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Countdown to Opening Day – 17
The number 17 has disappeared from the diamond for the Cleveland Indians in recent years, last seen on the back of Shin-Soo Choo in his final season for the club in 2012.
That offseason, the Indians hired manager Terry Francona, who was spotted with the number 47 in his introductory press conference. After Choo was dealt to Cincinnati in a three-team trade that included Arizona, Francona switched over to 17. Unlike other managers around the league, Francona opts for other attire while in the dugout, so his new 17 has been replaced by an Indians hoodie, among other gear.
Choo played with the Tribe in some lean years from 2006 to 2012. After appearing in 14 games for Seattle in parts of two seasons, he was acquired just before the trade deadline in 2006 with minor leaguer Shawn Nottingham for Ben Broussard and cash. The move paid off for the Indians, who slotted Choo into the right field corner, making good use of a strong throwing arm. In his early years with the Tribe, he also worked in left and center fields.
He appeared in 45 games for the club in 2006 and just six in 2007 while missing much of the season with injury (including Tommy John surgery in September). He would return to his old form in 94 games in 2008, hitting .309 with 28 doubles, 14 homers, and 66 RBI.
He was a staple of the Tribe’s lineup in 2009, making it into 156 games of action and hitting an even .300 with 38 doubles and 20 homers while stealing 21 bases and driving in 86 runs. He would mirror the production the following season, hitting 31 doubles and 22 homers, stealing 22 bases, and knocking in 90 while again hitting .300 over 144 games. The effort earned him some MVP votes, as he finished 14th among vote-getters.
Injuries sapped him of his 2011 campaign, as he hit just .259 over 85 games. He bounced back the following season, however, hitting .283 with a career-high 43 doubles while appearing in 155 games. With free agency set to follow after the 2013 season, the Indians sent him to the Reds, receiving outfielder Drew Stubbs from Cincinnati and pitchers Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer, and Bryan Shaw from Arizona. The Indians also sent Jason Donald to the Reds and Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp to the Diamondbacks, while Arizona sent shortstop Didi Gregorius to Cincinnati.
He put up good numbers in his lone season in the Queen City, leading the Majors with 26 times hit by pitch while hitting .285 with a career-best .423 on-base percentage courtesy of a career-high 112 walks. He turned it into his expected big pay day, signing a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers. The money has not felt well spent for the Rangers thus far, as he hit .242 in 2014 and again in an injury-shortened 2016, sandwiching his respectable .276/.375/.463 contribution with 32 doubles, 22 homers, and 82 RBI in 2015.
In the last few decades, the number has tended to find its way to newly acquired faces in the organization.
Aaron Boone wore it for two seasons before Choo when he signed as a free agent following a knee injury that kept him out of all of the 2004 season. He worked regularly for the club at third base, hitting .243 in his first season and .251 in his last, but his power dwindled from 16 homers to just seven over the two seasons. He would bounce around with Florida, Washington, and Houston before calling it a career.
Travis Fryman was a four-time All-Star for Detroit when the Indians acquired him following the 1997 season. He had been traded two weeks earlier to the Diamondbacks, who in turn sent him to Cleveland with reliever Tom Martin for third baseman Matt Williams.
Fryman would be named an All-Star with the Indians in 2000 in his best season of five with the club, establishing new career bests with 38 doubles and 106 RBI while adding 22 homers and winning a Gold Glove Award. But much of the rest of his time was shortened by injury, as he played in just 85 games in 1999, 98 games in 2001, and 118 games in 2002. He retired following the 2002 season at the age of 33 after hitting a career-worst .217, but has remained with the organization for stretches of the time since, including working four years as the manager at short-season Mahoning Valley from 2008-2010 and again in 2015.
Marquis Grissom spent one season in Cleveland with the awkward task of replacing one of the better center fielders in the game in Kenny Lofton, who was traded prior to the 1997 season, but would return to Cleveland via free agency following the season to spell a short stay for Grissom. He was once a two-time All-Star for Montreal and had twice led all of baseball in steals with 76 in 1991 and 78 in 1992, but speed was less a part of his game when the Indians acquired him from the Atlanta Braves with David Justice for Lofton and reliever Alan Embree.
Grissom would hit .262 in 144 games for the Tribe during the season, but his postseason numbers were instrumental in getting the Indians to their second World Series in three seasons. He hit .261 against the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS with a homer, three stolen bases, and four RBI and was named the series MVP. He hit .360 with a .448 OBP in seven games against the Florida Marlins in the World Series defeat. After the season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers with pitcher Jeff Juden for three arms – Mike Fetters, Ben McDonald, and Ron Villone.
The number 17 graced the back of another Indians’ postseason hero just before Grissom. Catcher Tony Pena signed with the club prior to the 1994 season to serve as a backup to Sandy Alomar, but would see extensive playing with Alomar’s health always in question. He hit .295 in 40 games in 1994 before the strike and re-signed with the club for the 1995 season. He appeared in 91 games that season, hitting .262, and will forever be remembered in Indians lore for hitting the game-winning solo homer off of his former Red Sox club and Boston reliever Zane Smith in the bottom of the 13th inning in the first playoff game in Cleveland since 1954.
He would return to the Indians roster for one more year at the age of 38 in 1996, working in 67 games while hitting .195 backing up Alomar again before splitting his final big league season between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros in 1997.
Other notable 17’s in Indians history: Jim Bagby (1941-44), Al Rosen (1947), Gene Bearden (1947), Dave Philley (1954-55), Chico Carrasquel (1956-58), Sam McDowell (1961-62), Chico Salmon (1964-68), Dave LaRoche (1975-77), Wayne Garland (1977-81), Keith Hernandez (1990), Bob Ojeda (1993)
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images