Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 4

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Countdown to Opening Day – 4

For the first time since 2011, the number four will be missing in action on the diamond when the Cleveland Indians open the season.

Over the last few years, it has found its way onto the backs of veteran players on the roster, including both Juan Uribe and Coco Crisp last season and Mike Aviles for each of the three seasons before them, but it has rarely been used in recent years by a player making significant impacts on the outcomes of games on a nightly basis.

Despite being a low number and typically a digit that would be more frequently used, the number four has gone through some droughts in Cleveland history.

It graced plenty a player from the inception of numbers on Indians jerseys in 1929 into the first few of years of the 1960s before disappearing until 1973. But come 1977, it was gone again until the mid-1980s, and it would disappear a dozen years later for another 12 years before returning at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

While many have suited up in the four for Cleveland, few did it with the level of success that Joe Gordon did during his stint in the city beginning in 1947.

Gordon -
Gordon –

Acquired in the days following the completion of the 1946 season from the New York Yankees for pitcher Allie Reynolds, Gordon joined the club after spending his first seven seasons in pinstripes, wrapped around his World War II military commitments. He was an All-Star in each of his last six seasons when relocating to the shores of Lake Erie, but was coming off of a career-worst .210 season with eleven homers, 15 doubles, and 47 RBI in a season decimated by injuries that started with hand surgery during spring training and later included a pair of torn leg muscles and a fractured thumb during the season.

With Gordon in his first season out of Gotham, he gave the Indians plenty to like. He brought five World Series trips worth of experience to the club (and four world championships to his credit), something unfamiliar with most members of the squad. At 32 and once again healthy, he was plenty productive at the plate for the Tribe, hitting .272 with 27 doubles, six triples, 29 homers, and 93 RBI over 155 games while making yet another trip to the Midsummer Classic.

The next year while still manning his usual second base position, Gordon put up some career numbers as the Indians shocked the American League and the world by taking the pennant and the title. Gordon’s contribution was easy to see – in 144 games, he hit .280 with a .371 on-base percentage with 21 doubles, four triples, and new career-highs (and team highs) in homers (32) and RBI (124). He was an All-Star for the eighth straight season and a world’s champion for the fifth time in six trips to the World Series.

While the Indians were unable to adequately defend their title the following season, Gordon still found his way into the lineup regularly for the club, hitting .251 with a .355 OBP with 18 doubles, three triples, 20 homers, and 84 RBI over 148 games. He was an All-Star for the ninth straight campaign and the final time in his career.

He would suit up for one more season in 1950, appearing in 119 games while hitting .236 with 12 doubles, a triple, 19 homers, and 57 RBI. He would be released after the season by the club and would play in the minors for a couple of years before beginning his baseball life away from playing. He would be back in Cleveland at the other end of the decade, serving the team as its manager from 1958 to 1960 before a bizarre trade with Detroit, when general manager Frank Lane opted to swap his manager with Tigers skipper Jimmy Dykes.

The 1942 AL MVP Gordon would later manage with the Kansas City Athletics and the expansion Kansas City Royals before his career in baseball ended. He hung up his jersey for good in 1978, when he died after suffering a heart attack.

He was named one of the top 100 players in Indians history in 2001 and was elected into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in 2008. At the end of that year, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee as part of the class of 2009.

Other notable 4’s in Indians history: Joe Sewell (1929), Lew Fonseca (1930), Johnny Hodapp (1931-32), Bill Knickerbocker (1934-36), Odell Hale (1937-40), Jim Hegan (1951-57), Tony Bernazard (1984-87), Joel Skinner (1990-91)

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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