the 90's, and he's not the best shortstop that fits here.

If you want a "face for the 90's Indians," Jim Thome is probably the right guy. With that said, why the hell do we need a "face for the 90's Indians?" Of course, fans will pick who they know, and Thome and Vizquel reach far into the 2000's, especially of late. But when we think of the 90's Indians, don't we think of the 90's Indians? I would argue that all of those players from those great teams were exceptional, but in the end, out of the top four most impactful all-time.

When I think of the 90's, I think of Lofton and Baerga and Belle and Ramirez and Thome and Sorrento and Alomar and...I think you get my point. The TEAM was a force, and there are multiple players that made the team who they were.

One guy really doesn't stand out, unless you consider longevity, in which it's Thome and Vizquel. Both are great players. Both are Hall of Fame-worthy. Both shouldn't be on this list...especially Vizquel.

So who should be? They got it right, in my opinion, with Feller and Speaker. Next up for me would be the greatest shortstop in the history of the franchise, and that's Lou Boudreau. Sure, he managed that 1948 World Series club, but he also won the MVP award, and was literally considered the "Omar Vizquel" of his time, in Cleveland.

Fans quite literally kept him from being traded prior to that 1948 season, thanks to a fan ballot in the Cleveland News received over 100,000 responses to keep Boudreau. A guy like Bill Veeck, the Indians' owner at the time, knew better than to piss off the fans.

He was the "best shortstop of the 40's," and while he'll always be known for his offense, was considered one of, if not the best defensive shortstop of his era as well.

Yeah, he led the team to the franchise's last World Series, and also created the "Boudreau Shift" to piss off Ted Williams. Every player but the catcher, pitcher and left fielder moved to the right side of the field. Boudreau, perhaps using some early "advanced metrics" realized that Williams' tended to pull the ball, and equally realized that Williams would be challenged by it.

He wasn't the first manager to use a "shift," but he's the first manager remembered for it.

The final spot of my "Franchise Four" comes down to the aforementioned Nap Lajoie and the great Larry Doby.

As I've mentioned numerous times before, Lajoie was quite literally the first superstar in the game of baseball, and that's not hyperbole. The Indians were essentially named after him back then, and Nap was an offensive juggernaut at second base. Like Boudreau and Speaker, Nap was the player manager of the club, and is arguably one of the top two or three second basemen of all-time.

I've seen several arguments that end with him at the top of a list that includes Hornsby, Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Alomar, among others. He was top five in most major offensive categories, and was one of the best defensive second basemen to ever play the game.

Doby was an "impactful" player on the field for sure. He was the first black player to step on an American League field, was the first black player to hit a World Series homer, and was the first black player to ever lead the league in home runs. While he was overshadowed at a center fielder throughout his career by players such as Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, the fact that he was really good shouldn't be overlooked.

He was a natural second baseman, but shifted to right, then center, because Joe Gordon was playing second base already.

But understand that Doby was the first black player to step foot on an American League field, and was only three months after Jackie Robinson. In many ways, the road was much harder for Doby, because the spotlight was rarely shown in his direction.

That's impact.

In the end, I can't make a "Franchise Four," because there truly are five guys who deserve this award almost equally, and Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel aren't in that top five.

While Thome would be in my top ten, I'm not sure that Vizquel, now a first base coach for the Detroit Tigers, would even merit a top 20 choice.

In the end, these opinion pieces are fun to talk about, which is the exact purpose that they are written. People like to be right, and this is truly a debate that can take on many layers.

Does impactful mean "on-the-field?"

Does impactful mean "off-the-field," and if so, how is that measured, and how in the hell can you blend on-and-off-the-field? Is there a metric for that?

My 'Franchise Five,' in order:
  • Bob Feller

  • Tris Speaker

  • Lou Boudreau

  • Nap Lajoie

  • Larry Doby
I would likely leave Doby off my final four, if it came right down to it. The funny part of it is I'm likely to get hammered for saying he is the fifth most impactful Indians' player in the history of the franchise.
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