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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | July 19, 2019

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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 23

Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 23

| On 05, Mar 2019

Major League Baseball is now less than a month away from the start of the 2019 season, its earliest start ever (excluding international openers). All 30 teams will take the field on March 28 this year. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT

Countdown to Opening Day – 23 days

The number 23 holds quite a bit of significance in the city of Cleveland, mainly due to the accolades of one of the best to ever wear it, LeBron James.

During the times that James suited up across Gateway Plaza from Progressive Field, the Cleveland Indians were enjoying the best years of their own 23, Michael Brantley, who left the team via free agency this winter after spending the last ten years on the diamond in the number for the Tribe.

The conclusion of the Brantley era wrapped up the Indians’ contributions from the various pieces acquired in the CC Sabathia trade in 2008. Sabathia’s career will end this year as he completes his farewell tour in pinstripes with the New York Yankees, where he has pitched since 2009.

Brantley will give the Houston Astros a reliable and often underappreciated bat to their lineup. The left fielder inked a two-year, $32 million deal with the club after plenty of speculation that the 31-year-old would garner three-year offers on the market. Despite what was a slow moving free agency period, Brantley signed early, coming to terms in mid-December after one of his comparables on the move, Andrew McCutchen, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies on a three-year tender.

Brantley, the son of former big leaguer Mickey Brantley, was a seventh round pick in the 2005 draft by the Brewers and was the player to be named in the Sabathia trade. Not the star piece of the trade, he became the most successful player in the deal that also sent pitcher Zach Jackson, minor league prospect Rob Bryson, and slugger Matt LaPorta to Cleveland for the services of their southpaw and Cy Young winning ace. The latter player was the key component of the deal – the Brewers’ first round pick in 2007 – but his Major League career spanned just four years from 2009 to 2012 and included a total of 291 games. During that time, all spent in an Indians uniform, he posted a .238/.301/.393 slash with 31 homers and 120 RBI. LaPorta, only 34 now, works as a branch manager at Embrace Home Loans in Tampa and volunteers with inner city teens.

Brantley and Encarnacion – Getty Images

Brantley was a September call-up less than a year after joining the Indians organization, hitting .313 over 28 games. The next year, he was back for 72 games due to the opening in center field created by the early year injury to Grady Sizemore. He moved into regular work in center field in 2012 and continued his steady development at the plate, and the next season, he was in left field while maintaining much of his offensive production.

While LaPorta was out of baseball by 2014, the 27-year-old Brantley was putting up his best season to date. He appeared in a career-high 156 games and served as the Tribe’s primary left fielder. He hit .327 with a .385 on-base percentage and .506 slugging mark with 200 hits, 45 doubles, 20 homers, and 97 RBI (all of which remain career highs). He was named an All-Star midseason and a Silver Slugger after the year. Most impressively, he finished third in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting.

He performed at a high level once again in 2015, but a shoulder injury in September kept him off of the field for much of the month. Despite the missed time, he was still MLB’s leader in doubles (matching his career-high of 45) and for the first time in his career, the patient hitter drew more walks (60) than strikeouts (51).

That right shoulder injury, suffered when diving for a ball in left-center field at Target Field in Minnesota, proved to be a significant issue. Offseason surgery landed him on the disabled list to start the year. Three weeks after returning from the DL, right shoulder inflammation sent him back to the shelf. The injury remained persistent and another surgery was scheduled, ending his 2016 after just eleven games.

Recovered from his second shoulder surgery in a year, Brantley opened 2017 healthy and on the roster, but it would be short-lived. He missed ten days in June on the DL, but positive numbers overall in the first half earned him a second trip to the Midsummer Classic. A fluke right ankle sprain during the second half sent him back to the disabled list and it lingered until the final days of the regular season. He was kept on the postseason roster by manager Terry Francona and was thrust into action earlier than likely desired against the Yankees after slugger Edwin Encarnacion rolled his ankle early in the American League Division Series, and the rusty Brantley contributed little, hitting a single and drawing a walk while striking out four times in 12 total plate appearances while the Tribe coughed up a 2-0 lead in the series in their AL pennant defense.

He could have become a free agent following the 2017 season, but the Indians made the often criticized decision to pick up his $12 million option for 2018. Brantley played well at the cost, putting up another good showing as he was finally able to stay on the field for the majority of the campaign. He made 143 appearances, slashing .309/.364/.468 on the year with 176 total hits (his second-best total in his ten-year career). He doubled 36 times, homered 17 times, and drove in 64. He was recognized midseason with his third All-Star nod and ended the year with the fifth-best batting average in the league. A return trip to Cleveland for an eleventh year and beyond, however, was out of the question for an Indians club that instead spent its winter slashing funds. Brantley will make $15 million a year over the next two seasons while pocketing a $2 million bonus from the Astros.

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Brantley was just another in a long line of big bats for the team to wear the number 23, especially since Jacobs Field opened its doors in 1994.

Jeromy Burnitz began his Indians career in 1995, becoming the first Tribe player to wear the number 23 (before switching over to the number 20 in 1996). While he would hit just seven homers for Cleveland in his brief time with the club, he would hit 315 in his career with stops with the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Burks – Getty Images

Julio Franco took up the number in 1996 when he returned to the Indians organization after a season in Japan. He put together a good first season back with the Tribe, slashing .322/.407/.470 with 14 homers and 76 RBI in 112 games, serving as the club’s first baseman. He spent 78 games in town in 1997, hitting .284 with a .367 on-base percentage while logging innings at first and second base before he was released in mid-August.

David Justice took his old number 23 back from Franco upon his departure. Acquired prior to the season from the Atlanta Braves, Justice started the year in the number 33, but made the switch during the 1997 season. He was an All-Star in his first season with the club and would finish fifth in the AL MVP voting at season’s end while winning his second career Silver Slugger Award after hitting .329 with 31 doubles, 33 homers, and 101 RBI. He remained an important piece to the lineup into the 2000 season, although his power numbers did dip as the years went by. One of his best career years came the same year that he was shipped out of Cleveland, as he spent 68 games with the Tribe before being dealt to the New York Yankees for the final 78 games that he would play in the 2000 season. He combined to hit a career-high 41 homers and topped the 100-RBI mark for the third time in his career with 118, but he would hit just 100 more over the next two years, split between New York and Oakland.

Ellis Burks signed with the Indians ahead of the 2001 season and found the fountain of youth in Cleveland. He hit 28 homers and 74 RBI while batting .280 in his first season with the club and followed in up with a 32-homer, 91-RBI performance with a .301 batting average in 2002. Injuries limited him to just 55 games in 2003 and his attempts to hang on in the game at the age of 39 the following season back with the Boston Red Sox, the club that drafted him in the first round more than two decades earlier, suffered the same fate.

Ben Broussard, another piece acquired by the Indians in a trade, held down the first base position for parts of five seasons. He would be a steady contributor to the lineup with a flair for the dramatics, hitting 69 homers in his Indians career before time with Seattle and Texas. He was back in baseball during the 2018 season, working as the Leadership Development Coordinator on the Chicago White Sox’s player development staff.

Time will tell if the next 23 in Cleveland provides the thump to the lineup that so many have in the last couple of decades.

Other notable 23s in Tribe history (51 in total): Milt Shoffner (the first in 1929); Beau Bell (1940-41); Les Fleming (1941-42); Pat Seerey (1943-46); Don Black (1947-48); Vic Wertz (1954-58); Tommie Agee (1963); Lou Piniella (1968); Chuck Hinton (1965-71); Oscar Gamble (1973-75); Wayne Garland (1977); Chris Bando (1981-88); Mitch Webster (1990-91); Luis Medina (1991); Mark Whiten (1991-92); David Segui (2000).

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below.

Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 99
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 90 – Adam Cimber
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 62
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 61 – Dan Otero
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 60
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 59 – Carlos Carrasco
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 58 – Neil Ramirez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 57 – Shane Bieber
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 56 – Cody Anderson
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 55 – Roberto Perez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 54
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 53
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 52 – Mike Clevinger
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 51
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 50
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 49 – Tyler Olson
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 48
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 47 – Trevor Bauer
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 46 – Jon Edwards
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 45 – Adam Plutko
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 44 – Nick Goody
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 43
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 42
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 41 – Carlos Santana
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 40
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 39 – Oliver Perez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 38 – Eric Haase
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 37
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 36
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 35 – Ben Taylor
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 34
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 33 – Brad Hand
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 32
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 31 – Danny Salazar
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 30 – Tyler Naquin
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 29
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 28 – Corey Kluber
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 27
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 26
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 25
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 24

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