Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 7
Bob Toth | On 22, Mar 2018
Did The Tribe Win Last Night’s countdown to Opening Day has reached just seven days, one short week, until Major League Baseball returns to regular season action on Thursday, March 29. Today, we look back at both Tribe players past and present with ties to the number seven.
Countdown to Opening Day – 7 days
The number seven has appeared in some pretty big moments in Tribe history, as the aforementioned players all brought the single digit into the postseason during their careers in Cleveland. Gomes has been the most recent to do so and is in some pretty good company with Lofton’s appearance in the number during the glory days of the 1990s and Rosen’s time with the Tribe in the 1940s and ’50s.
[no disrespect is intended towards Jeff Juden, who wore the number in 1997 while making five postseason relief appearances during the one season of the Tribe’s most pronounced playoff run that did not have Lofton as a member]
Gomes is relatively new to the number, wearing it for the first time this past season after the Indians signed Edwin Encarnacion, who took on his old number ten from his days with the Blue Jays when he arrived in Cleveland and teamed with his old teammate from Toronto, Gomes. The Tribe catcher gave it a three-game taste test of the playoffs during the Indians’ regrettable ALDS defeat to the New York Yankees.
Gomes continues to split time behind the plate with Roberto Perez, teaming up to serve as a serviceable, even quality, catching tandem from an offensive standpoint. Defensively, and in specific in regards to their handling of game calling and the pitching staff and their ability to control the running game, few are better in the game than the duo.
“Gomer” took the field 105 times in 2017, putting together a relatively healthy season for the Indians. He hit .232/.309/.399, which may not look great on its own, but it was a significant upgrade from the .167/.201/.327 line in 74 games the previous season. Gomes supplied some pop and patience to the bottom portion of the Tribe’s lineup, hitting 15 doubles and 14 homers while driving in 56 runs. It was his best offensive body of work, from a power and run production standpoint, since 2014 in his first full season of action with the Indians when he hit .278 with 25 doubles and 21 homers and was named the American League’s Silver Slugger winner at catcher.
The spring has been kind to Gomes this year, as through his first 13 games of play in the Cactus League, he has put up a .323/.382/.710 slash with three doubles, three homers, and a dozen RBI. The production includes a pair of grand slams.
Lofton’s best seasons in the Majors came with the Indians, the team that sought him out and gave him his first legitimate chance at the big league level. After a brief playing career at the University of Arizona, where his most significant sports contributions may have occurred on the hardwood as a guard on their basketball team, the Houston Astros drafted him in the 17th round of the 1988 draft. After a couple of seasons in the minors, he got a quick taste test of the Bigs with the Astros in 1991, but a crowded outfield made him expendable and he came to the Indians in a trade that winter.
The young center fielder immediately became one of the top speed threats in the game. He either led the American League or all of baseball in steals in five straight seasons from 1992 to 1996 and was an All-Star in each of the latter three years while winning four straight Gold Glove awards. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves entering the final year of his contract in 1997, but returned to Cleveland for four more years from 1998 to 2001, making his final two All-Star trips in 1998 and 1999.
He left the Indians following the 2001 season as the team began to dismantle and rebuild, beginning a six year stretch of journeyman’s work for the 34-year-old. He split 2002 with the White Sox and Giants, 2003 with the Pirates and Cubs, and then spent full seasons with the Yankees in 2004, the Phillies in 2005, and the Dodgers in 2006. He started 2007 with the Rangers, but was re-acquired by the Indians late in the season for minor league catching prospect Max Ramirez, bringing his number seven back to the playoffs for the first time since 2001 with a Cleveland club that would come devastatingly close to a World Series appearance in what would prove to be the final games of his career.
Rosen was tied to the Indians’ World Series teams in 1948 and 1954, but it was the latter series in which he actually saw significant time.
Rosen was signed by the Indians prior to the 1942 season, but the young man like so many of his time found himself immersed in the world’s war, serving in the Navy from 1943 to 1945. After briefly walking away from the game, he did burst onto the scene at the minor league level and was called up to the Indians for a handful of games during both the 1947 and 1948 seasons. The third baseman, however, saw his path to the Majors blocked by Ken Keltner (himself a veteran of the Navy), but Rosen did get one hitless at bat in the 1948 World Series.
It was more of the same in 1949, as Rosen excelled in the minors with the Indians’ San Diego Padres affiliate while seeing just 23 games of action for the parent club. But in 1950, Keltner was released in mid-April and Rosen took over as the team’s third baseman and proved himself more than ready, launching 37 homers and 23 doubles while driving in 116 runs, batting .287, and supplying a .405 on-base percentage after drawing 100 walks in what would be considered his rookie season. He hit 24 homers and drove in 102 the following season and was an All-Star for the first time in 1952, leading the American League with 105 RBI while adding 32 doubles and 28 homers.
Rosen had one of the best seasons in Cleveland Indians history in 1953, when he was an All-Star for the second time. The Indians would finish eight and a half games in back of the Yankees with a 92-62 record, but their second place finish was due in large part to the contributions of Rosen, who slashed .336/.422/.613 with 27 doubles, a career-high 43 homers, and an MLB-leading 145 RBI, the most hit by a Tribe player since Hal Trosky (himself a fellow #7) drove in 162 in 1936. He narrowly missed the Triple Crown, but he took home the league’s MVP, the second Cleveland player to do so in a span of six years. His honor remains the last time an Indians player was tabbed as the best in the junior circuit.
Rosen hit an even .300 in 1954, appearing in 137 games while working all around the infield. He hit 20 doubles, added in 24 homers, and drove in 102 runs, his fifth straight season over the century mark. The Indians were swept in the World Series by the New York Giants; Rosen went 3-for-12 with three singles and a walk in three games.
His career would be on the downswing from there, as he would be an All-Star one final time in 1955 while hitting .244 with 21 homers and 81 RBI. He hung up his cleats following the 1956 season, ending his ten-year career entirely with the Indians organization after injuries and a difference of opinion on his future wages.
Rosen was away from the game for more than two decades before he entered the front office realm. He worked for a pair of years with George Steinbrenner’s Yankees in 1978 and 1979 and moved on to general manager’s work with the Astros from 1980 to 1985 and later with the Giants through 1992.
Rosen’s contributions to the Indians and the game of baseball were honored in 2015 after he passed away at the age of 91. The team wore his number seven patch on the right sleeve of their jerseys throughout the season.
Other notable 7s in Tribe history (50 in total): Charlie Jamieson (1929), Odell Hale (1931), John Romano (1964), Joe Azcue (1967), Brandon Phillips (2003-05), Matt LaPorta (2009-12), David Murphy (2014-15).
Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images