Indians Should Add to Their Statue Collection
Bob Toth | On 03, Aug 2014
The Cleveland Indians officially unveiled a second statue at Progressive Field on Saturday night with the addition of a monument to left handed slugger Jim Thome outside of Heritage Park.
The iconic image of Thome with his bat extended at home plate in anticipation of a pitch is the first statue to be placed in the ball park since Bob Feller’s statue was part of the opening of Jacobs Field in 1994.
Thome announced during the ceremony on Saturday that he had signed an honorary one-day contract with the club and was formally announcing his retirement from baseball as a member of the Indians. Thome spent parts of 13 different seasons in Cleveland, with the first 12 coming from 1991 to 2002, when he left his mark on the American League. He was a former 13th round pick in the 1989 draft who quickly ascended through the Indians’ minor league system, initially as a shortstop, but primarily as a third baseman. The kid from the midwest did not always hit for power in his early professional days, but he hit for high average and for extra bases.
Thome left Cleveland at the age of 32 having developed into a power hitting threat, and that departure was an understandable sore spot for many and one of the primary reasons discussed that he should not have been remembered in statue form. But the strong outpouring of support when he returned late in the 2011 season showed that a large contingent of fans were either willing to forgive or understood his reasons to leave. It rings familiar to the return of another recent star player who chased opportunities for money and success elsewhere, but appears to have been welcomed home with open arms.
Thome was a five-time All-Star, with three appearances coming with Cleveland. He spent 22 seasons in the Majors with well over half of his professional games played coming in an Indians uniform. He retired with 612 home runs, seventh-best all-time, and 337 in a Cleveland jersey, the most in franchise history. He also led the club in walks (1,008) and intentional bases on balls (87), second in RBI (937), and third in on-base percentage (.414), slugging (.566), and extra base hits (620). His 13 walk-off home runs, a significant piece of the magic and allure of Jacobs/Progressive Field during his time in town, are the most in baseball history. He will likely be honored within the next decade with a plaque in Cooperstown.
Thome and his ever-familiar stance will act not only as a tribute to his efforts on the field, but will in part help to recognize the Indians’ run through the postseason from 1995 through 1999 and again in 2001. He was a big part of that, slugging 17 home runs and 36 RBI in 55 playoff games with Cleveland.
While the need for a Thome statue has been debated, who could argue that Bob Feller should be the first to be immortalized in a statuesque pose outside of the ball park?
Feller is the all-time team leader in many pitching categories. He won 266 games. He pitched in 3,827 innings and faced 16,180 batters. He started 484 games and completed 279 of them. His 44 shutouts are just one short of Addie Joss’ team record. He struck out 2,581 batters. He threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters. He was an eight-time All-Star, six-time 20-game winner, and the only pitcher to ever throw an Opening Day no-hitter. He remained an ambassador for the organization into his 90’s until his passing in December of 2010.
With Feller, his contributions extended beyond his playing career. Nearly four years of his playing career were bypassed by his decision to enter the United States Navy two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor while entering the prime of his career.
Some overlook that Thome was active in charitable works in the area both during his time in Cleveland and after he departed via free agency. He was recognized in 2001 with the Marvin Miller “Man of the Year” Award for his work with the United Way. He raised money for a children’s hospital, the Make-A Wish Foundation, and the Tug McGraw Foundation to help those with brain tumors. He may not have been a war hero or the face of the franchise, as Feller was, but he was a “clean” slugger during an era tainted by performance enhancing drugs. His statistical accomplishments and the raw power he provided to one of the more intimidating lineups to ever be constructed cannot be ignored.
The Indians now have two statues and whether you agree with the selection of Thome or not, they both are worthy in their own right. It brings them closer, but still far behind the pace, of the statue production of other teams around baseball, especially within the AL Central.
The Chicago White Sox have eight different figures remembered around U.S. Cellular Field. Carlton Fisk, Billy Pierce, and Minnie Minoso are together in Section 164. Charlie Comiskey, Luis Aparicio, and Nellie Fox are located in Section 100. Harold Baines can be found in Section 105 and Frank Thomas in Section 158. Pierce, Minoso, and Baines are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Detroit has six of their legends celebrated in sculpture form along the left-center field wall at Comerica Park. Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Al Kaline, and Hal Newhouser are cast in stainless steel in recognized poses approximately 13 feet in height. Out of that group, only Horton is not in the Hall.
The Twins have wasted no time catching up since the opening of Target Field in 2010, installing likenesses of players Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Kirby Puckett and owners Calvin Griffith and Carl and Eloise Pohlad. They added an eighth statue this year to remember long-time mascot T.C. Bear.
Some argue that others were more deserving than Thome and several noteworthy names are on the list. The first that seems to come to everyone’s mind is Larry Doby. And rightfully so.
Doby’s playing career alone should earn him consideration. He spent ten of 13 seasons in Cleveland, including each of his first nine before he was traded to Chicago. He was an All-Star in seven consecutive seasons for the club and finished second in the MVP voting in 1954. He played on both Indians teams to reach the World Series in 1948 and 1954. He hit .286 over his Indians career and .283 for his career, slugging 215 of his 253 career home runs with the Tribe.
Doby’s number 14 was retired by the club in 1994. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veteran’s Committee. He has been honored by the Indians with the naming of Eagle Avenue outside of the ball park as “Larry Doby Way”. He was memorialized on a postage stamp in 2012 by the United States Postal Service, who included him with fellow Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Willie Stargell, and Joe DiMaggio. A statuesque tribute to the trailblazer is a long overdue honor to Doby.
Doby is often the forgotten man around the country for his involvement in the breaking down of the color barrier within professional sports. Just six weeks after the debut of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League, Doby opened the doors for African-American athletes within baseball’s American League and within professional sports in general. Baseball was America’s game, and the willingness of Doby to endure persistent hate and hardships allowed others to follow suit to pursue their dreams across our country. Cleveland and Doby were at the heart of the integration movement.
Several other stars of a lost era are deserving for their on-the-field accomplishments, in no particular order.
Nap Lajoie was the namesake for the Cleveland franchise in the first decade and a half of the 20th century, so that would lead one to believe he must have been pretty good. The second baseman came to town in 1902 after six seasons in Philadelphia. Cleveland got Nap in his prime and it showed as he had six different seasons with a .355 average or higher and three times led the league in average and hits. He hit .339 in his Cleveland career with 424 doubles, 78 triples, 919 RBI, and 240 stolen bases. He did so while also being a player-manager for the club from 1905 to 1909.
Lajoie was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the second ballot in 1937.
Tris Speaker, the “Grey Eagle”, spent eleven of his 22 year Hall of Fame career in Cleveland from 1916 to 1926, including parts of the final eight as the Indians’ player-manager and a catalyst and leader of the 1920 World Series champs. He led the league in doubles in six Cleveland seasons and remains baseball’s all-time doubles leader with 792. He hit .378 or greater in five different years for the Tribe and owns the sixth-best lifetime batting average at .345 and fifth-most hits with 3,514. Defensively, he may have been one of the greatest center fielders to play the game.
His contributions to the Indians, which began almost a century ago now, are becoming lost in the annals of the game, with only plaques in Cooperstown and Heritage Park and no jersey number worn to retire. Like Lajoie, he entered the Hall in the second class in 1937.
Earl Averill followed Speaker as the next great center fielder in Cleveland from 1929 to 1939. He made his debut at 27 years old, cutting his statistics several seasons short. During those eleven years, he compiled 226 home runs, which long stood as the Indians record until the 1990s. He was an All-Star six straight years and finished top four in the MVP voting three times. He finished his Cleveland career with a .322 average and is the team leader in runs (1,154), RBI (1,084), and triples (121).
He was elected by the Veteran’s Committee to the Hall of Fame in 1975. His number three jersey was retired by the club the same season.
Lou Boudreau starred with the club from 1938 to 1950, spending all but two seasons in an Indians uniform. The seven-time All-Star was also a player-manager with the team from 1942 to 1950 and won the AL MVP in 1948 in helping to lead the Indians to a World Series title. Boudreau hit .296 in his Cleveland career and led the league in doubles three times and batting average once.
Boudreau was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Writers in 1970 and had his number five retired the same year.
Like Thome, Omar Vizquel would have made for a fantastic selection to remember the Indians’ glory days of the 1990’s. After being acquired after the 1993 season, Vizquel won eight straight Gold Gloves in stabilizing the team’s middle infield over eleven seasons. He was a three-time AL All-Star over a 24-year playing career, finishing 123 hits shy of 3,000 in his career. His offensive contributions were often overshadowed by his defense, but he hit .283 in his Indians career and stole 279 bases.
With so many memorable plays at shortstop, a statue of Vizquel would be one incredible monument to design and construct. The only option that may be more enjoyable for fans would be one of Albert Belle pointing to his right bicep, a likeness that will more than likely be left as a bobblehead at most.
As the other teams in the AL Central have shown, a player does not need to be Hall of Fame-caliber to be remembered in statue for his efforts. Mel Harder is deserving despite his slight from the Hall after a 20-year playing career, 223 wins, and being involved in the Cleveland organization for parts of five different decades. The same could be true for Vizquel if the Hall fails to recognize him for his lengthy career and defensive prowess. Rocky Colavito would be a beloved name that fans would love to see honored, and it could not hurt to recognize the man who slugged 190 homers over his career in Cleveland from 1955 to 1959 and 1965 to 1967. Sculpting “The Rock” in metal could even go a long way to reverse “the Curse of Colavito”.
It is certainly time for the Indians to commemorate the various legends who have suited up and represented the city of Cleveland on the field. There are plenty of worthy candidates to choose from. Let’s start with Doby.
Photo: Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer