WFNY’s Greatest Cleveland Indians of All-Time

About 10-years ago, sitting at Sullivan’s Irish Pub in Lakewood, OH, I got into an argument with my good friend Jay about catchers. Specifically, it was an argument about the greatest Cleveland Indians’ catcher of all-time. It wasn’t a particularly unique argument, and surely one that I’ve had more than once over the years with plenty, but this one wasn’t over after a beer…
or two…
or six.

I’m not really sure how we got there, but the journey ended on three catchers: Sandy Alomar Jr., Jim Hegan, and Victor Martinez, who was the current tribe backstop at the time. The conversation was cordial, but it certainly tested the patience of both of us, and the bartender as well. Jay wouldn’t let go of the Sandy Alomar Jr. dream, while I was pushing both the Indians’ current catcher, Victor Martinez, and the best defensive catcher in Indians’ history, Jim Hegan. I knew the numbers would mesh with V-Mart, and while I was sure the defensive prowess of Hegan wouldn’t measure statistically, I knew that Hegan was one of the top four or five catchers in an era that boasted several, including the great Roy Campenella and Yogi Berra.

While we didn’t come to a conclusion (well, I’m always right), it did get me thinking. ‘Who were the greatest Indians players of All-Time?’ Over the next few years, I spent hours peeling back statistics at every position, during every era of Cleveland professional baseball.

What resulted isn’t perfect. The guidelines aren’t delineated, and every player isn’t likely listed. My goal was simply to learn about the eras I’m not really familiar with, and to figure out who the best at each position was. It was a bit of a personal journey, but as a writer, I couldn’t help but think there was something there that the WFNY readers could get out of it.

So, with that said, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be taking a look at the best Cleveland Indians’ professional baseball players of all-time, position-by-position. There are four-ish parts to this:

  1. The Intro/important players
  2. The WFNY Poll
  3. My rankings
  4. And in the end, the best Cleveland Indians’ players, at each position, as voted on by you, the WFNY readers.

There are a lot of players to be listed, and needed to be listed, so it gets… well… long.1

Keep in mind, as you read this, that I don’t include every player. I may skip a guy at the bottom end of the listing, or may have a guy that you rate as 12, and I rate as 16. I’m not really all that concerned there. I may-gasp -forget a player or two. It happens. I know a lot about this game we love, and about this team, but I’m not a baseball historian. I’m fairly humbled by the thousands of players that have worn the Indians/Naps/Bronchos/Spiders/Blues jerseys, and often overwhelmed by the volumes of data that continue to change as the years go by. It’s thorough, but not perfect. My goal was simply to siphon down to the top two or three players, and go from there, and create something to talk about, and something that WFNY can point to as a growing and editable database of players.

You may get upset because I don’t list a guy, or have a guy listed at two positions, or have a guy from the 40s you’ve heard about once, ranked ahead of a guy from the 90s that you’ve heard about since you were born.2 That’s fine. That’s the point. Let’s talk about that in the comments, and on Twitter. What I’ve always loved about the game of baseball is that while I think there is a right and wrong to this, even that’s debatable. Oh, and they may not all be Indians, even though that’s the title. Like I said, you may get a Spider or a Nap or a Broncho, or all of the above, but the lineage is professional baseball in Cleveland. The title is just cleaner with “Indians” as part of it.

This is a forum in which you can see the players, mention the ones that you love and why, and put a vote in for the greatest of all time. Use your vote wisely. There are runaway positions for sure, but there are some really interesting discussion, as we get through each position, especially when you take into account how the current Indians fit into the equation.

Where WFNY and I go with this from here is still up in the air, but what the site will have is this amazing reference of the All-Time greats that we can debate for as long as the site exists. I’ll edit them over the coming years to include newcomers, and who knows, maybe even to bump around the rankings. Sometimes new data really shifts lines of thinking, and sometimes an argument shifts what I think. Yeah, I know, in a world of regimented thinking, it’s actually possible not to know it all. And who knows, maybe there’s a Top 100 in WFNY’s future too.

So, tune into the site in the coming days and weeks, and take part in the poll. If you see a player missing, let me know. If you think I’m insane, let me know that too. For once and for all, let’s find a definitive ‘Greatest Indians’ roster of All-Time,’ right where you’d expect it, at WFNY.

  1. Editor’s Note: a Jim Pete article that runs long? This is a shocking development. []
  2. Seriously, where do you put a guy like Carlos Santana? []

  • tigersbrowns2

    i would’ve guessed he played more seasons with the White Sox than the Indians … he played 6 years in Cleveland & 6 in Chicago.

  • But we can all nitpick or sandbag stats. There are always stats that show good, and bad for guys like Jacoby and Blake are. Every organization like the Indians has positions in which they excel, and positions in which they don’t. I also don’t always think rankings like this should just be about the stats. There are always other factors at play, at least in my eyes. In the grand scheme of third basemen especially, there haven’t been a boatload of great ones in this organization, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

  • Actually, I think if we’re talking about Kershaw, Sale and Kluber pitching 9 innings every start, without ever having a reliever, I’d disagree with that comment. I think blindly stating that those guys are better than all pitchers of Shoeless Joe’s era is somewhat impossible to judge. Obviously there are differences, but what those differences are are just conjecture, because we weren’t there. Physically, a difference…but I think looking at games in specific eras…in isolation, is fine. Shoeless Joe raking in a dead ball era against pitchers of his era can be compared in many ways to players of today’s era. In the end, I think the only piece Bhodi was mentioning was a spot on a hit list. Shoeless Joe is arguably one of the best baseball players of all time.

  • Nettles and Chambliss both show up. Do they count as DH? Not if they didn’t do it a bunch for the Indians…which they didn’t.

  • DH is a position…

  • tigersbrowns2

    what’s impressive about the old era pitchers is the career ERA leaders are mostly from the early era of baseball … and though they didn’t have a juggs gun , it was said Walter Johnson & a few others threw over 100 mph.

    i am guessing they almost exclusively threw fastballs … not sure when curveballs , sliders & change-ups were implemented.

    you don’t see many hitters nowadays winning the batting title with an average over .350 … and you won’t see many guys averaging over .330 for their career. today’s hitters may face as many as 4 different pitchers in a single game … this is where i think the difference is.

  • tsm

    With regard to the whole argument of playing in different eras, all you can do is see how they compare with their peers. For example, if the league average in 1920 was .300, then a guy hitting .330 is not a significant as a guy who hits .310 in an era when the league average is .250. This is also why Carew hitting .388 was perhaps the greatest single season ever, when you realize that the next guy only hit .330. This is the largest margin of all time for a batting champion compared to the runner up. That is why we can’t compare stats in a vacuum. What you can do is see how many individual titles he won. For example, Cobb want more batting titles than anyone, so regardless of average, he was better at this aspect of the game than a modern player. Likewise, Ruth won more HR titles than Bonds, so he was better.
    Finally, don’t forget that in the old days, the pitchers used the same ball for much longer, were able to skuff it and not only threw spitballs (which were legal back then ) but used numerous substances such as slippery elm to get the ball to move more. We can compare modern to old and both have valid arguments, that is why it is best to simply compare to the peer group.

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