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The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians: Closers

| On 25, Oct 2011

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.

CLOSERS

5. Jim Kern (1974-1978, 1986)

In all honesty, if it were not for the five year rule I established when I started this list Kern would not be here. Many of Cleveland’s great closers were only here a few years (Steve Olin and Mike Jackson to name a few). At any rate, Kern made this list in the fifth spot. Jim Kern played for the Tribe for six years but only had saves in three of those seasons as a closer. Picking up 46 saves in three seasons is not a bad stat to have. His ERA was respectable in a Cleveland uniform as well (3.44).

4. Bob Wickman (2000-2006)

Though he had an off-the-record nickname of “Heart Attack”, Wickman still had some solid years while in Cleveland. In fact, “Wick” is the Indians’ all-time career leader in saves with 139 and that was only in six seasons. His best years were in 2001 and 2005. 2001 was Wickman’s first full season with the Tribe, closing for franchise that was on the cusp of rebuilding. It would be the last postseason appearance for the Tribe until 2007. ’01 saw Wickman earn 32 saves and post an ERA of 2.39. After a few disappointing seasons Wickman had a rebirth in 2005, perhaps his best season not only as an Indian but in his whole career. I was a year that saw him lead the league in saves and make his second and final all-star appearance. That season he saved 45 games with an earned run average of 2.47.

3. Jose Mesa (1992-1998)

“Senor Smoke” was the Tribe closer during the “glory years” of the mid-late ’90s. Mesa would receive a lot of grief about blowing the save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and perhaps that is what places him third on this list. Though he was spectacular during the regular season most years, he often struggled in the spotlight during games that we needed him the most. “Joe Table” actually started out as a starting pitcher but was converted to a closer in 1995. He burst onto the scene that season posting a miniscule 1.13 ERA, leading the league in saves with 46 saves, making his first all-star appearance and finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting. Mesa also set a record that season with 38 consecutive saves, one that would stand until 2003 when Eric Gagne broke it. After all was said and done Mesa had logged 104 saves and had a 3.88 ERA in his Cleveland career. Had it not been for his struggles in the postseason he may have been at the top of this list.

2. Ray Narleski (1954-1958)

Narleski played before the traditional “closer” role was established in baseball but nonetheless he was what Cleveland used as a stopper during their strong years in the 50s. Narleski was known as a tough right-handed pitcher who had a very overpowering fastball to go along with a sharp-breaking curveball. He only spent five seasons in Cleveland but during his time here he was not only our best reliever but also one of the best in the entire league. In 1955 he led the league in games and saves (19) in addition to having an impressive 9-1 record. He made two all-star appearances (’56 & ’58) and was a key part of the 1954 American League champion team. That season he had a 2.22 ERA with 13 saves.

1. Doug Jones (1986-1991, 1998)

Doug Jones was a prototypical closer who played for some very poor teams in the ’80s. Jones was one of the few bright spots on those teams and unfortunately for him he left just before the Tribe became contenders. His best years were a string of three consecutive all-star seasons from 1988-1990 where he logged 112 of his 129 Cleveland saves. “Jones-ey” was not what one would call “overpowering” but he was very smart with his pitches and threw a lot of strikes. Out of the five closers on the list, Jones has the best WHIP at 1.23 while with the Tribe. In my opinion this stat is the most important when looking at the effectiveness of a closer. Late in ball games it is crucial to throw strikes and that’s just what Jones would give you. Another key stat to Jones’ success was the limited amount of home runs he gave up. In those three seasons previously mentioned, Jones logged 248 innings and only gave up 10 homers. Jones ranks second on the all-time saves list for the Tribe and is at the top of the games finished category.

So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?

Photo: Associated Press