The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians List: Second 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. Odell Hale (1931-1940)
We start out this list with a second baseman who is probably the least known of the five. I had to make a choice between Hale and Bobby Avila that was very difficult since their numbers were very similar. I decided to go with Hale because he had played one less season with the Tribe than Avila, yet still had the numbers to match him. Hale played for Cleveland through most of the 1930s and he put up solid numbers. 1934 and 1935 were his most productive years, hitting over .300 and driving in 100+ runs in both seasons. Hale for the most part split time between second base and third base, much like the next guy on our list.
4. Carlos Baerga (1990-1996, 1999)
Though Carlos Baerga originally made the club as a third baseman, he eventually made the switch to second base when Jim Thome came up to the majors. Baerga was a staple in the Cleveland lineup all through the 90s, most of that time hitting in the important three-hole in the order. Baerga may not have been the biggest and baddest of the many Tribe hitters but he was the most consistent. He hit over .300 for four straight seasons between 1992 and 1995 including two 200 hit seasons in that span. The ’92 and ’93 campaigns were two of Baerga’s best years. In ’92 he hit .312 with 20 homers and 105 RBI to go along with a team leading 205 hits. The next season he improved, this time hitting .321 with 21 home runs and 114 runs batted in. Though he was traded in 1996 to the New York Mets, a move that was highly criticized at the time, Baerga is still considered to be one of the cornerstones of the resurgence of the organization in the 1990s.
3. Joe Gordon (1947-1950)
Joe “Flash” Gordon was a 4-time World Series champ and a former MVP by the time he came to the Cleveland Indians. He was acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees for pitcher Allie Reynolds. Gordon was known as a powerful middle infielder, something that was a rarity during his era. His numbers had been declining steadily since 1940 then had a down year in 1946 with New York after he had missed two years due to World War II. Little did the Yankees know, Gordon’s best year was still ahead of him. As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and this held true for the Tribe with Gordon. In his final four years, all spent with Cleveland, Gordon would solidify a Hall of Fame career and never see his home run numbers dip below 19. In 1948, the year the Indians would win the World Series, Gordon had arguably his best season as a professional. That season “Jumpin” Joe would hit .280 and set career highs with 32 home runs and 124 runs batted in. Gordon would retire at the end of the 1950 season as a five-time World Series champion, nine-time All-Star and would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009 by the Veteran’s Committee.
2. Roberto Alomar (1999-2001)
Roberto Alomar has a similar backstory to Gordon’s in the fact that he came to Cleveland as an established star. It is well documented that Cleveland has had trouble bringing in superstar players via free agency but Roberto’s brother, Sandy Jr., was already here and lured him to join a championship contending Indians team. Roberto Alomar did more than “join” the team, he led it with his bat. Though Alomar was always known as a great contact hitter, it wasn’t until he came to Cleveland that he started hitting for power. In the three seasons he spent here he hit .323 with 63 home runs and 309 runs batted in. The ’99 season was his finest of them all. When it was all said and done Alomar had a .323 batting average, 24 home runs, 120 RBI, 37 stolen bases, a league leading 138 runs scored, an All-Star appearance, a Gold Glove Award, a Silver Slugger Award and finished third in the MVP voting. It was a shock to everyone how well he would play in Cleveland. That first season in Cleveland marked his first 100+ RBI season and only his second season with 20+ homers. Not to mention the solid play up the middle that he provided along with his double play partner Omar Vizquel. Had Alomar spent more time here I may have put him at the top of this list, but there’s no question that he put together three of the best seasons that a Cleveland second baseman has ever had.
1. Nap Lajoie (1902-1914)
Napoleon Lajoie, better known as “Nap”, was the Cleveland Indians first real “superstar” player. In fact while he played here the team was not even called the Cleveland Indians, they were named the Cleveland Naps…after HIM. That’s how much he meant to the team and its home city. Lajoie put up amazing offensive numbers in his time, including the third highest career batting average in team history (.339). Three seperate times he led the league in batting average, doubles and hits while wearing a Cleveland uniform. He was also considered to be one of the best fielding second baseman of his time as well. If you were to look over his numbers you would be hard pressed to choose a “best year” but one that stands out is the 1904 season where he led the league in nine seperate offensive categories. He was known for getting hits and he specialized in doubles. He is the Tribe’s all-time leader in career hits with 2,046 and second all-time with 424 doubles. Lajoie can be found in the top ten of several offensive categories for the Indians’ career records but the one that I think surprises me the most is that he ranks third all-time for runs batted in. Considering all the power hitters we have had through the years, and Lajoie is really not one of them, he still had the ability to drive runs in. 919 total to be exact, ranking only behind Earl Averill and Jim Thome. Nap Lajoie deserves to be at the top of this list simply because of the icon he was during his time in Cleveland. I believe strongly that there should be a statue to honor him at the ballpark, especially considering he did not wear a number therefore can not have it retired in his honor. Nevertheless, Nap Lajoie will be forever remembered as not only one of the greatest second baseman in Tribe history but also as one of our greatest players ever…period.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?