Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Brett Butler.
By Craig Gifford
Before the Indians had Kenny Lofton swiping bases at a record pace through the 1990s, Brett Butler was enjoying similar thievery on the base paths in the 1980s.
Butler set the table for some teams that has a lot of talent but could never seem to put it together in the win column. With Butler leading off and power hitters like Cory Snyder, Joe Carter and Brook Jacoby following, Sports Illustrated actually picked the Tribe to win the World Series in 1987.
Well, SI was incorrect as it would be another eight years before Cleveland earned a trip to the Fall Classic. However, you cannot blame Butler. The center fielder batted .285 and swiped 33 bases in his fourth and final season with the Indians. All four years were strong as Butler had years of 52, 47 and 32 thefts leading up to the 1987 campaign.
Butler actually arrived in Cleveland in October 1983, along with Jacoby, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves. Butler had enjoyed two solid seasons with Atlanta before joining the Tribe. Despite a successful four years on the shores of Lake Erie (164 steals, .288 batting average), the Indians failed to resign Butler after the 1987 season. He instead signed with the San Francisco Giants, where he enjoyed his longest tenure of his five-team, 17-season career.
Even with his longevity, Hall of Fame voters have ignored Butler since his retirement in 1997. Butler did spend 13 seasons as a regular starter in the big leagues, but his final numbers fell just a little bit short of the Hall. He had a very respectable 2,375 hits, 558 stolen bases and batted a solid .290 for his career. A batting average 10 points higher may have given voters something to seriously ponder.
Butler was never a showy player, with just 54 career home runs – the era he played in, the long ball was huge. The high point of Butler’s career came in 1989 when he helped the Giants to the World Series where they were knocked off by the powerful Oakland Athletics. That season, Butler finished 17th in MVP voting. His best individual season came in 1991 when he reached his lone All-Star Game as a member of the Dodgers. He swiped 38 bags and batted .296.
Butler will never be known for his time with any one team or for any classic moment. However, for 17 years he was a sturdy player and fans in Cleveland got to witness that first-hand for four summers.