Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 16
Bob Toth | On 13, Mar 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 16 days
Cleveland third base coach Mike Sarbaugh has been the Indians’ representative for the number 16 on the field over the last few years while serving as a member of manager Terry Francona’s coaching staff, a role he has held since he was promoted to the Major League club after working as a minor league manager in the organization from 2004 to 2012.
The minor league career of the former utility man was brief, as he played in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 1989 before spending the next five years in the Indians farm system, reaching the Triple-A level in four games at Charlotte during his 1994 season.
It has been nearly 20 years since the one-six has made its way onto the diamond consistently on the back of one player. The likes of Jason Donald, Matt LaPorta, Shin-Soo Choo, Juan Gonzalez, Jhonny Peralta, Ed Taubensee, Jeff Manto, Dwight Gooden, and Billy Ripken have all spent a small portion of their Major League careers in the number for the Tribe.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a pair of players who would be traded for one another each spent time in the number while manning the shortstop position for the club.
Jay Bell, a first round draft pick (eighth overall) by the Minnesota Twins in 1984, came to Cleveland on August 1, 1985, when the Indians acquired four players for pitcher Bert Blyleven. Bell was one of the bigger names coming to Cleveland and he would make his debut the following year in five games at the age of 20, hitting .357 in his cup of coffee with the club.
He rejoined the Indians for 38 games in 1987, playing shortstop but struggling at the plate with a .216 average. He played nearly half the season with the club in 1988, but his issues at the plate persisted as he hit just .218 with a pair of homers and 21 RBI.
The team moved on from him in the days before the 1989 season, as he was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete an earlier trade. The Indians had received Denny Gonzalez in November from the club, and shortstop Felix Fermin would also relocate to Cleveland to complete the swap when Bell changed leagues.
With three unsuccessful seasons under his belt in the American League with the Indians, Bell would find his form in the National League, spending 14 of the next 15 seasons in the Senior Circuit with the Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, and the New York Mets (he also spent one season in Kansas City with the Royals). He was an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and a Silver Slugger recipient in 1993 and was an All-Star again in 1999 when he blasted a career-high 38 homers and drove in 112 runs as the infant Diamondbacks made the playoffs. He would be a part of their championship team in 2001 in his final trip to the postseason.
Fermin had joined the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1983 and debuted in 23 games for Pittsburgh in 1987, hitting .250. He hit .276 the following season with little pop and little speed and had to file for a change of address in late March of 1989.
He was immediately slotted in to heavy duty in the Indians lineup as the club’s regular shortstop, appearing in 156 games while hitting .238 with nine doubles, a triple, and 21 RBI over the course of the year. He did not walk a ton, but he did not strike out a lot either. His most notable contribution may have been his ability to lay down a bunt, as he led baseball that season with 32 sacrifices.
Fermin continued with similar numbers over the next few years, hitting no higher than .270 in any one season in town. He topped out at 16 doubles and two homers in 1993 and had two triples in each season from 1990 to 1993. He was the hardest player to strike out in the American League during that 1993 campaign, averaging 34.3 at bats per strikeout.
Defensively, he had his issues, leading the league in errors committed with 26 in 1989 and leading his position again in 1993 with 23.
Following that season, he was packaged with Reggie Jefferson and cash and sent to Seattle for a young, similarly light-hitting shortstop coming off of his first Gold Glove season with the Mariners, Omar Vizquel. Indians history would be changed forever.
Other notable 16s in Tribe history: Denny Galehouse (1937-38), Ed Klieman (1947-48), Hal Newhouser (1954-55), Al Smith (1955-57), Johnny Temple (1960-61), Larry Brown (1963-71), Alfredo Griffin (1976), Bo Diaz (1978-81), Tony Bernazard (1984)
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images