Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 41
Bob Toth | On 16, Feb 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 – 41 days
The number 41 has not gotten a lot of use in Indians history, but the last three players to wear it have left a mark on the franchise, including a pair of switch-hitting catchers turned first basemen.
One of the most notable voids that the Indians had to fill this offseason was that of Carlos Santana, who departed the team in free agency after spending ten years in the organization and parts of eight seasons at the Major League level. Acquired in July of 2008 from the Los Angeles Dodgers with pitcher Jon Meloan in exchange for utility man Casey Blake and cash, Santana became a player who fans loved to hate or hated to love.
While his place on the diamond changed frequently throughout his career, Santana suited up in the number 41 for the Indians when he made his debut on June 11, 2010, and went on to wear the number longer than all but one of the other 14 men who had put it on before him for the Tribe.
Santana started his career as a catcher, but a shortened rookie season in 2010 lost to a devastating knee injury led to the addition of first base to his on-field obligations in 2011. He hit 27 homers, 35 doubles, and drove in 79 in his first full season in the Majors and looked to add to that the next year, but saw the power numbers drop. He finished 15th in the AL MVP voting in 2013 after hitting a career-high .268 and saw the power numbers return in 2014, when he hit 25 doubles and 27 homers while driving in a career-high 85 runs and leading all of baseball with 113 walks. That season, he spent time at third base, but the move was just temporary as he struggled to handle the position.
He drove in 85 more runs in 2015 and put up career-best numbers in 2016, hitting 34 homers and driving in 87. In his last season in Cleveland in 2017, he batted .259 for the second straight season while providing a .363 on-base percentage, just points off of his career mark of .365.
The man to hold the 41 before Santana had a similar path in an Indians uniform.
Victor Martinez signed with the Indians as an international free agent in 1996 out of Cuidad Bolivar in Venezuela. He reached the Majors as a September call-up in 2002, wearing the number 63, and he returned in June the next season in his new number 20. With an opportunity to serve as the club’s regular catcher in 2004 and in the number 41, he was an All-Star for the American League and was named the league’s Silver Slugger winner at catcher after slashing .283/.359/.492 with 38 doubles, 23 homers, and 108 RBI. He would put up similar power numbers over the next couple of years, despite a drop-off in run production.
Martinez was an integral part of the Indians’ playoff run in 2007. He hit 40 doubles, added in 25 homers, and drove in a career-high 114 runs while hitting .301, his third straight season over the .300 mark. He was again an All-Star and finished seventh in the MVP voting.
He was limited to just 73 games in an injury-shortened 2008 season and the following year, the Indians went into a rebuild, trading away their most valuable commodities. Martinez was one such player, dealt to the Boston Red Sox after being named to his third All-Star team. In return, the Indians received three young pitchers – Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price.
He spent a year and a half in Boston before signing with the Detroit Tigers in free agency following the 2010 season. He has remained in Motown ever since, working for a spell as a catcher and first baseman before settling into the role of primary designated hitter for the Indians’ division rival.
The number 41 was available for Martinez only because the man who had worn it for 13 seasons, Charles Nagy, saw his time in Cleveland come to an end when he became a free agent after the 2002 season.
Nagy was a first round pick in 1988 by the Indians, selected with the 17th pick overall out of the University of Connecticut after participating in the 1988 Baseball World Cup for the USA team. He would get the call to the Majors in 1990, appearing in nine games that season, and became a full-time member of the starting rotation beginning the following season.
By 1992, Nagy was an All-Star and would go on to post a 17-10 record with a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts while throwing ten complete games and three shutouts in a 252-inning season. Injuries cut his 1993 season to just nine games, but he would get the honor of starting the final game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He bounced back with a 10-8 showing in 23 starts before the strike in 1994 and was a key cog in the rotation in 1995 as he went 16-6 with a 4.55 ERA and the Indians returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1954. He made three starts in the postseason, going 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA.
Nagy was an All-Star again in 1996, matching his career-high at the end of the year with 17 wins while finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting. He would continue a streak of five straight 15+ win seasons through the 1999 campaign, when he made his final trip to the Midsummer Classic while reaching the 17-win plateau for the third time in his career.
Injuries slowed Nagy down almost permanently in the 21st century. He was limited to eleven starts in 2000, 15 appearances (13 starts) in 2001, and 19 games (seven starts) in 2002 before he left in free agency. He signed with San Diego at the age of 35, hoping to stay in the game, but he made just five relief appearances for the club before being released in June of that season.
After his career ended, he remained around the game of baseball. He returned to Cleveland in 2004 and spent several chunks of time working with the club over the last decade and a half as a special assistant for baseball operations and later as a Triple-A pitching coach. He was also a minor league pitching coach at Triple-A for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2006 and 2007 and the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2011 to 2013. He now serves in the same capacity on the staff of the Angels, holding that position for the last two seasons.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images