The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians List: Catchers
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 pitchers eligible needed to have played at least five seasons and position players needed at least three seasons in a Cleveland uniform. 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. John Romano (1960-1964)
The catcher’s position is often considered the most important position on the baseball field. Cleveland’s history of stars at catcher is actually pretty minimal but Romano was one who many considered to be one of the best during the early 1960s. While in Cleveland Romano made two All-Star teams and was a force offensively. In 1961 and 1962, his all-star years, Romano hit 21 and 25 home runs respectively. Though he never hit over .299 in Cleveland he still had a respectable .263 average while with the Wahoos.
4. Ray Fosse (1967-1972, 1976-77)
Ray Fosse was probably best remembered for the infamous collision at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game when Pete Rose barrelled over him to score the winning run. The incident led to a seperated right shoulder, one of a string of injuries Fosse suffered in his career. Nonetheless, Fosse still was known as one of the best catchers in the league during the prime of his career. He spent seven seasons in Cleveland over two seperate stints. In that time he made two All-Star appearances and won two Gold Glove Awards. Though never known for his bat, he did have his best offensive season with the Indians in 1970 when he hit .307 with 18 homers and 61 runs batted in.
3. Jim Hegan (1941-1957)
During the championship years in Cleveland they had a staple at catcher, Jim Hegan. In this era catchers were known for their gloves and brains more than their bats. Hegan was no exception. In his 14 seasons with Cleveland Hegan only hit a measly .230 and hit 10+ homers only three times. However, Hegan was masterful behind the dish. He made five All-Star appearances based on his defensive prowess. During his career in Cleveland he had a .990 fielding percentage and also threw out 46% of runners that ran on him, by far the highest of the guys on this list. The Gold Glove Award was not given out until 1957 so it is difficult to measure him against other catchers of his time. Based on his defensive numbers compared to this list though he was far and away the best this franchise has ever seen.
2. Victor Martinez (2002-2009)
If Hegan was the best defensive catcher Cleveland has ever had, Victor Martinez is the best offensive catcher. In terms of the main categories of batting average, home runs and runs batted in Martinez leads everyone on the list. In eight seasons with the Indians he hit .297 with 103 homers and 518 RBI. He was often criticized for his defense but considering he was originally an infielder he did make great strides. His fielding percentage was very good (.994) but the problem was more with his arm. His caught stealing percentage was a very low 23% but he did make up for that in the batter’s box. The powerful switch hitter made three All-Star teams and won a Silver Slugger Award in 2004. Martinez was a key factor in the 2007 playoff run when he hit .301 with 25 bombs and 114 RBI. He will certainly be remembered for his heart as well. After learning of his trade to Boston he gave a tearful goodbye to the fans of Cleveland. Martinez is definitely one player that is missed.
1. Sandy Alomar Jr. (1990-2000)
Coming over in a controversial trade with San Diego that saw the Tribe part with star outfielder Joe Carter, Sandy Alomar Jr. quickly made Cleveland forget in his first season winning the Rookie of the Year award. Alomar would also win a Gold Glove Award that year, the only one he would get mostly thanks to a guy named Ivan Rodriguez. Though Alomar was solid with the glove he was known more for his bat. He hit .277 in his Cleveland career to go along with 92 dingers and 453 runs batted in. Alomar was widely considered to be the “heart and soul” of the 90s powerhouse teams as well, and for good reason. He embodied everything a catcher is supposed to be in terms of a leader. It is the main reason he is a hot managerial candidate in the majors now. Though Alomar’s rookie campaign was a good one, it was far from his best season. That came in 1997 as he led a intimidating lineup that saw him hitting last in the order. The fact that Alomar hit ninth was certainly more of a testament to the lineup rather than his abilities and he benefited from that since he was a great fastball hitter. The ’97 season was a dream season for Alomar as he posted career highs in average (.324), homers (21) and runs batted in (83). The highlight of the season for Alomar came in the mid-summer classic that was held in his home ballpark, Jacobs Field. I can proudly say I was there and witnessed his late inning heroics as he hit the game winning home run in the seventh inning off of Shawn Estes and was awarded Most Valuable Player honors.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?