The All-Time Cleveland Indians First Baseman

  Photo: Plain Dealer  
The All-Time Indians First Baseman was a runaway in my poll. While you could argue that there area  couple of guys that could make a run for the #1 spot, there isn't.

But past the top two are a bunch of what-ifs and who-dats. This isn't a knock on those guys, but there were a variety of reasons, over the years, that the Indians' first base job has been one of the most disappointing positions in the team's long and storied history.

While there will likely be a lively discussion about most other positions on this All-Time Cleveland Indians' baseball team, the only question-mark here is who might rank second.
Let’s take a look at first basemen in the running:

Chris Chambliss, 1B (1971-1974)

Chambliss was a well-known member of the vaunted New York Yankees teams of the late 70s, but spent his early years as a member of the Cleveland Indians, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1971.

Chambliss was the first overall pick in the 1970 amateur draft in January (when they used to have two a year, June and January). He won the rookie of the year with a .275/.341/.407 slash, and continued to put up similar numbers over the next 2 1/2 years with the Tribe, before being dealt to the Yankees (with Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw) for Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline and Fritz Peterson.

Yep, another great Indians deal.

George Stovall, 1B (1904-1911)

Stovall played for the Cleveland Blues/Naps alongside team namesake, Nap Lajoie. Stovall played eight seasons with the Indians, hitting .266 lifetime. While Nap might have thought a lot about him, his .627 OPS wasn’t all that special, although he did muster up a 10.3 career WAR for the Indians. Over half of that came in two seasons.

Like many in his era, he was a defensive-first sorta player, which doesn't really stand out to me, simply because it was the sign of the times. This was long before the days in which your corner position players were expected to pound the ball out of the park. He also managed to steal 110 bases, but again, this was the era of the dead ball. Still, his 110 swipes currently rank him at 20th all time for the Tribe, although Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley will likely knock him out of that lofty perch in the upcoming season.

Still worth mentioning here, because he kicked off the first base era with Cleveland over 100 years ago.

Doc Johnston, 1B (1912-1914, 1918-1921)

Doc Johnston had two stints with the Indians, hitting .273, but had a seven-year OPS of .685 with the Tribe. His WAR was far beneath Stovall’s, at 1.2, and is barely worth a mention, other than the fact that he was on the 1920 World Series team as the primary first baseman that season.

Much like Stovall before him, Johnston's biggest attribute was likely his longevity with the club, and he had a pretty decent glove. His three best seasons were from 1919-1921, and couldn't come at a better time for player/manager Tris Speaker, and the 1920 World Series champions.

Lew Fonseca, 1B (1927-1931)

Fonseca played with Cleveland from 1927-1931, and had a solid stat line of .337/.379/.468, for an .847 OPS. He had a 7.8 WAR, and led the league in hitting in 1929. So what’s my issue? He only played over 100 games at first once, during that 1929 season. In 1927, he was the Indians second baseman, only played 56 games there in 1928, had an injury plagued 1930 season, and was traded midway through 1931. A great player for sure, just not enough longevity.

The fact that some consider Fonseca one of the best Indians' 1st baseman of all time speaks more to the weakness of the position, and the likely drunk nature of the people insinuating said greatness. I joke, but Fonseca's special-ness at the position is directly related to a dearth of outstanding players to ever man first base.

Vic Wertz, 1B (1954-1958)

Wertz has one of those names that just fits in Cleveland. No, I'm not talking about culturally, or even greatness.

Instead, I'm talking about "The Catch."

Wertz is a name that many will remember based on his drive to dead straightaway center that Willie Mays caught, and essentially ended the 1954 World Series. While Wertz was just a bystander, any other ballpark would have welcomed that hit as a home run.

In true Cleveland fashion, the Indians were swept.

Wertz was more than just the guy with the hit that Mays and the Polo Grounds swallowed up though. While his best days were with the Detroit Tigers, Wertz still hit .270, with an .848 OPS for the Indians over five seasons. He hit 91 homers, drove in 326 runs, and had a 6.1 WAR. He ultimately played in 17 seasons in the bigs, made four all-star games (two in Cleveland), and was top ten in MVP voting twice with the Indians, after the '54 World Series.

Ed Morgan, 1B/RF (1928-1933)

Morgan's career as a member of the Cleveland Indians was really focused around one big year. In 1930, as the Indians predominant first baseman (after Lew Fonseca was injured), he knocked out 26 homers, and drove in 136 RBI, while hitting .349 with a 1.014 OPS (150 OPS+).

After his mammoth season, he held out, was suspended by the team, but had a solid year (without the power) once he returned. He never was the same player as that 1930 season, which is why I don't hold him in as high regard as some.
George Burns, 1B (1920-1921, 1924-1928)
Burns had two runs with the Indians. He was purchased by the Indians on May 29th during the 1920 World Series season, and stuck with the Tribe through the end of the 1921 season, when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
During this stretch, Burns was a bit of a mixed bag, but more because of the talented Indians’ teams, and less because he wasn’t talented. He only played first base in 12 games in 1920, and was used primarily as a pinch-hitter that season. His stat line was .268/.339/.375 on a team that was led by the great Tris Speaker. In the 1920 World Series, Burns went 3-for-10, scoring one run and driving in three, helping the Tribe to their first every World Series.
In 1921, Burns started 73 games at first, sharing time with the 1920 starter, Doc Johnston. Burns was electric that year, upping his stat line to .361/.398/.489 for a cool .877 OPS. The Indians didn’t make the playoffs that year, and decided to go in a different direction.
The Indians dealt Burns, along with Joe Harris and Elmer Smith to the Boston Red Sox for the more established Jack “Stuffy” McInnis.

Burns became the regular first baseman for the Sox, and hit .317 in 293 games, with an .822 OPS. The Indians corrected their mistake in dealing Burns by reacquiring him in January of 1924, when they sent Dan BooneJoe Connolly, Steve O’Neill and Bill Wambsganss to the Red Sox, for Chick FewsterRoxy Walters and Burns.
That’s when a pretty good career turned into something a bit more.
His lowest full season with the Indians over the next four seasons was .310, in 1924, and culminated with a scintillating .1926 season, in which had a stat line of .358/.394/.494, led the league with 216 hits and 64 doubles, while driving in 114 runners. Perhaps the most amazing part of his stat line is that he did it with only four home runs. The 64 doubles he hit that year is still a franchise record, and at the time, was a major league record. As it stands today, 64 doubles is tied for second, behind Earl Webb’s 67.
How good was the season for Burns? He won the MVP award, finishing in first by 30 points over the White Sox Johnny MostilBabe Ruth hit .372 that year, with 47 homers and 146 RBI…just sayin’.
Burns played one more full season with the Tribe, and was sold to the New York Yankees in September of 1928, where he won his second World Series.
Burns ended his career with the Indians having played parts of seven seasons, and 757 games. His stat line was an impressive .327/.375/.455, for an .830 OPS. He was also part of an Indians’ World Series team, and we know that is a rare feat indeed.
Hal Trosky, 1B (1933-1941)
Trosky was a highly thought of high school player out of Norway, Iowa, and after being courted in 1930 by some of the best major league teams in baseball, seemed destined to sign with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, who were in the middle of winning three World Series titles. That’s when Trosky met one Cy Slapnicka, a Cedar Rapids, IA native and then-Indians scout.
Slapnicka signed Trosky, which led to one of the most impressive careers in Indians’ history.
Trosky worked his way up through the Indians system, starting as a pitcher, before a change in his batting approach. Trosky initially was a right-handed batter, but had a cross-handed grip. With advice from Slapnicka, Trosky kept the grip, but started batting left-handed, and moved to first base.
In 1932, he hit 15 homers in 68 games with B Level Quincy. The Indians moved him to Toledo in 1933, and he crushed 33 homers in 132 games, and was brought up to Cleveland in September. During his first brush in the bigs, Trosky hit .295, with a home run and eight RBI in 11 games.
Trosky’s first full season in the big leagues, his stat line was .330/.388/.598 for a .987 OPS. He hit 35 homers that year, drove in 142 RBI, had 206 hits, 45 doubles and nine triples. It was the beginning of an incredibly impressive seven seasons in which he drove in at least 100 runs from 1934-1939, hit 20 or more homers six times, 30 or more homers three times, and topped 40 once.
His best season came in 1936, when Trosky’s stat line was .343/.382/.644 for a 1.026 OPS. He finished tenth in MVP voting that year, even though he was second in homers (to winner Lou Gehrig), and first in RBI (by 10 over Gehrig).
He ended his career with the Indians midway through the 1941 season when he broke his finger. Truth be told though, chronic migraines, which had started in 1938, became too much for him. He tried to come back in 1944 and 1946 with the White Sox, but never again matched his numbers with the Tribe.
His overall numbers for the Tribe was .302/.371/.522 for a career .892 OPS. He hit 216 homers for the Indians, which at the time was second behind Earl Averill’s 226. He is currently fifth on the all-time list. His 162 RBI were the most in Indians history until Manny Ramirez broke it with 165 in 199. As it stands, Trosky’s 162 is tied for 20th.
Trosky may be the greatest first baseman never to play in an all-star game during an all-star era. He was unlucky in that some of the greatest first baseman of all-time played at the same time. Just in the American League, Trosky’s peers were Hank GreenbergJimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig. That, along with migraineslikely kept him out of the hall-of-fame.
When he played his last game with the Indians, he was 28-years old. Of course, you do have to consider the fact that had Trosky not had migraines, it’s distinctly possible that his last meaningful game may still have been in 1941, with the war looming. Even so, 28-years old…not hard to imagine a career restarting in 1945 at the age of 32, and resuming big numbers. Yeah, I know, another what-if. He’s not the last one I’m going to talk about, because the next guy fits the bill as well.
Luke Easter, 1B (1949-1954)
Normally, I only talk about the Indians’ careers of the Power Poll, but I can’t help but talk about Easter’s career prior…because it is an interesting one.
Easter spent his early years playing in various independent Negro Leagues before being drafted in 1942 during World War II. He had broken his ankle during a car crash in 1941, ending his baseball season. That same injury forced a discharge from the Army after just over a year.
In an interesting twist, Abe Saperstein (yeah, the same guy that started the Harlem Globetrotters a few years later) signed Easter to his new Negro team, the Cincinnati Crescents. His team wasn’t able to gain admittance into the Negro American League, so the team, like so many others, barnstormed across the country.
With barnstorming and the Negro Leagues of the time, myth and reality blend together. Several baseball publications, including the Sporting News, reported that the first baseman hit 74 homers and 152 RBI, with a .415 average. He is also rumored to have hit a 500-plus foot homer to dead straight-away center in the Polo Grounds against the New York Cubans. Some reports have the home run coming for Cincinnati, and some, including Roy Campanella, remember it with the Homestead Grays.
He used that season to sign with the Homestead Grays, and became one of the highest paid players on the team after Josh Gibson had died.
Bill Veeck signed Easter for the Tribe in 1949, after already bringing in Larry Doby and Satchel Paige. At the time, Easter was a mythical legend that has really gotten lost in baseball history. He was sent to play in San Diego in the PCL league, becoming only the second black player in PCL history (behind John Ritchey, in 1948). Fans flocked to the stadiums to see him hit, with allegedly 30,000+ crowds showing up on a daily basis, at home and away. He hit 25 homer for San Diego in only 80 games, playing with a broken knee-cap.  Easter was the eleventh black major leaguer when he made his debut in August of 1949. He told the Indians he was 27, but by then, he was already 33-years old.
He played in six total seasons with the Indians, but only three full years, from 1950-1953. During those three years, he hit 28, 27 and 31 homers, as well as 107, 103 and 97 RBI for an average of 29 homers and 102 RBI, and is reported to have the longest home run in the history of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. The home run went 477 feet, and went over the auxiliary scoreboard in right field.
His final stat line was .274/.350/.481, with 93 homers and 340 RBI. Easter was always one of the most affable and friendly players to ever wear an Indians jersey. After his career with Cleveland ended, he continued playing in the minors, and continued to rake. He was fondly remembered, ironically enough, in Buffalo, where he once hit a home run over the 60-foot centerfield scoreboard, which was 400 feet from home plate. The home run was estimated to have gone over 550 feet.
Luke moved back to Cleveland after his minor league career was over, opened a jazz club, and worked as the chief steward of the Aircraft Workers Alliance. He was shot to death in 1979. 4,000 people paid their respects, including teammates from all across his long, storied, mythical career.
Vic Power, 1B (1958-1961)
Vic Power was one of the first Latino stars in the big leagues, and was involved in one of the most famous Indians’ trades because of one of the players involved departing Cleveland. On June 15, 1958, the Indians sent Dick TomanekPreston Ward and one Roger Maris to the Kansas City Athletics, for Power and Woodie Held. What speaks more to the trade is that the Indians weren’t unhappy with the return in the least, as Power was an exceptional player. Of course, we are talking about “Trader” Lane here, and while I don’t think anyone in their right mind makes that trade again, Power was a quality first baseman. He wasn’t Maris though.
In 1958, He hit .317 with the Tribe, in 93 games, launching 12 homers and driving in 53. He also won his first gold glove, a feat that he matched in every season with Cleveland. Ironically enough, the 12 homers in less than 100 games were the most he hit with the Indians, and it was the only year he played less than 147 games with the Tribe. It was also the only season in which he hit over .300.
In his four seasons with Cleveland, Power had a stat-line of .288/.322/.413, with 37 homers and 260 RBI, as well as the four Gold Glove awards. He also can claim stealing home twice in one game against the Detroit Tigers. The irony is that he only stole three bases that season.
Power was primed to be the first black player in Yankees history. He was traded in 1953 after then-Yankees-co-owner Dan Topping said that he was a poor fielder, but it was widely believed the trade was ultimately race-related. The Yankees didn’t integrate until 1955, when Elston Howard debuted in pin-stripes.
Because he was one of the best fielding first baseman of his era, and the Yankees clearly had a fairly decent group of scouts. The Yankees loss was the Indians gain, right? But for Roger Maris?
Tony Horton, 1B (1967-1970)
There may not be any more a tragic tale in any Power Poll than that of Tony Horton.
The Indians traded Gary Bell to the Boston Red Sox for Horton in 1967, with the Red Sox looking for a starting pitcher on their way to the World Series. Horton was only 22-years old, and in 1963, Ted Williams had said of Tony Horton’s swing, “The kid’s a natural. You don’t fool with a swing like that.” High praise from a guy that was notoriously hard on other hitters’ swings.
In 106 games for the Indians in 1967, Horton hit 10 homers. He followed that up with 14 homers in 1967. He played in 159 games in 1969, and had his best season yet, hitting 27 homers, driving in 93 runs, with a slash of .278/.319/.461. He was on his way to a similar sort of season in 1970, the year he turned 25. On August 28, 1970, he was hitting .269, with 17 homers and 59 RBI.
He never played the game of baseball again.
There are lots of rumors about what happened to Horton, and they all centered around a mental breakdown. The distinguised Terry Pluto talked about it extensively in his book, The Curse of Rocky Colavito, and another tragic player-turned-sports psycologist, Sam McDowell had some thoughts on what happened to Horton. From Pluto’s book:
“Tony was a perfectionish in a negative sense,” said McDowell. “Because of his low self-esteem, he was continually trying to prove he was a failure by setting unrealistic goals, such as perfection. If you make your standard perfection, then you don’t have to accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. I’ve seen other guys as tightly wound as Tony, but none would take failure as hard as he did. When he was 0-for-4, it was like the world caved in. I’ve never seen a player so despondent after a game. Back then, there was no such thing as a sports psychologist. The guys on the team did what they could to help him, but none of us had the training we needed. It’s really sad. Tony had good numbers for a young player, but they were nothing to him. He had set himself up to fail no matter how well he played.”
If you never read The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump, you are missing out on perhaps the greatest book about the Indians ever written.
How hard was Horton on himself? I read an article about a three-homer game that Horton had in Yankees Stadium, and could only focus on his last at bat in which he didn’t hit a home run. A couple of months later, Horton was back in Yankees Stadium, facing off against left Steve Hamilton. Hamilton threw two eephus pitchus to Horton, which was chronicled on Youtube. You’ll note Horton crawling into the dugout, which everyone laughed at at the time, but many point to that as being the beginning of the end.
The term “What If” has been used as a slogan by the Tribe over the past couple of years, but as my esteemed colleague Tony Lastoria opined in a former Tribe Happenings, perhaps using that slogan wasn’t the smartest of ideas by the Tribe front office.
Andre Thornton, 1B (1977-1987)
Thornton was traded to the Indians from the Montreal Expos for middling starter Jackie Brown, who had gone 9-11 for the Tribe in 1976. It’s not a heralded deal in the annals of the Indians moves, but perhaps it should be. Brown played only one more season for the Expos, going 9-12 as a starter and a reliever, while Thornton played ten more seasons with the Tribe, and become one of the most popular players of his era. Not bad for a guy they picked up as insurance to the aging and much-injured Boog Powell.
Thornton was the regular first baseman for the Tribe during his first three seasons in Cleveland. A knee injury in spring training of 1980 didn’t heal correctly after surgery, requiring another operation. After a second surgery, Thornton didn’t play again that season.
When Thornton returned in 1981, Mike Hargrove had taken over as the regular first baseman. Thornton received spot duty for the rest of his Tribe career, but Hargrove remained the primary first baseman until 1985.
Thornton can’t be spoken of without mentioning the tragedy early in his career. His wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident in October of 1977. He focused on his faith, his son, and baseball, and had one of his best seasons to date, hitting 33 homers, scoring 97 runs, and driving in 97 as well. His best season as an Indian came in 1982, his first full season back with the Tribe, but it was mostly as a DH. He crushed 32 homers, and drove in 116 RBI. He made the All-Star game for the first of two times. He hit 33 homers in 1984, making the All-Star team again.
In ten years with the Tribe, three primarily as a first baseman, and six primarily as a DH, his stat line was .254/.355/.453, with an .809 OPS. He hit 214 home runs, which at the time, was third all-time for the Indians.
Mike Hargrove, 1B (1979-1985)
Hargrove was brought to the Indians in 1979 in a trade with the San Diego Padres for Paul Dade. He originally played left field for the Indians, but assumed first base duties when Andre Thornton got hurt prior to the 1980 season. He didn’t relinquish his first base job until 1985, when Pat Tabler took the job over full-time.
Grover had been the rookie of the year for the Rangers in 1974, and was always known as a professional hitter. Of course, his lore as a player rests in his nickname, “the human rain delay.”
His routine:
Tap the shoes, play with a pad on his hand, or his batting glove, then tug on his jersey shoulder, then tug on his sleeves, then tug on his pants, then adjust the helmet, the very deliberately plant his left foot in the batter’s box, the softly plant his right foot in the box, the adjust his pants again. He did this in varying degrees every at bat.
But he could play as well.
In 1980 and 1981, Hargrove hit .304 and .317, and he had an OBP of .415 and .424, the latter of which, led the league. In his seven-plus seasons with the Tribe, Hargrove rolled out a .292/.396/.382 slash line…and yeah…that does say a .396 OBP, also his career total, which ranks 68th all-time.
Of course, Hargrove, of course, became one of Cleveland’s best all-time managers, but that’s for another, rather short list.
Pat Tabler, 1B (1983-1988)
Tabler was traded to the Indians just prior to opening day in 1983 for Jerry Dybzinski. In 1983, he split his time between left-field and third base, and never played a second of first base through the end of the 1983 season. In 1984, he played 67 games at first, as well as left and third, but didn’t become the regular (ish) first baseman until 1985, when Hargrove’s time diminished.
Tabler wasn’t, by any stretch, flashy or spectacular, but he was as consistent as you can get. His best season came in 1987, when he hit .307, with 11 homers and 86 RBI. He had 34 doubles, and made the all-star team that year.
Perhaps Tabler’s greatest claim to fame though was his ability to move runners in scoring position. He was dubbed “Mr. Clutch,” hitting an incredible .527 with the bases loaded for the Tribe in 55 at-bats.
His career stats with the Indians were .294/.356/.408, with 39 homers and 343 RBI. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1988 for Bud Black.
Paul Sorrento, 1B (1992-1995)
The Indians acquired Sorrento from the Minnesota Twins for Curt Leskanic and Oscar Munoz, and was truly an unsung hero on the early Tribe teams of the 90’s.
Sorrento certainly wasn’t the glamour player that many think of when pondering the history of the postion, even on the Indians' list. What he was though, was blue-collar through and through. He hit 18 homers in his first two seasons as a regular first baseman with the Indians, hit 14 in his third year with the Tribe (in only 95 games), then finish his career off with 25 homers in only 104 games.
In his four years with the Indians, he hit an impressive 75 homers, driving in 266 runs, while scoring 220 in only 487 games. His stat line was .261/.340/.457, for a fairly impressive .797 OPS.
The Indians let him walk as a free agent after the 1995 season, when they brought back Julio Franco to take his place.
Jim Thome, 1B/3B (1991-2002)
Thome is the only player on this list that was actually drafted by the Indians, and that was as a third baseman, of course. Thome debuted with the Indians in 1991, and got called up for some games in 1991, 1992 and 1993. He didn’t play in 90+ games until 1994, and didn’t really become a full-time member of the team until the World Series season of 1995. He was the full-time third baseman for two full seasons, before the Indians asked him to move to first base prior to the 1997 season.
In true Thome fashion, he didn’t blink and learned the position, which allowed the Indians to acquire Mark Williams for the drive to their second World Series appearance in three years. Williams tenure at third was short, but he was dealt for Travis Fryman after the 1997 season, and Thome remained at first base for the rest of his Tribe career, discounting his brief stint as a DH with the Indians in 2011.
There isn’t anything in here that I can tell you about Jim Thome that most of you don’t already know. His first year at first base for the Indians, Thome hit 40 homers, and drove in 102. He led the league in walks with 120, score 104 runs, and had a stat line of .286/.423/.579. It was his second season in a row with an OPS above 1.0, and he did it two more times, including his incredible 2002 season, which I’ll get to in a second.
Thome’s numbers, in many ways, increased over the next several years. His homers dropped to 30 in 1998, but increased to 33, 37, 49, and finally 52 in his final season at the Jake. During that 52-homer season, Thome drove in 118 once again, and led the league in walks with 122 with a slash of .304/.445/.677. His .677 slugging led the league, as well as his 1.122 OPS. Amazingly enough, that OPS is third highest all-time. The other two aren’t on this list, but I’ll get to them in another power poll.
Thome’s career numbers with the Indians are insane. His 337 homers with the Tribe are first all-time. His stat line in 13 years with the Indians is .287/.414/.566 for a .980 OPS. He has 1008 walks, and 1400 ‘s. He’s scored 928 runs in 1399 games. His 1008 walk are the most in Indians history by 151, and his strikeouts are the most by over 500. He’s top three in every major power category.
Hell, I didn’t even mention his playoff numbers.
If there are other guys I’ve missed, so be it, but that’s life. I tried to make it definitive, but you can’t please everybody.
That said, here are my rankings.
#17: Chris Chambliss--I didn't have him on the list, but he won the Rookie of the Year award, so here he is.

#16: Doc Johnston--Johnston was on the 1920 World Series team, so I should have him higher, but he's not better than Stovall, even though he had some really good years around that World Series year.

#15: George Stovall--Stovall's claim to fame is speed, longevity, and being that first established first baseman in the history of the franchise. All are fun to talk about, but don't move the needle for me.

#14: Paul Sorrento—It’s really hard for me not to mention Sorrento, as he was part of that initial run that the Indians made there in the 90’s, as I always mentioned. His WAR over his career with Cleveland was 3.0, and Sorrento was an unsung guy on those teams, and sure, perhaps a bit unspectacular, but those 25 homers in 104 games really sticks out for me. It was good enough for a top ten listing all-time for the Indians at the very least. I suppose a part of this is how much I’d love to have a Sorrento on the current team, and how much I appreciate that 1995 team. Of course, this could be my small way to get some folk out there to remember Pauly.

#13: Lew Fonseca--I've bounced Fonseca and Morgan back-and-forth, and had a few say both should be in the top ten. I just don't agree. Fonseca and Morgan were both solid players, but for a variety of reasons, are out of the top ten. In reality, I think you could make a case that everyone after three on this list are somewhat interchangeable, so a bunch of it is simply preference.

#11: Ed Morgan--His best season was scintillating, and many consider it enough to put him top 50 in the annals of All-Time Indians. I'm just not one of them. You can't overlook him, so don't get me wrong here, but I just don't get it. He was a really good player with this team, but c'mon...the longevity just isn't there.

#10: Vic Wertz--I've always had an affinity for Wertz, mostly because he was mentioned a bunch when I was a kid. I was enamored with that Mays catch, because the catch was brilliant, because the hit was massive, and mostly, because it launched the Indians into a near half-century long spiral of sadness. But Wertz could play, and his outstanding seasons with the Indians nearly got him into the top-ten. You could probably make a case that he goes a bit higher than this, but he just seemed to settle in the 10-spot.
#9: Pat Tabler—I was never a big Pat Tabler fan, to be honest, and I actually considered dropping him from this list. I’m not sure what my deal is with regards to my dislike of him, but it’s there, and is perhaps why he is #9 on my list. He does have a respectable 6.3 career WAR, and he certainly was devastating with the bases loaded. 109 different times he came to the plate with the bases loaded, and 43 of those times, he had a hit. He walked 11 more times, reached via an error twice, and had one hit-by-pitch. 60.6% chance of scoring at least a run with the bases loaded. That's pretty damn good.
#8: Mike Hargrove—I’m not going to lie, when I saw Hargrove’s career Indians WAR of 12.6, I was shocked, but his first three seasons in Cleveland were 2.7, 3.1 and 2.9, which carried him. Still, it’s hard for me to rank the slap-happy hitting Hargrove higher than seventh, even though you could make a legitimate case that he could be ranked above Horton, Power and Easter. I just don’t see it. Besides, I think we’ll see Hargrove making a run at #1 in another power poll next month. We shall see.
#7: Tony Horton–Growing up, my Dad talked about Tony Horton a lot. It wasn’t always in glowing terms, but he always thought that Horton was going to be one of the kids that brought the Indians back to respectability. It’s hard to say what might have happened, but the “natural” sure did put up some impressive corner infielder-like numbers. In four seasons with the Tribe, Horton clouted 68 homers, and drove in 255 RBI. His WAR during his short stint in Cleveland was an impressive 6.7. At 25, Horton was out of baseball, but boy, if you squint your eyes, it’s not hard to see Horton playing another five or six years at least, and hitting 20 or so homers each year.
#6: Vic Power—I didn’t know much about Vic Power before I did this ranking list, and had a lot of fun reading up on him, and remembered the only other time I thought much about Power. Everything that I read told the story of a happy-go-lucky player that had flash and panache, and it just screamed Manny Sanguillen to me. I met Sanguillen many years ago as a kid when he sat down with my Dad and I while we were eating lunch one day in Cleveland. I had on my Indians’ hat, and this had to be in 1978 or 1979, and Sanguillen stopped at some bayfront, seafood place (which name escapes me now). I was under 10-years old, but my Dad and I immediately knew who he was. He was there as a greeter for some conference, and he asked me about my love for baseball and the Indians, and asked if I knew who Vic Power was. I didn’t, but he mentioned him as a hero of his, and that he had played for the Indians. We talked for 20 minutes or so, and it’s one of those moments you never forget. I remember not understanding half of what Manny said. I remember that flashy smile, and how he took the time to talk to me, and not the other way around. And I remember him talking about Vic Power. Sure, it’s an idiotic reason to put him ahead of some other guys, but so be it. It’s not a stretch, by any stretch, and you throw in the defense…and I’ll stick with him at #6.
#5: Luke Easter—I’ve always been a fan of mythos, and Luke Easter is the Indians ‘What If.” While Vic Power may be my personal story, Luke Easter was my pure baseball story. Easter was so shrouded in grey during his initial playing days, that he couldn’t even get into the major Negro League. He was never mentioned in the same breath as guys like Josh Gibson, but was certainly respected in the same manner once he joined the Grays later in his career. Once he joined the Tribe, he was already past his prime, and he still clobbered a ton of home runs, and you have to love a guy that players such as Roy Campanella revered. During his three full seasons with the Indians, his WAR was 2.9, 2.1 and 3.3, and those were the seasons in which he was age 34-37. His 8.6 WAR in a six season career that didn’t begin until he turned 33 is insane, especially when you consider how good those teams in the late 40’s were. He returned to Cleveland after his playing days were over, which only adds to his mythical stature.
#4: George Burns—I should just say the term MVP, and stop there. Burns won the MVP in 1926, but it’s not the MVP award that we are familiar with today. The MVP award back then was a quirky to say the least, and there were lots of quirks that went along with it. Probably the biggest quirk was that once you won it, you couldn’t win it again. You noticed that I mentioned Babe Ruth before. Well, Ruth had won the first “official” MVP award in 1923, and legitimately could have won it in every seasons past that through 1930 (Walter Johnson won in 1924, and was a pitching triple crown winner, so perhaps that was an exception, but Ruth had a massive season that year). With that said, Burns was a fantastic first baseman during his second stretch with the Indians, and while the MVP award was his because of the quirky system, it shouldn’t take away from his fantastic season, only add to it. Since there are only two other Cleveland Indians’ MVPs, you have to give him credit where credit is due.
#3: Andre “Thunder” Thornton—Alright, I really struggled with this one, only because I wanted to move him up a spot, or even two. The problem is that while I remember him as a first baseman during my first days as an Indians fan, he was predominantly a DH. The fact that I had him as fourth right up until I moved him to third right before publishing may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m not sure if it’s a stretch down or up…which likely means he is in the right slot. Here’s what makes me feel better about his ranking. His first full season at first base for the Indians was fairly spectacular, and brought along with it a 4.0 WAR. His second season, and this is the season after his wife and daughter died, was unimaginably even better, as first baseman’s WAR rose to 5.0. In many ways, this showcased his ability to rise from the ashes. His last full season as a first baseman saw a bit of a drop in numbers, but he still had a solid 2.5 WAR. While he was never again a full-time fielder, those first three seasons are enough for me. Thornton will no doubt show up on another list, and have a run at #1 there.
#2: Hal Trosky—There’s quite a bit of mythos that goes along with Trosky, much like Easter. In 1936, when he was 23, he hit .343, with 42 homers, 162 RBI and had 405 total bases. I still can’t get over that he finished tenth in MVP voting, and wasn’t even the first Indians’ player. Earl Averill finished third that season, after hitting 28 homers and driving in 126 run. His OPS was a bit higher than Trosky’s, but all the intangible numbers point to Trosky. Of course, Averill was the known commodity, and the eventual hall of famer. His 405 total bases is 23rd all-time, and the most all-time for the Indians. He crossed the 400 total base mark at 23, and the only other player to do it younger than Trosky was Joe Dimaggio, who was 22. The migraines destroyed his shot at the hall-of-fame, but as a power hitter, with a WAR of 27.8 throughout his Tribe career, he comes in a distant second.
#1: Jim Thome—I’m not sure if there’s going to be another position that seems to be as no-brainer as this one, but Thome had my first place vote before I ever started really looking. I don’t even feel like I have to explain this one, as everyone that reads this knows Thome’s story. He had seven consecutive 30-homer seasons with the Indians, closing out his Tribe career with 52 homers in 2002. He is the career leader in franchise history, with 334 home runs, and is in the top three of every major power number. Combine that with the fact that he’s my favorite all-time Indians player, and you have my easy #1.
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