The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians List: Third 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. Larry Gardner (1919-1924)
The third baseman position has been the most interesting one to rank yet. One reason is that a few guys that were close to making the list actually did not have great careers in Cleveland but excelled when they moved on (i.e. Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell). Another reason is that a handful of players had extremely similar numbers and it was difficult to separate them into their spots. Ultimately I had to make a decision and I chose Larry Gardner at the five spot. The player he beat out was Toby Harrah who certainly deserves an honorable mention for having a few solid seasons in a Tribe uniform. Gardner was not what anyone would consider a “superstar” but he had two seasons in particular that were hard to ignore. Cleveland won its first World Series in 1920 and Larry Gardner had a big part in that title. That season Gardner hit .310 and drove in 118 runs. The following season he improved those numbers to .319 and 120. Considering he spent the final six years of his career in Cleveland and drove in 401 runs I had to include him on the list. Though 401 RBI in six years is not an eye-popping stat, it was one of the better totals of the players eligible. So for that and his World Series title I ranked him at five.
4. Brook Jacoby (1984-1992)
Brook Jacoby was one of the staples for the Indians of the 1980s. He wasn’t the greatest of players but he was a consistent player who served as a veteran leader for a very young and inexperienced ballclub. Jacoby himself was rather young while with the Indians but he was one of the few guys that stuck around for a long period of time. He spent nine seasons in a Cleveland uniform that included a very brief stint with the Oakland Athletics in 1991 after a deadline trade. Jacoby would return the following season to end his career as a Cleveland Indian. Brook Jacoby had his best seasons in 1985 and 1987. Surprisingly the two All-Star appearances Jacoby made were not in those years. Those came in ’86 & ’90. His career high in home runs (32) and batting average (.300) both came in the ’87 campaign while his best RBI total (87) took place in ’87. Overall, he finished with 120 home runs and 524 runs batted in to go along with a respectable .273 batting average in his nine years in Cleveland.
3. Travis Fryman (1998-2002)
It is my opinion that the man Fryman was traded for, Matt Williams, was a much better third baseman. As it turned out though Fryman was darn good himself. For whatever reason the Indians traded Williams after one season to obtain Travis Fryman. Though Fryman’s best days were behind him, he did manage to put up some very good years while donning the Chief Wahoo cap. The 2000 season was his best year as he hit a career high .321 to go along with 22 home runs and 106 runs batted in, yet another career high total for him. It would be his only All-Star appearance as an Indian and he would win the Gold Glove Award at third base that season after commiting only 8 errors. His teammates Omar Vizquel (SS) and Roberto Alomar (2B) would also win the Gold Gloves that season to become the first team since the 1969 Baltimore Orioles to have three infielders win the award in the same year. Fryman would retire after the 2002 season.
2. Ken Keltner (1937-1949)
Ken Keltner was a rock solid third baseman for the Indians through the 1940s. He made seven All-Star teams in his 12 seasons in Cleveland. Keltner was almost single-handedly responsible for ending Joe Dimaggio’s remarkable 56-game hitting streak after he made two amazing stops at third base. He is also known for his record-setting stunt in 1938 when he dropped baseballs off of the 708 ft. tall Terminal Tower in Cleveland that set world records for dropped and caught baseballs. Keltner also made noise with his bat, particularly in 1948. That season he would become a World Champion while posting gaudy offensive numbers that included a .297 batting average and career high totals in home runs (31) and runs batted in (119). Unfortunately for Keltner it would be the last season he would spend as the full time third baseman for the Indians as age would catch up to him and he would be released by Cleveland in 1950. Keltner would play 33 more games for the Boston Red Sox before retiring at the age of 33.
1. Al Rosen (1947-1956)
It isn’t often that a superstar player is replaced by yet another superstar player, it’s even rarer that the player replacing that star turns out to be even better. That is exactly what happened to the Indians when Al Rosen stepped in to replace Ken Keltner full time in 1950. From the moment Rosen became the starter at third for the Tribe he was a superstar, putting up crazy good numbers for five straight seasons until back problems forced him into early retirement. In Rosen’s official rookie season of 1950 he set a rookie home run record with 37 to lead the league, a record that would stand until 1987 when Oakland rookie Mark McGwire surpassed it. That record would be the first of many for Rosen to eventually set. The most notable was his franchise record 43 home runs that was set in 1953. The record would stand for 42 years before Albert Belle finally passed it up. That season easily Rosen’s finest, which is certainly saying something. Rosen would gather career highs in plate appearances, at bats, runs, hits, triples, homers, runs batted in, stolen bases, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases (whew!). His 115 runs, 43 home runs and 145 RBI led the league and for all of this he earned the Most Valuable Player Award, the last Cleveland Indians player to do so. Rosen was also a four-time All-Star during his ten year career in Cleveland. The man affectionately nicknamed “The Hebrew Hammer” certainly deserves his place atop the list of best third basemen in Cleveland Indians history.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?