The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians: Starting Pitcher
By Jason Kaminski
The Cleveland Indians have a storied franchise that began back in 1901 when they were established in the American League. Over the years players have come and gone through the organization that have made a lasting impact. Some of these players have been talked up and others have not been talked about enough. I have decided to put a stamp on who I believe the best Tribe players were at their respective positions. Over the next several weeks I will be posting my Top Five Tribe Players at each position. Through research, analysis and opinion I will rank the players I see to be the best. I have a specific criteria I am looking for. For starters, I will only include players that played from 1901 and on. No Cy Young type players. Second, the players eligible needed to have played at least five seasons in a Cleveland uniform. No Gaylord Perry’s. Last, I took into account comparisons of what might have been. Sometimes players play so long that their legend becomes inflated or they play on terrible teams that do not get their accomplishments recognized like they should be. With that said I hope you enjoy these lists and I encourage you to give your own opinions as well. So without further adieu, I give you the top five Indians players of all-time at each position.
5. Mel Harder (1928-1947)
Harder was the ace of a Cleveland staff for many years. He spent his entire career in a Cleveland uniform. In that time he compiled a record of 223-186 and an earned run average of 3.80. He was not an overpowering pitcher, he only had 1,161 strikeouts in those 20 seasons. However, he didn’t need to be overpowering. Harder had 14 winning seasons in that time including two 20 game winning seasons. He played in four straight all-star games from 1934-1937 and led the league in ERA in 1933. His number 18 was retired by the Indians in 1990.
4. Sam McDowell (1961-1971)
“Sudden” Sam McDowell was arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher in franchise history. McDowell racked up 122 wins in 11 seasons with the team, despite playing on perennial losing clubs. In fact, McDowell only played for two winning teams while he was here in Cleveland (’65 & ’68). McDowell was probably best known for his regularly high strike out totals. He ranks second in team history with 2,159 K’s. Though Bob Feller is the all-time franchise leader and widely considered the best, it is McDowell who probably should hold that distinction. He is only 422 strikeouts behind Feller yet played 7 fewer seasons. McDowell’s finest season in a Tribe uniform was in 1970 when he posted a 20-12 record, had a 2.92 ERA and led the league in strikeouts with 304 (his second 300 K season of his career). Perhaps most remarkable about that season was the fact that Cleveland only won 76 games as a team.
3. Bob Feller (1936-1956)
I realize I may catch some heat for having Feller so low on my list but I believe the numbers add up. Bob Feller was certainly one of the greatest Tribe pitchers of all-time and a well desrved Hall of Famer. Feller played 18 seasons for the club, losing three full seasons to the war and the better part of 1945 as well. It’s most likely true that he would’ve won 300 games had it not been for that, yet still holds the franchise career mark with 266. It’s also true that Feller played for some of the greatest Cleveland teams of all-time. He was a strikeout whiz, leading the league 7 times and also threw three no hitters including the only opening day no hitter in history. Feller’s best season was probably in 1946 when he went 26-15 with a 2.18 ERA and a league leading 348 strikeouts (his only 300 K season). He also posted 10 shutouts that season, which also led the league. However, I feel the one black mark on Feller’s resume was his postseason performance. Although he was a part of the 1954 team, he did not make an appearance in that World Series. The year the Indians last won it all was 1948, a team Bob Feller was considered to be the “ace” of the staff. In that series Feller made two starts, losing them both. He had a 5.02 ERA with only 7 strikeouts (one less than the number of runs he allowed). Despite his disappointing effort, the team still was able to defeat the Boston Braves for the crown.
2. Bob Lemon (1946-1958)
One of the main reasons the Cleveland Indians won the 1948 World Series was because of Bob Lemon. In the ’48 series Lemon also made two starts winning them both, including the championship clinching game 6. Lemon had an ERA of 1.65 in 16 innings and added 6 strikeouts. Lemon was often overshadowed by Feller during his playing career, and it’s understandable. Both were great pitchers but Feller had already been with the team for ten years before Lemon arrived. Still, it was Lemon that solidified the pitching staff into a championship calibur team. He had seven 20 win seasons, winning 207 games overall and considering he averaged 17 wins a year with 5 less seasons played than Feller it’s not far-fetched to say their numbers are very similar. Perhaps the one thing he lacked was high strikeout totals, only racking up 1,277 in his career which equates to about 100 a year. Still, Lemon knew how to win games. He was very good at keeping opposing teams at bay, evident by his solid 3.23 ERA. If you breakdown the numbers, Lemon had a better career ERA than Feller, more 20 win seasons, and only 59 less wins all while playing five less seasons. It’s really splitting hairs when you’re comparing hall of famers but when you come up as clutch in a World Series as Lemon I feel the edge must go to that player.
1. Addie Joss (1902-1910)
Joss is often forgotten when discussing great pitchers of all-time. Partially because of the era he played in and partially because his career was cut short by an unfortunate fatal illness. In the 9 seasons Joss spent in Cleveland all he did was win. Joss never had a losing season in his career, he totaled 160 wins over those nine seasons and holds the all-time franchise mark for earned run average at a near spotless 1.89. From 1905-1908 he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He won 20+ in each of those seasons and his ERA never spiked over 2.01. In addition to his great numbers, he also holds the distinction as the first Cleveland pitcher to throw a perfect game. In a previous article I discussed statues that should be built at the ballpark, Joss is certainly on that list of deserving players. He played in a time before uniform numbers so the distinction for him is nearly nonexistent. Even if you disagree about his place atop this list, he certainly belongs in the top three and should be discussed more frequently when talking greatest Indians of all-time. If not for an unfortunate break, he may have been easily one of the greatest of all-time period.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?
Photo: Discovery Channel