Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 46
Bob Toth | On 16, Feb 2017
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Countdown to Opening Day – 46
The number 46 has been missing on the field for the Cleveland Indians over the last several years.
Not exactly the most popular number in baseball lore, it was last worn by utility man Cord Phelps during his time with the Indians from 2011 to 2013. As it bounced around the infield in his 53 games with the club, it marked a rare deviation from its usual home on the pitcher’s mound.
The number made its debut in the outfield in 1942 when Fabian Gaffke broke it in for the first time for the Tribe in what would be the final season of his career. Akron native Gene Woodling wore it the following season in eight games before he joined the war effort with the Navy. He would return to the Indians in 1946 and after time in Pittsburgh, New York, and Baltimore, he rejoined the Tribe for three more seasons from 1955 to 1957. He played his final big league games in 1962 and later worked as a scout for the club.
Dale Mitchell kept the number in the outfield when he debuted for the club in 1946 in eleven games. He would later wear 33, 34, and 3 with the club into 1956 before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers to close out his eleven-year Major League career.
The number disappeared from use for 20 years before hitting the mound for the first time on the back of Dick Radatz, a former two-time AL All-Star with the Boston Red Sox. Radatz spent just two years in Cleveland, failing to earn a win in 42 relief appearances with a 4.68 ERA before moving on to the Chicago Cubs organization.
Forty-six continued to make appearances solely on the mound for the Indians, being shared by the likes of Steve Dunning, Mike Stanton, Mike Jeffcoat, Jim Kern, Doug Jones, and Jeff Kaiser until it made its triumphant return to the outfield under the use of Ryan Thompson, an outfielder in his fifth Major League season after four years with the New York Mets. The Indians had acquired him just prior to the start of the 1996 season as part of the Mark Clark trade, but his impact in Cleveland was minimal as he appeared in just eight games in a mid-September call-up, but hit .318 with six singles, a homer, and five RBI. He would sign with the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, but did return to Cleveland in 1997, spending a month and a half with the team before he was traded back to the club that drafted him in 1987, the Toronto Blue Jays, for Jeff Manto.
The number was back to the mound for the next four years before Marty Cordova sported it in 2001 while working in the Tribe outfield. A former 1995 American League Rookie of the Year while with the Minnesota Twins, he put up his best numbers since that debut season while in his lone season with the Indians, hitting .301 with 20 homers and 69 RBI at the age of 31.
After Cordova, seven men wore the 46 before Phelps – all pitchers. Ricardo Rodriguez and Jason Bere took it for much of the first half of the first decade of the 21st century before reliever Bob Howry’s impressive second year with the Indians during the 2005 season when he went 7-4 in 79 relief appearances with a 2.47 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in, at the time, the most bullpen outings by a pitcher in club history.
The last of the pitchers to have it was Tony Sipp, who bounced back and forth between the numbers 46 and 49 during his four seasons in an Indians uniform. He was 11-7 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP during his time with the Tribe, but was part of the three-team trade involving Cincinnati and Arizona following the 2012 season that brought Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, and Drew Stubbs to Cleveland and notably sent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds in the final year of his contract.
Photo: Brian Kersey/Getty Images