As the March march to Opening Day presses on, Waiting for Next Year continues to answer the question, “Who wore it best?” Our countdown of the best players Cleveland Indians players to wear their number. The rankings are comprised of traditional statistics, sabremetrics, and tenure in Cleveland.
Note: Recently, we received a bit a flak for not naming Rocky Colavito the best to wear No. 6. While Colavito was an unquestioned force of nature in 1958 and 1959 he only wore six on his back for those two seasons, and was subsequently traded to Detroit. He was a fan favorite and unquestioned rock star in Cleveland, but his star shone too brightly. For that reason, I chose to give the honor to Joe Vosmik.
No. 11: Toby Harrah (1979-1983)
Shockingly, the honor for best number 11 does not go to Matt Lawton. Instead, we will recognize right-handed infielder Toby Harrah. Harrah graduated from Elgin High School in Marion and joined the Tribe as a veteran in 1979. Over five seasons in Cleveland Harrah consistently ranked in the top ten in bases on balls and on base percentage. He was never a flashy player (25 HR and 78 RBI in 1982, his lone All-Star year), but Harrah played a dependable third base and contributed as much as he could. His career Cleveland WAR of 18.6 is not the highest this listing has seen, but truth be told the pickings at number eleven are quite slim. Honorable mentions: Frankie Pytlak, Doug Jones.
No. 12 Willis Hudlin (1926-1940) / Roberto Alomar (1999-2001)
You were probably expecting Roberto Alomar by himself. I can’t say I blame you. The Indians signed Alomar before the 1999 season, and he immediately contributed in every facet of the game. From 1999-2001 he appeared in three All-Star Games, won three Gold Gloves, earned two Silver Sluggers, and twice received MVP votes. He was a monster up the middle when paired with Omar Vizquel (more on him in a moment). However, he only played in Cleveland for three seasons. While they were fantastic seasons, the sample size is terribly small, so it does not seem fair to leave Alomar in his seat solo. So, let me tell you a bit about Willis Hudlin. Hudlin threw for Cleveland from 1926-1940. The right-hander went 157-151 as an Indian with a 4.34 ERA and 154 complete games. In 1927, Hudlin received AL MVP consideration, finishing 22nd in the race. Hudlin accumulated a 32.8 WAR in Northeast Ohio. He also batted .201/.252/.268 with five dingers and 69 RBI in Cleveland. While Hudlin may not be a known commodity to the modern fan, he made endured as a fixture of Cleveland’ rotation for fifteen seasons. For that he deserves some recognition. Honorable mentions: Don Mossi.
No. 13: Omar Vizquel (1994-2004)
As if there was any doubt? The most famous number 13 in Tribe history belongs to the pride of Caracas, Omar Vizquel. The sweet-fielding shortstop came over in a trade with Seattle and immediately upgraded Cleveland’s defense. The 1994 season began a run of eight straight Gold Gloves in Cleveland for Little O (nine dating back to 1993). Along the way he appeared in three All-Star Games (1998, 1999, and 2002), and received MVP consideration in ’99. While his bat lagged behind his glove, Vizquel put his speed to use, stealing 279 bases while an Indian. He hit the game-tying triple in The Impossible Return. He turned countless double plays and always made it look easy. Most of all, he had fun. No one would ever doubt that Vizquel had an absolute blast playing baseball. It was a joy to watch him compete, and his number thirteen may find itself in right field someday. In eleven years, he assembled a 30.0 WAR, and put smiles on countless faces. Honorable mentions: Ernie Camacho.
No. 14: Larry Doby (1947-1955, 1958)
Three months after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the National League, Larry Doby did the same for the American League. On July 5, 1947 Doby pinch hit in the seventh inning and struck out in his first at bat. Doby struggled in his first year, hitting .156/.182/.188. In 1948, he switched his position to centerfield and a Hall of Fame Career properly began. He appeared in seven straight All-Star Games and finished as high as second in MVP voting in 1954. In his peak, Doby scored plenty (104 runs in 1952), drove in runs, (126 RBI in 1954), and crushed homers (32 HR in 1954 and ’54). Doby more than earned his playing time in the Bigs with a Cleveland WAR of 43.4. The Hall of Fame inducted Doby to Cooperstown in 1998, and the Indians retired his number the same summer. During the 2015 campaign, Progressive Field unveiled the long-overdue statue of Larry Doby outside the centerfield gate. Honorable mention: Tito Francona.
No. 15: Sandy Alomar (1990-2000)
The best number fifteen in Indians history is our very own Sandy Alomar Jr. Alomar won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1990 along with a Gold Glove and All-Star Game appearance. He suffered continuous injuries over the following five seasons, but hit his stride from 1996-1998. Over those three seasons he combined for 38 HR, 177 RBI, .275/.309./.435 and three straight All-Star Game appearances. He famously received ASG MVP honors in 1997 while playing in his home ballpark. The biggest knock on Sandy was his seemingly endless string of injuries. During his Indians career, he played in 985 of 1,715 possible games which equates to 57.4%. That low percentage helps explain his surprisingly low 13.3 WAR. His coaching career, however, helps make up the deficit.
After a decade away, Alomar returned to Cleveland as a first base coach under Manny Acta in 2010. He ascended to bench coach in 2012 and managed six games after the Tribe axed Acta in 2012; Alomar went 3-3 down the stretch. New manager Terry Francona retained Alomar the following season, and Sandy remains the Indians’ first base coach to this day.
Keep an eye on WFNY as we continue to count down the best Indians players by jersey number. Spoiler alert: there is a Hall of Famer coming in the next batch.