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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 1 – Greg Allen

Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 1 – Greg Allen

| On 27, Mar 2019

On Thursday, the 2019 Major League Baseball season will formally kick off as all 30 teams take the field together. Join Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we continue our long countdown to Opening Day – BT

Countdown to Opening Day – 1 day

Barring an unexpected last minute change, Greg Allen will be with the Indians in the number 1 as one of a handful of outfielders on the 25-man roster to open the season on Thursday in Minnesota.

Entering his third year, the speedy outfielder (who switched last year from the number 53 to 1) has a chance to make his mark in an uncertain mix at his position. While his center field job was taken by Leonys Martin (picked up last July from Detroit), opportunities in left and right field were both available this offseason after significant departures from the roster at the positions, including regulars Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall. The team had several candidates in camp to consider, but the versatile Allen was able to claim one of the spots on the club.

Allen started 2018 in Triple-A Columbus after being cut from a crowded outfield in spring training, but by the middle of April, he was called up for a brief two-day stint. He got a longer look in May, spending a month and a half with the team before being optioned out again. He returned for two and a half weeks in July and on August 9, he was recalled for good.

Allen – Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite the travel roller coaster, Allen put up good numbers at the plate overall, including some of his best at the minor league level. In 47 games for Columbus, he hit .298 with a .395 on-base percentage, hitting 13 doubles and stealing 12 bases. In his 91 games in Cleveland, he hit .257 with a .310 on-base percentage, hitting eleven doubles, three triples, two homers, driving in 20, and stealing 21 bases in 25 attempts.

Allen has shown himself capable of making big contributions at the plate, including two clutch game-winning hits last season. He put together a 14-game hitting streak that overlapped two different option stints to Columbus from July 15 to August 21, hitting .400 for the Tribe with 20 total hits when in the Majors. When finally able to settle in to a role with the Indians in center field after Martin’s illness, Allen thrived at the plate and put together arguably one of his best extended stretches of play in his brief big league career, hitting .297 with a .371 on-base percentage over his final 44 games with 35 hits (seven doubles, one triple, one homer), 15 runs batted in, and 15 bags stolen.

His role will likely be that of the jack-of-all-trades variety for manager Terry Francona. His speed allows him to be a late inning pinch-running threat or even an upgrade over slower defenders in the outfield. His switch-hitting ability could aid Francona with lineup management and matchups late (although he hit right-handers nearly 60 points better in 2018 than left-handers). He may see platoon time in the corners with the left-handed hitting Jake Bauers in left and Tyler Naquin in right, while also being able to give Martin rest in center. The right-handed hitting Jordan Luplow will serve as another bench and platoon option on the roster, with Bradley Zimmer not too far off on the horizon while recovering from labrum surgery last July.

As for this spring, Allen made himself hard to cut, which is exactly the type of performance that the Tribe brass needed to see from him. He appeared in 20 games, hitting .354 with a .404 on-base percentage with five doubles, a triple, one homer, eight RBI, and six bases stolen in six attempts, the top mark on the team by plenty. His 17 hits in Cactus League play were second only to Carlos Santana’s 25 on the roster and his five doubles were a team-high.

Allen, likeable and easy to root for, will strive to make this season one that leaves him on the Cleveland roster for good. With Martin a free agent after the season, this campaign is a big opportunity for Allen to carve out his spot in the outfield rotation for the years ahead.

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Some additional information for your reading pleasure regarding the longest-tenured #1 in Indians history, as recalled by Vince Guerrieri. – BT

As a child growing up in Veracruz, Mexico, Roberto “Bobby” Avila played soccer and dreamed of being a bullfighter. As a student, he studied engineering. His later life was spent in politics.

Avila – 1957 Topps

But Avila – called Beto in Spanish-speaking nations but known as Bobby in the United States – was probably most famous as the first really prominent Mexican baseball player.

Avila found a book by former major leaguer Jack Coombs and used it to teach himself the game of baseball. By the time he was 19, he was playing in the Mexican League. Jorge Pasquel, the owner of the league’s Veracruz team, became president of the league and mounted a challenge to the major league monopoly and even attracted some major leaguers to play in Mexico.

It was then that Avila started to be noticed – and realized he could potentially play in the major leagues.

After a stint in Cuba, he had attracted the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were raiding the Negro Leagues for talent. Branch Rickey offered $9,000, but Avila wanted $10,000. Rickey, who was described as the kind of person who’d go to the vault for a nickel in change, passed. Avila later said he did him a favor, since he was a second baseman and would have ended up riding the pine behind Jackie Robinson.

Also intrigued was legendary Indians scout Cy Slapnicka, who offered Avila $17,500 – and was prepared to go higher, but Avila accepted. He spent 1948 in the minor leagues and was put on the roster in 1949, where he occasionally spelled everyday second baseman Joe Gordon. By the end of 1950, Avila was the Indians’ everyday second baseman and he received a glowing endorsement from his predecessor Gordon, who said, “That kid knows more about pitchers and batters after two years on the bench than most of the 10-year men in the game.”

Avila’s best years coincided with – or maybe were one of the reasons for – a streak where the Indians were one of the best teams in the major leagues. He was a three-time All-Star in 1952, 1954 and 1955, and in 1954 – the year the Indians won 111 games and the American League pennant – he became the first Latin American ball player to win a batting title, with a .341 average. The title didn’t come without controversy.

Avila with Willie Mays – Associated Press

Rules at the time said that to be eligible for the batting title, a player had to have 400 at-bats in a 154-game season, based on 2.6 at-bats per game. Avila got 189 hits in 555 at-bats for a .341 batting average. Ted Williams got 133 hits in 386 at-bats for a .345 average. Williams also walked 136 times – a luxury not afforded pitchers facing Avila in the middle of a murderous lineup. In fact, Williams walked so much that Red Sox manager Lou Boudreau (who came up with the shift against him while Indians skipper) moved him from third to second in the batting order to get him more at-bats.

As a result, in 1957, the criteria for the batting title was changed from official at-bats (which don’t include walks) to plate appearances.

Avila’s high water mark was 1954. Although he remained an everyday player for the Indians for four more years, he never hit higher than .272 again. His major league career ended after the 1959 season, but he played another season in his native Mexico, coming full circle by serving as an owner in the Mexican League and the league’s president.

Avila died in 2004 at the age of 80. His 1954 batting title remains the most recent by an Indians player.

Other notable 1’s in Tribe history (33 in total): Jackie Tavener (the first in 1929), Johnny Burnett (1931-34), Billy Martin (1959), Johnny Temple (1960), Jose Cardenal (1968-69), Tony Fernandez (1997), Casey Blake (2003-08), Luis Valbuena (2009-11), Michael Martinez (2015-17).

Photo: AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar

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Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below.

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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 90 – Adam Cimber
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 61 – Dan Otero
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 59 – Carlos Carrasco
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 58 – Neil Ramirez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 57 – Shane Bieber
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 56 – Cody Anderson
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 55 – Roberto Perez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 54
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 53
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 52 – Mike Clevinger
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 49 – Tyler Olson
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 48
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 47 – Trevor Bauer
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 46 – Jon Edwards
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 45 – Adam Plutko
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 44 – Nick Goody
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 43
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 42
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 41 – Carlos Santana
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 39 – Oliver Perez
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 38 – Eric Haase
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 36
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 35 – Ben Taylor
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 34
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 33 – Brad Hand
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 32
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 31 – Danny Salazar
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 30 – Tyler Naquin
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 29
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 28 – Corey Kluber
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 26
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 22 – Jason Kipnis
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 14
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 13 – Leonys Martin
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 12 – Francisco Lindor
Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 11 – Jose Ramirez
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 9
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Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 4 – Bradley Zimmer
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