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Sunday, August 18, 2013

All Time All Stars - Cleveland Indians

This is part of an on-going series in which I attempt to update the rosters from Sports Illustrated's All Time All Stars board game created in 1973.  My intention is to update the game so I can incorporate modern day stars with the All Time All Stars.

The Cleveland Indians, like the other teams I've done thus far,  are one of the original eight American League franchises. In the 1990s they boasted perhaps baseball's best offense with the likes of Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome in the lineup.  Sadly they failed to win a World Series and free agency robbed them of their home grown talent.  Their history is filled with great players yet they've only won two championships and none since 1948. In fact the 1970s and 1980s were so bad the team posted only three seasons with winning records and none was good enough to enable them finish better than fourth.  There's a reason the movie makers picked the Cleveland Indians when making Major League. Still, as I said earlier, there are plenty of great players to choose from in this franchise's history. By my count there are seven Hall of Famers on Sports Illustrated's All Time All Star roster in 1973. Let's see how we can improve the team 40 years later.

Again, a reminder of the guidelines for choosing players:
  • Each team must be composed of fifteen (15) position players and ten (10) pitchers.
  • At least one pitcher must be a relief pitcher
  • Each position must have at least two players on the roster who can capably fill it.  Think of this as having a starter and a backup. 
  • At least one player chosen to represent a position must have played that position as their primary defensive position.  For instance, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth cannot be chosen as the only two representatives at first base since neither played there for the majority of their career.
  • Players must have been active no earlier than 1901.  I chose 1901 since that was the first year of the American League.  We need a cutoff at some point and this seemed logical to me. If a player accumulated stats prior to 1901 (Cy Young for instance) these stats will be disregarded.
  • To be eligible for a position a player must have played one full season as a starter there or 10% of his career games.  The same goes for starting and relieving.
  • The team a player represents should be the one that makes the most sense for that player. For instance, Alex Rodriguez has played for three teams but he's played 300 more games as a Yankee than a Mariner. He won an MVP as a Yankee and has more career WAR as a Yankee.  Therefore, he's going to be on the Yankee roster.
  • Batter handedness should not impact the players chosen.
Here we go...

Original Catchers: Jim Hegan, Steve O'Neill
Catcher was not a position of strength for the Indians on the original game. Jim Hegan had a bit of pop but really struggled to get on base (.228/.295/.344 career line).  He made five all star teams and for his career threw out 50% of attempted base stealers cementing his reputation as one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time.  O'Neill also struggled as a hitter for the majority of his career but he was probably the best catcher in the AL (1920-1922) once he figured it out.  He was just above replacement level after 1922, however, and his career ended due to a car accident in 1928.
Potential newcomers: Sandy Alomar Jr., Victor Martinez
What is it with Sandy Alomar? 1997 was a great year for him and he was also very good in his rookie season in 1990 but other than that he was just your typical back up catcher. Yet here's a guy who made six all star teams. Why? I think someone could write a story on this. Victor Martinez is more hitter than catcher but what a hitter!  His career .301 average quickly stands out above all other catchers in team history.

Original First Basemen: Hal Trosky
Trosky was an absolute beast in the 1930s. Migraines ended his career prematurely which is really unfortunate since he was well on his way to setting numerous team records. His 405 total bases in 1936 still stands as the most in team history.
Potential newcomers: Andre Thornton, Jim Thome, Travis Hafner
Thornton was one of the best power hitters of the late '70s and early '80s. In a Cleveland uniform he averaged just under 30 homers per 162 games played. Also possessing a keen batting eye, Thornton finished in the top five in walks five times.  His career numbers took a bit of a hit when he injured his knee in 1980 causing him to miss the entire season and all but 69 games in 1981.  Jim Thome needs little introduction. He's the franchise's career leader in home runs and walks and is sixth in team history in WAR.  Hafner had some very good seasons but his inability to stay healthy prevented him from becoming an elite player for more than a couple of years.

Original Second basemen: Nap Lajoie, Bobby Avila
Even though I'm not counting stats prior to 1901, Lajoie is a stud.  In the American League's first season Lajoie became its first triple crown winner.  He led the league in hits three other times in his career, batting average four times, and slugging percentage twice more.  He may be the best player in team history.  Avila was a heckuva player on the good Indians teams in the '50s and maybe should've been the MVP in 1954. Arguably the best defensive second baseman in the 1950s (either him or Nellie Fox), Avila could really swing the bat too. He won the batting title in 1954 and was a career .284 hitter in Cleveland.
Potential newcomers: Carlos Baerga
As a youngster in the '90s, Baerga was one of my favorite players and I used to get so mad when ESPN would call Roberto Alomar the best second baseman in baseball.  Peter Gammons would go on and on about how amazing Robbie was. I had a counter for every point in his argument.
Gammons: Alomar is incredibly valuable due to his switch hitting.
Me talking to the TV: Baerga's a switch hitter.
Gammons: Alomar is a career .300 hitter and one of these years he'll lead the league in hits and batting average.
Me: Baerga's a career .300 hitter and had back to back 200 hit seasons.
Gammons: Alomar is a gifted baserunner.
Me: Baerga has more power.
Gammons: Alomar's defense is beauty to withhold.
Me: So is Baerga's moustache.
Anyway, for a few years Baerga was great and it took me until I was older to finally admit that Alomar really was a better player. It was close for a while though.

Original Shortstops: Lou Boudreau, Joe Sewell, Ray Chapman
This is an embarrassment of riches.  Handsome Lou was a line drive hitter who led the league in doubles three times and won a batting title. Not blessed with much foot speed, he still became a solid defensive shortstop. He made seven all star teams and won the MVP in 1948.  Joe Sewell is most famous for his ability to not strike out. In 1922 he batted .299 in 153 games and struck out only 20 times -- his career high.  The following season he hit .353 with 98 walks and 12 whiffs. Incredible.  Ray Chapman is the story of what could have been. He was in his fourth consecutive season as an impact hitter when tragedy struck in the form of a Carl Mays fastball to the skull.  Regarded as one of the fastest guys in the league, Chapman once stole 52 bases and averaged 12 triples per 162 games.
Turner didn't make the cut the first time which should give you an idea of how loaded the Indians are at this position. He played more games in a Cleveland uniform than any other player and ranks 9th in team history in WAR.  Omar was not a superstar and in that sense is overrated.  Ozzie Smith he is not but his defense and base running made him a valuable player on some really good Indians teams. A winner of 11 Gold Gloves, Vizquel also made three all star teams and ranks 7th in team history in career hits.  Asdrubal had a couple of nice seasons but has no chance of making this roster.  That doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching him. I forgot Franco spent so much time as an Indian.  He was a decent shortstop and a very good hitter.

Original Third Basemen: Al Rosen, Ken Keltner
Rosen is the best third baseman in team history.  He twice led the leage in home runs and his 1953 season remains one of the best ever by a third baseman.  His career was shortened due to being left in the minors until Keltner left, military service, and a bad back that caused him to hang 'em up when he was just 32. Keltner is probably one of the 30 or so greatest third baseman in MLB history. A seven time all star, Keltner wasn't exceptional in any facet but was a solid all around player.  His best season in 1948 helped Cleveland win their last championship.
Potential newcomers: Casey Blake, Brook Jacoby, Buddy Bell
Blake possessed medium power and moderately good on-base ability.  He was a solid contributor on some decent Indians teams but never an all star.  Jacoby was a decent third baseman who made a couple of all star teams. In 1987 he hit 32 home runs which was twelve more than his previous career high. He never again hit more than 14 and after 1990 was finished as an every day player.  Buddy Bell is going to be on the Rangers but I think he deserves mention here.

Original Center Fielders: Tris Speaker, Earl Averill, Larry Doby
Jackie Robinson overshadows Larry Doby since he
first, but Indians fans remember how great Doby was
and realize his battle for acceptance was no easier.
Center field is probably the deepest position in team history. Every other franchise would love to have the choices at Cleveland's disposal.  Speaker gets my vote for best player in team history. Regardless, he's definitely the best center fielder and makes this team with ease.  Averill is another Hall of Fame center fielder who excelled at hitting the ball up the middle. He made the first six all star teams.  Larry Doby was lucky because integration came at just the right time for his career. As a 24 year old rookie Doby batted .301 with a .384 on base percentage. He would go on to lead the league in home runs two times and OBP and slugging once each. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Potential newcomers: Kenny Lofton, Grady Sizemore
Lofton is the Indians fourth great center fielder.  He led the league in stolen bases his first five seasons and was a career .299 hitter. In his prime he was also an excellent defensive player who would hit .320 with ten home runs.  He brought excitement to the field every night.  Sizemore's story makes me want to cry. He was one of the ten best players from 2006-08.  Blessed with speed and power, the sky was the limit until knee injuries derailed his career.

Original Corner Outfielders: Joe Jackson, Rocky Colavito, Elmer Flick
I put Joe Jackson on the White Sox this time around so he's out.  Colavito spent eight years in Cleveland and hit 190 home runs during that time.  He made six all star teams and was one of the elite offensive hitters of his era.  Elmer Flick was nearly traded for Ty Cobb straight up but the Indians realized Cobb would've been a huge headache. Flick was one of the big power hitters of the Dead Ball era, averaging 29 doubles and 18 triples a year for his career. He was inducted to the HOF in 1963.
Potential newcomers: Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez
While he was never considered a nice guy, no one could argue Albert Belle wasn't a great player.  His time in Cleveland was highlighted by his 1995 season in which he became the first player ever to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in the same season (he came close to doing it again with Chicago).  He had three straight top 3 MVP finishes and had an outside shot at a triple crown in 1994. He was hated but he was damn good. Manny's not going to make this team since he's on Boston but he became an incredible player in Cleveland and set the team's single season mark for RBI in a season with 165.

Here's the old team vs. the new team:

Original Indians New Indians
Pos Player Alt Pos. Pos Player Alt Pos.
C Jim Hegan C Victor Martinez 1B
C Steve O'Neill C
1B Hal Trosky 1B Jim Thome 3B
2B Nap Lajoie 1B/SS 2B Nap Lajoie 1B
2B Bobby Avila 2B Bobby Avila
3B Al Rosen 1B 3B Al Rosen 1B
3B Ken Keltner SS Lou Boudreau
SS Lou Boudreau SS Joe Sewell 3B
SS Joe Sewell 3B SS Omar Vizquel 3B
SS Ray Chapman 3B/2B CF Tris Speaker
OF Joe Jackson CF Larry Doby
OF Rocky Colavito CF Earl Averill OF
OF Elmer Flick CF OF
CF Tris Speaker OF
CF Larry Doby OF
CF Earl Averill OF

This is a fun team.  There's power, speed, and some excellent defense up the middle. Victor Martinez adds some much needed offense to the catcher spot.  There are still four spots left to fill at catcher, two corner outfield spots, and then the last guy on the bench.  Below are listed the candidates for those spots.
  • Jim Hegan C - One of the greatest defensive catchers ever but a zero on offense.
  • Steve O'Neill C - A good defensive player who had a few good years with the bat.
  • Elmer Flick OF/CF - One of the top hitters in the Dead Ball era.  Finished in the top 5 in total bases and runs created five times each.
  • Rocky Colavito OF - An indifferent fielder, poor base runner, but the biggest power hitter in the American League not named Mantle or Maris.
  • Albert Belle - Maybe the best hitter in the AL from 1994-1998. Averaged 40 home runs per 162 games played.
  • Kenny Lofton CF - A borderline HOFer who could really fly.  Excellent defensive player.
  • Ray Chapman SS/2B/3B - Who knows how his career would've turned out? As it stands he was good enough to keep a young Joe Sewell on the bench.
  • Ken Keltner  3B - Second greatest third sacker in team history. Made seven all star teams.
  • Hal Trosky 1B - Overshadowed by Gehrig, Foxx, and Greenberg. His 405 TB in 1936 are a team record.
There will be three polls posted on the right hand side of the home page so choose who you believe should claim the final spots.
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