The All-Time Best Cleveland Indians List: Left Fielders
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. Tito Francona (1959-1964)
Most casual baseball fans would recognize the Francona name but more than likely it wouldn’t be from Tito. Francona was acquired in a trade for Larry Doby and played for the Tribe through the early 1960s on some pretty poor teams. However, Tito Francona was a bright spot for those teams. His first three seasons in Cleveland were his best, especially the first in 1959. That season Francona hit a career high .363 with 20 homers, yet another career high. The following season he led the league in doubles with 36. In 1961 he made his only All-Star appearance.
4. Dale Mitchell (1946-1956)
Dale Mitchell was never considered a superstar but he was a strong contributor for some of the best baseball teams the city of Cleveland has ever seen. Mitchell was a model of consistency, hitting .300 or better in seven of his eleven seasons with the Tribe. The 1948 season was his “breakout” season. That year Mitchell hit .336 to go along with 204 hits, 82 runs, 30 doubles, 56 runs batted in and 13 stolen bases. He continued his strong play the following season leading the league in hits and triples. His 23 triples that season is the second highest total for a Cleveland Indians player, topped only by Joe Jackson’s 26 in 1912.
3. Joe Vosmik (1930-1936)
The third man on this list is one who is not well known. Joe Vosmik was the Indians’ left fielder through most of the 1930s. Though he was not known for home run power, he did have a knack for driving in runs. He drove in 90+ runs and hit over .300 in four of his seven years. Vosmik did most of his damage in the form of doubles. He hit 20+ doubles in each of his six full seasons with Cleveland including a league leading 47 in 1935. That season was easily his best as he not only led the league in doubles but also hits (216) and triples (20) in addition to driving in 110 runs while hitting .348.
2. Jeff Heath (1936-1945)
During Jeff Heath’s ten seasons in Cleveland he made two All-Star teams and was in the MVP discussion four times. Though he would not immediately fall into the “consistent” category, he had some monster offensive seasons which is enough to land him second on the list of left fielders. Two seasons that pop out are 1938 and 1941. In ’38 Heath hit .343 with 21 homers and 112 RBI but it was 1941 that was most memorable. That season Heath did something no Cleveland Indians player had ever done before him and it has not been done since. He hit at least 20 doubles, triples and home runs in one season. Jeff Heath had one of the most impressive offensive seasons any Tribe player has ever had hitting .340 with 32 doubles, 20 triples, 24 home runs, 123 RBI and 18 stolen bases. That season he made his first All-Star team and finished eighth in MVP voting.
1. Albert Belle (1989-1996)
Though Albert Belle was never the most popular player in Cleveland, he certainly made a name for himself with his bat. Belle was the cleanup hitter for the Tribe from ’91-’96 and in that span hit 234 home runs. He hit 30+ homers and drove in 100+ runs in five of his eight years in Cleveland. Belle was a four-time All-Star and finished in the top three in MVP voting three times. Most Cleveland fans will remember his historic season in 1995 where he became the first player to ever hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in a season. The 50 home runs he hit was at the time a franchise record for homers in one season, breaking Al Rosen’s mark that had stood for 42 years. In addition to leading the league in doubles (52) and home runs (50) that season, he also led the league in runs (121), runs batted in (126), total bases (377) and slugging percentage (.690). Albert Belle eventually left Cleveland under bitter terms, but he still sits behind only Jim Thome on the franchise’s career home run list with 242 in only 3,922 plate appearances. Though he may forever be hated in this city for his sometimes ill-spirited personality and the way he departed, he should forever be recognized as one of the best power hitters this team has ever had.
So there is the list….who do you think should be number 1?