The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians List: Shortstops
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. Ray Chapman (1912-1920)
The Cleveland Indians did not have a plethora of great shortstops but the ones they did have were truly special. Ray Chapman starts the list at number five. “Chappy” was an integral part of the team through the early 1900s and a key member of the 1920 World Championship team. Unfortunately, Chapman was not actually a member of the team when they won the championship because of a tragic accident in August of 1920. Ray Chapman was struck in the head by a Carl Mays fastball that sent him to the hospital. He would later pass away, becoming the first Major Leaguer to die from a hit by pitch. The incident is said to have sparked the club to their title run and his legend lives on with a commemorative plaque inside of Heritage Park at the current home of the Tribe. Chapman’s strengths as a ballplayer were measured by his steady batting average, stolen base totals and solid fielding.
4. Julio Franco (1983-1988, 1996-1997)
Julio Franco came up with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1982 but was promptly traded to the Indians at the end of the season. Since he only appeared in 16 games in ’82, his rookie season was actually his first season in a Tribe uniform. He would have a solid rookie campaign, finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Franco quickly became a fan favorite with his flamboyant style and odd batting stance. Though he was never a “gold glove” shortstop, he would make up for his defense in the batter’s box. From ’83-’87 his batting average steadily increased going from .273 to .319. His power numbers started to improve in that time as well, touching double digits in homers twice and driving in 375 runs in that span. Franco was used at the top of the order for the most part in his early days and filled the role well with his speed and gap power. He hit 20+ doubles in every season with the Tribe except his last and he stole 147 bases. The 1988 season saw “Hooooo-lio” switch from shortstop to second base but in the five previous seasons spent at the position he definitely left a lasting impression.
3. Joe Sewell (1920-1930)
After the tragedy that saw Ray Chapman suddenly pass away in 1920, a 21 year old rookie was the one that took over at shortstop. Joe Sewell ended up being a star in Cleveland for eleven seasons. He hit under .300 only twice (.299 in 1922 & .289 in 1930) and was a doubles machine, leading the league with 45 in 1924. In fact Sewell sits at fourth on Cleveland’s all-time hits and doubles list. Though he was not known for home run power, his ability to drive the ball for extra bases led to him being a very effective RBI man. Sewell drove in 90+ runs in five seperate seasons including 100+ in 1923 and 1924. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.
2. Omar Vizquel (1994-2004)
I realize there will be several people reading this and thinking that Omar Vizquel should be tops on this list, and for good reason. Actually I would not even try to argue because in my eyes this list is the most “1, 1a” list of the bunch. Omar is arguably the greatest defensive shortstop to ever play the game. He won eight straight Gold Gloves while in Cleveland and 11 overall, only Ozzie Smith has won more (13). When Cleveland acquired Vizquel in a trade with Seattle in 1993 (perhaps the greatest player-for-player trade the franchise has ever made) he was coming off his first career Gold Glove Award and was known to be a great defensive shortstop with very little ability at the plate. That all changed in 1996. That season Vizquel hit .297 and would not hit under .280 until 2001. He also would turn himself into one of the league’s best base stealers, robbing as much as 43 in one season. Omar Vizquel is quite possibily one of the most beloved stars the team has ever seen, both for his play and his personality. Unlike most of the “glory years” stars, Vizquel was let go by the club and not forced to choose between the team and dollars elsewhere. In fact Vizquel was the last of the great players from the ’90s to leave and many fans still hope he makes a return before he calls it quits. This list currently has two Hall of Famers on it, but I would say it’s safe to assume Vizquel will eventually be the third.
1. Lou Boudreau (1938-1950)
Growing up as an Indians fan I had heard many stories about past ballplayers. Of course the most talked about Tribe legend is Bob Feller, but because my grandfather’s boyhood idol was Lou Boudreau, I was fortunate enough to hear about “Old Shufflefoot”. Boudreau was not just an excellent shortstop but he was a star for a team that had plenty of stars. He could field with grace, hit for average and pop, and was even the manager of the team during one of their most successful spans. Lou Boudreau broke into the majors at age 20 in 1938 but did not play his first full season until 1940. That season he hit .295, drove in 101 runs, was named to his first All-Star team and finished fifth in MVP voting. After all was said and done Boudreau was an All-Star seven times, an MVP in 1948, and a World Series champion. In his time with the Tribe he had a .296 average, which included four .300+ seasons and a batting title in 1944. He also led the league in doubles three times and is fifth on the franchise’s all-time doubles list. Aside from his on the field accomplishments, Boudreau was a winning manager for the Tribe and was credited with creating the infield shift that is seen with many of today’s left-handed pull hitters. The franchise also honored Boudreau by naming their Minor League Player of the Year Award after him. Boudreau was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970, the same year that the Indians retired his number 5.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?
Photo: Sports Illustrated