Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 4
Bob Toth | On 25, Mar 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 – 4 days
There are high hopes for the current owner of the number four in Cleveland, second-year outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
The Indians outfield remains a bit of a mess, as Zimmer is one of the few healthy pieces to appear throughout the spring. Lonnie Chisenhall will team with him in right field and Rajai Davis has made the roster as a backup for all three spots, but the health of Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer have left a couple of question marks about who else will take the field when the Indians break camp. Other candidates who saw time with the club last season, like Abraham Almonte and Greg Allen, have been optioned to Triple-A Columbus, while camp invite Melvin Upton Jr. was given his release earlier in the week.
Zimmer, 25, was a first round pick in the 2014 draft by the Indians and quickly found his name near the top of the team’s prospect list for the future. He performed as expected on the farm, hitting for a good average and drawing a good deal of walks while flashing sporadic power and good speed on the base paths. The one big concern around him was his strikeout rate, which peaked at 171 in 130 games during the 2016 season.
He started 2017 with Columbus in his second appearance at the level, but he got the call to the Majors in the middle of May. He put together an encouraging showing overall, slashing .241/.307/.385 with 15 doubles, two triples, eight homers, and 39 RBI in 101 games. He struck out 99 times and walked just 26, but his play in the field was impressive and he picked off 18 bases in 19 attempts. All that came to a sliding halt on September 10, when a headfirst dive into first base trying to leg out a grounder led to his left hand being stepped on by big Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. His hand was broken in the process, and his rookie season ended prematurely.
Fully recovered and back in the fray for the Indians, Zimmer has appeared 16 times in Cactus League action this spring. He has flashed a little bit of everything that he can contribute there, but there has been a little rust on the bat as he has hit just .227 in Arizona. In 49 plate appearances, he has a double, two homers, and three RBI to his credit while a perfect 3-for-3 in the theft column.
Zimmer will slot into center field and the hope is that he will need no more additional seasoning in Columbus along the way. If he does, fellow young speedster Allen could come back and replace him for a spell.
Over the last few years, the number four 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 most would assume would be in more frequent use, the number four has gone through some droughts in Cleveland history. The number was in heavy rotation from the first moment it appeared on the diamond in 1929 all the way through 1962 before disappearing for more than ten years. It would return for four years, but again was off the market for seven more years from 1977 to 1983. Its brief comeback was short, as after appearances in two seasons at Jacobs Field in 1995 and 1996, it vanished for another dozen years before Niuman Romero (ten games) and Tony Graffanino (seven games) briefly brought it out of pseudo-retirement in 2009.
While many have suited up in the four for Cleveland, few did so with the level of success that Joe Gordon did during his stint in the city beginning in 1947.
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 to 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 Fall Classic.
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. His baseball jersey was hung up 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 4s in Tribe history (38 in total): Joe Sewell (the first in 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