Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 2
Bob Toth | On 01, Apr 2017
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Countdown to Opening Day – 2
Few in life are comfortable with a second place finish and in Indians history, few have made a lengthy stay as the number two man on the field for the club.
A number once in heavy rotation through the early 1960s, it disappeared for over 20 years over parts of the next three decades, reappearing in the mid-1980s. Twenty-three players donned it on the field in the first 33 years numbers were used by the organization, but just 13 have taken ownership of it over the last 33 years.
The last to wear it in Tribe history was Aaron Cunningham, whose stay in town was short lived and rather unceremonious. An outfielder with the ability to play all three spots but with little to show with the stick at the plate, Cunningham came to town in December of 2011 for pitcher Cory Burns.
He was essentially a bench piece for the club, making just seven, six, and eight starts respectively from left to right field, yet appeared in 72 games for the Tribe while working frequently as a late inning replacement. The emphasis on his contributions coming on the defensive side of the game were clear as he hit just .175 in his stay with four doubles, a homer, and seven RBI. In his final game for the club on July 24 against Detroit, he left his mark with a suicide squeeze in the seventh inning to put the Indians on top for good, 3-2. The next day, he was designated for assignment when the club acquired Brent Lillibridge from the Boston Red Sox. The squeeze would be his last Major League at bat, as Cunningham toiled in the minors for the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks over the course of the next three years before his career came to an end.
Diaz started his seven-year run in the number in 1996, coming up for four games in September that season. He saw just five games of work for the Indians in 1997 and 17 in 1998 before taking the brunt of the load in 1999 when he appeared in 119 games behind the plate for Cleveland. He hit .281 that season, a number that would remain a full season best for the backstop out of Panama.
He continued similar production over the next couple of years, delivering a career-best 34 doubles and 56 RBI. That production fell off the next season, as his 2002 campaign of 102 games included a .206 average, 19 doubles, two homers, and 16 RBI.
That offseason, he was packaged with pitcher Ryan Drese and sent to the Texas Rangers in one of the more lopsided trades in club history. The Indians acquired pitcher Aaron Myette and an offensive weapon for years to come in Travis Hafner.
After seasons seeing Zach Sorensen and Sandy Martinez wear the two on the field, Peralta moved into his third different number in three seasons when he took it for the 2005 season. After sporting 60 and 16, the move to number two was timed perfectly with his emergence as an every day player for the club. He burst onto the scene in 2005, after appearing in 85 games over the previous two seasons, and hit .292 with 35 doubles, 24 homers, and 78 RBI. He would never again in his career reach that home run height, but he became a consistent part of the Tribe lineup over the next half decade.
He showed up big for the club in his first postseason action in 2007. He hit .467 against the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series with three doubles and two runs batted in, then hit .259 in the American League Championship Series against Boston with two doubles, two homers, and eight RBI as the Indians fell just short of the World Series.
Peralta remained with the club until the trade deadline in 2010, when he was sent with cash to Detroit for pitching prospect Giovanni Soto. He has made three All-Star teams since, including starting nods in the 2011 and 2013 games.
Brett Butler brought the number out of its long retirement in 1984. After spending his first three big league seasons with the Atlanta Braves and leading all of baseball in triples with 13 in 1983, he was traded with Brook Jacoby and cash to Cleveland for pitcher Len Barker.
Butler worked as the team’s every day center fielder over the next four years, stealing 30 or more bases in every season, despite some high caught stealing numbers in his new league. He set a personal best with 52 bags swiped in his first season in Cleveland in 1984. He hit a career-high .311 in 1985 with 14 triples, and matched that three-bagger production the following season when he led the game again.
He hit the free agent market following the Indians’ disappointing 1987 season and moved out west, signing with the San Francisco Giants. He spent three years there before moving down the coast to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers organization, making his first and only All-Star team in 1991. He signed with the New York Mets prior to the 1995 season, but was traded back to the Dodgers that August, remaining with the club until calling it a career at the age of 40 in 1997.
Other notable 2’s in Indians history: Joe Sewell (1930), Dick Porter (1931-34), Ben Chapman (1939), Ray Mack (1946), Johnny Berardino (1948-52), George Strickland (1952-56), Ken Aspromonte (1960-62), Jeff Kent (1996)
Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty images