The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians List: First Basemen
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. Mike Hargrove (1979-1985)
When it comes to the first base position the Indians have had several good players. It was difficult to find the last guy to make this list considering many of the candidates had similar numbers but in the end I went with Hargrove. “Grover” was a high average/high OBP guy during his time with the Tribe. He was solid with the glove but he never really did anything great, just many things well. Hargrove was not considered a power hitter yet he was able to drive in his fair share of runs. In his seven years with the club he drove in 383 of them. Though he was better known for his managerial role with the team, Hargrove was a very serviceable player as well.
4. Ed Morgan (1928-1933)
Ed Morgan falls into the same category as Hargrove did in terms of similar type players to make this list. When comparing numbers of a handful of first basemen, it was hard to ignore Morgan’s batting average (.323) and on base percentage (.405) which both rank in the top 6 all-time with the franchise. What really sealed Morgan’s fate on this list was the incredible season he had in 1930. While it was true that Babe Ruth began to change the identity of baseball into a power hitting league, it wasn’t very often that team’s had players with such gaudy numbers. In 1930 Morgan hit .349 with 26 home runs and 136 RBI. The 136 runs batted in is still the ninth highest single season total for an Indian player, which is quite a feat considering the modern day sluggers this team has had.
3. Vic Wertz (1954-1958)
Vic Wertz was a late addition to the ball club in 1954, the year they would win the American League pennant. He added power to an already powerful lineup. He was also involved in one of the most famous plays in baseball history when in the 1954 World Series he hit a ball that would’ve cleared most centerfield fences in the majors, unfortunately for Wertz it landed in the outstretched glove of future Hall of Famer Willie Mays’ glove. Despite that out, Wertz had a very strong showing in that series hitting .500 with a homer and three runs batted in. Wertz’s best seasons were 1956 and 1957 when he hit a combined 60 homers and drove in 105+ in both years.
2. Hal Trosky (1933-1941)
You could make a strong case for Trosky being at the top spot on this list but I will not be the one to make it. Even still, Trosky was one of the greatest Tribe hitters of all-time and a very solid defender. Trosky hit .313 in nine seasons with the team including 216 home runs, which ranked second all-time at the time of his departure and currently sits at the number five spot in franchise history. From 1934-1940 Trosky was as consistent as they came. He hit higher than .330 in four of those seasons, 25+ homers in six of those seasons and drove in 100+ runs in every year but one. Trosky’s best season came in 1936 and was one of the best offensive seasons for any player in Tribe history. That year Trosky hit .343 with 42 home runs and a league leading 162 runs batted in. The home run and RBI totals were both franchise records at the time and the 162 RBI mark stood for 63 years until Manny Ramirez drove in 165 to break the franchise record in 1999. The surprising thing about the 1936 season was that Trosky only finished 10th in the MVP voting and his teammate Earl Averill ranked higher in the voting despite Trosky having the far better year.
1. Jim Thome (1991-2002, 2011)
For 12 seasons Jim Thome was the face of the franchise. Thome was considered one of the greatest sluggers of all-time and still to this day is considered to be one of the “nice guys” around the majors. He made a nice return this past season but Thome will be best remembered for the prime of his career that he spent in Cleveland. Originally Thome came up with the club as a third baseman and spent half of his time there while in Cleveland, but I decided to rank him on the first baseman list because he had his best years at that position. He made the positional switch in 1997 when the team acquired all-star third baseman Matt Williams. Thome responded very well as he posted his first 40 homer season to go along with 102 RBI. Thome played solid defense that year too making only 10 errors in 145 games. Over the years Thome has had numerous “great years” but the greatest of them all for him in an Indians uniform was probably 2002, the last year in his first go-around with the team. That season Thome hit .304 with a career high 52 home runs (a single season club record) and 118 runs batted in. He also led the league in walks that year with 122. In addition to the franchise single season home run record, Thome also holds the career mark with 337 and the career walks total with 1008. It was also announced this year that the Cleveland Indians would be erecting a Jim Thome statue to commemorate the home run that he hit at Jacobs Field in 1999 that traveled 511 feet to center field, the longest in the park’s history.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?
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