Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 24
Bob Toth | On 11, Mar 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 24 days
Trying to pick one particular angle to discuss for the number 24 in the history of the Cleveland Indians organization was no easy task.
Grady Sizemore, the longtime fan favorite whose career derailed after injuries finally caught up to the young star who was rarely absent from the lineup in the early days of his Tribe time. Then there was Manny Ramirez, who majestic moonshots and “wow” moments, as well as absent-minded mental errors on the field, are certainly worthy of notice. Current Tribe manager Terry Francona and his pops Tito Francona each wore the number for Cleveland at some point in their Indians career. And you should not forget, but likely have, that Hall of Fame pitcher and 300-game winner Early Wynn also sported a two-four on his back on the mound at Cleveland Stadium during the first nine of his ten years in the city. Even Jeff Heath made notable contributions to the Indians lineup in the 1930s and 1940s.
So rather make a difficult debate as to who is most worthy, let’s take a look back at some of the greats to wear the number with pride.
The number was last worn by Michael Bourn through parts of three disappointing seasons in Cleveland after signing a massive (by Cleveland standards) free agent contract prior to the 2013 season. But before his run in the uniform, one in which he did not do nearly as much running as his previous career numbers may have led fans to believe, Sizemore held the number down for eight straight seasons beginning with his call-up in 2004.
Sizemore, now 33, fought back through injuries that cost him his final several seasons in Cleveland. Over the last two years, he has played for Boston, Philadelphia, and Tampa, but is currently a free agent. He was one of several impressive pieces acquired by the Indians from the Expos in 2002 when Cleveland dealt starter Bartolo Colon to Montreal. Sizemore not only became a regular in the lineup, but contributed at surprisingly high levels. Twice he appeared in all 162 games in a season and was named an All-Star in three straight seasons from 2006 to 2008. His 53 doubles in 2006 led the league and were the third highest total of two-baggers in franchise history. He showed surprising pop, hitting as many as 33 homers in ’08, and knocked in as many as 90 runs. He was at least a 20 homer/20 stolen base guy in four straight seasons and became just the second 30/30 man in club history in that ’08 season.
By 2009, the body started to fail him and he appeared in just 210 games over the next three seasons, hitting .234 with 28 homers and 109 RBI.
When Ramirez came up to the Majors as a 21-year-old rookie in 1993, he claimed the number last used by Glenallen Hill two seasons earlier. While his September call-up was largely uneventful (.170 average, one double, two homers, and five runs batted in over 22 games), it did set the stage for a big season in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. At the time of the work stoppage, he was hitting .269 with 17 homers and 60 RBI in 91 games and would finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting to Kansas City’s Bob Hamelin.
When play resumed late in 1995, Ramirez proved he was on the big stage for good as he began his torrid destruction and dismantling of baseballs around the game. He made his first of 12 All-Star squads that season and hit .308 with 26 doubles, 31 homers, and 107 RBI. He improved it all the next season, batting .309 with 45 doubles, 33 homers, and 112 RBI. He hit .328 in 1997, hit 45 homers and drove in 145 runs in his second All-Star season in Cleveland in 1998, and exceeded that production with a .333 average, 44 homers, and a league-best 165 RBI, good enough for another All-Star appearance and a third-place finish in the MVP voting for the 1999 season.
He was limited to 118 games in what would be his final season in Cleveland in 2000. He was an All-Star again and a terror in the lineup, batting .351 with 34 doubles, 38 homers, and 122 RBI in his shortened season. He bailed for Boston after the season, ending his eight years in the number 24 as one of the more memorable Indians players in the last few decades. He would make eight straight All-Star teams for Boston and would be named the MVP of the 2004 World Series, the first of two rings he would get as a member of the Red Sox.
The Franconas appear to be the only father-son duo in Indians history to wear the same number during their time in the city. While Terry played just 62 games with the Indians in 1988 (while also spending time at Triple-A Colorado Springs), his father Tito spent six of his 15 MLB seasons in Cleveland. The elder Francona joined his fourth organization when he arrived in Ohio, working as a regular in the corner outfield spots as well as first base. He finished fifth in the MVP voting in 1959 with a .363 average in his first season in Cleveland and led the AL with 36 doubles in 1960. The next season, he was an All-Star for his only such honor of his career.
Wynn came to Cleveland after eight seasons on a generally bad Washington Senators club. Just twice in his time with the club did they finish with a winning record and both times, they finished in second place. His departure from the nation’s capital was timely, as the Senators finished 50-104 in 1949 without him while the Indians finished 89-69 and in third place in the AL, but 15 games behind front-running New York.
He put together some strong seasons as the Tribe tried to get back to their pennant-winning ways of 1948, winning 20 games in 1951 and a career-best 23 in 1952. When the Indians succeeded in that goal in 1954, it was in part due to the 23-11 record and 2.73 ERA that Wynn put together over 40 games (which also included three shutouts and 20 complete games). He would start a six-year All-Star appearance run the following season, but only three of those came in Cleveland. He was dealt to the Chicago White Sox after the 1957 season, just before his 38th birthday. But Wynn was not washed up, as he would go 22-10 with a 3.17 ERA while making a league-high 37 starts and winning the AL Cy Young at the age of 39. His numbers tailed off in his 40s as he pitched in his fourth decade, and he was able to return to the source of his most sustained success in the Majors in Cleveland in his final season in 1963, when his only win on the year was a milestone – the 300th of his Hall of Fame career.
Plenty of others wore the number before Wynn, but possibly the most successful of that group of 15 or so players was Heath. The multi-faceted outfielder wore several different numbers during a ten-year stretch to begin his MLB career with the Indians from 1936 to 1945. He was a two-time All-Star, named in 1941 and again in 1943. In his first full season with the club in 1938, he hit .343 and had a balanced extra base attack, hitting 31 doubles, an MLB-leading 18 triples, and 21 homers to go with 112 RBI. He replicated the feat in 1941, hitting 32 doubles, again leading the Majors with 20 triples, adding 24 homers, and knocking in 123 while batting .340.
The next man to potentially leave his mark on the number 24 in Cleveland is Joey Butler, who is wearing the digits in Tribe camp this spring.
Photo: Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images