MLB 9s: Cleveland Indians—Albert Belle, 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson Shine
Would Travis Hafner have been an MVP if he didn't break his hand in 2006?
Is Nap Lajoie the greatest Indian you've never heard of?
More importantly, which Indian had the greatest ever offensive season at his position?
Major League Baseball has been asking fans this question in an effort to choose each team's best collection of stars. They are calling it MLB 9s.
My other MLB 9s you might want to check out are:
Catcher: Johnny Romano (1961)
In his second season with the Indians, Romano hit 21 home runs and recorded 80 RBI on his way to his first All Star appearance.
He ranked in the top 10 in the American League in batting average (.299) and doubles (29), and he set career-highs with 76 runs and 152 hits.
His 21 home runs is fourth all-time by an Indians’ catcher.
Highlight Game: June 6, 1961 @ Washington. Romano went 4-for-5 with two home runs and four batted in as part of a 14-3 victory against the Senators.
Competition: Victor Martinez had the best offensive year of any Indians’ catcher of the last four decades in 2007 when he batted .301 with 25 homers and 114 rbi.
Sandy Alomar Jr. put up similar numbers 10 years earlier with 21 home runs, 83 RBI and a .324 clip.
First Base: Hal Trosky Sr (1936)
Trosky still holds the Cleveland Indians’ franchise record of 405 total bases, set during his 1936 season when he hit 42 home runs and 45 doubles.
Trosky had 216 hits throughout the season, compiling a .343 batting average with 124 runs and 36 walks.
He led the American League with 162 RBI and 96 extra base hits, and he ranked second with a .644 slugging percentage. Of all Cleveland first basemen, only Jim Thome in 2002 has had a higher slugging percentage (.677).
Highlight Game: September 10, 1936 vs. New York Yankees. Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Trosky hit a two-run walk-off home run off Kemp Wicker to help the Indians win just the third game of their last 14.
Cleveland would finish the season fifth in the AL, a long way behind runaway leaders, the New York Yankees.
Competition: You could make a case for Jim Thome being on top here. His 52 home runs is a franchise record, but 118 RBI and a .304 average is sadly no more than slightly above average in the 21st century.
Thome did lead the league in walks and slugging percentage, but my vote went to Trosky because he was so far above his competitors in the era he played.
Lew Fonseca also gets an honorable mention for the 1929 season: .369 batting average, 103 rbi, 97 runs scored, and 19 steals.
Second Base: Roberto Alomar (1999)
In his first year with the Indians, you could make the case that Alomar was the best batter in the American League.
He hit .323 with 24 home runs, 37 stolen bases and a league-leading 138 runs—the second most by any Indians’ player ever.
His 40 doubles and .422 on base percentage were also ranked within the AL top 10.
It was a career year for Alomar which saw him collect his third Silver Slugger award and attend his tenth consecutive All Star Game.
Highlight Game: May 7, 1999 vs Tampa Bay. During a 20-11 hit-parade, Alomar fell a double short of the cycle. He went 3-for-5 with a single, triple, and home run, scoring twice, batting in five men and drawing a walk.
Competition: I was so close to giving my greatest single season by an Indians’ second baseman to Nap Lajoie.
What he accomplished in 1904—as with many players of his time—will so often be overlooked because his power statistics seem so small. He hit just six home runs.
But Lajoie batted .376 and swiped 29 bags, scoring 92 runs and batting in 102 more. He led the AL with 208 walks, 49 doubles, a .413 on-base percentage, .552 slugging percentage, and 305 total bases.
Only one player in the whole of baseball in 1904 hit double-digit home runs.
Maybe more importantly, his OPS+ figures (a measure of on-base percentage and slugging percentage compared to the league average) still stands as the highest by any Indian ever, of any position.
I have no problem whatsoever with people voting for Lajoie. If I can vote twice, I will probably do the same.
Third Base: Al Rosen (1953)
The best of the best, Al Rosen won the AL MVP by a landslide in ’53. His 43 home runs and 145 RBI were the best in the American League, and his .613 slugging percentage, 367 total bases and 115 runs were also ranked number one.
He surpassed 200 hits for the first and only time in his career, and he tied his season-high records for stolen bases and triples.
Yogi Berra was arguably the second best player in the AL in 1953. He had 52 fewer hits, 16 fewer home runs, 35 fewer walks, zero steals and a batting average 40 points less than Rosen.
That’s how good the third baseman was that year.
Highlight Game: August 21, 1953 vs St Louis Browns. Rosen hit three home runs in the course of the day-night double-header. He hit two against Dick Littlefield in the first half and followed that up with a two-run shot in the nightcap.
Competition: Playing third base this time, Thome swung the same power bat that would become his trademark years later.
In 1996 he hit 38 home runs, scored 122 runs and batted in 116 men. But he wasn’t good enough to make the cut at first base in my rankings, and he fails at the final hurdle at third base too.
Toby Harrah had a well-rounded season in 1982, batting .304 with 25 bombs, 100 runs and 17 steals.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau (1948)
More than 60 years ago, Boudreau stood out from the crowd in winning the only MVP award of his 15-year career.
At the age of 30, Boudreau holds the distinction of being one of few players to win the Most Valuable Player award despite not leading the league in a single statistical category.
His .355 batting average was second to Ted Williams (as was his .453 on-base and .598 slugging percentages), his 116 runs scored placed him fifth on that particular list, and his 119 hits was third behind Dale Mitchell and Bob Dillinger.
He finished seventh in doubles, tenth in home runs, eighth in runs batted in, sixth in walks, second in walks…the list goes on and on.
Boudreau was top where it mattered most though. The Indians finished the season 97-58—first in the American League—and they defeated the Boston Braves in the World Series 4-2 to win their first championship in 28 years.
Highlight Game: September 19, 1948 vs Philadelphia. Boudreau had his first multi-home run game in four years, taking Dick Fowler twice on a pair of solo shots in the second game of a double-header at home to the Athletics.
Competition: Omar Vizquel’s 1999 season was good enough for second place. He stole 42 bases and batted .333, scoring 112 times. With warning-track power most of the time, Vizquel—obviously not known for his power—hit five home runs and recorded 66 RBI.
Outfield: Albert Belle (1995)
Albert Belle was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1995. Don’t be fooled by the fact that he didn’t actually win the award. How the hunchback-ed Mo Vaughn won it is beyond me.
Belle led the AL in home runs (50) and doubles (52), slugging an awesome .690 and batting .317.
He scored 121 runs, drove in 126, and walked 73 times. I would say that Belle was the best hitter in the game between 1994 and 1996.
Highlight Game: May 19,1994 vs Milwaukee. Albert Belle went 4-for-4 with two doubles, two walks, and a walk-off home run in the 13th inning off of Bob Scanlan.
Joe Jackson (1911)
Shoeless Joe Jackson batted .408 with 41 stolen bases, 19 triples and 126 runs scored.
He hit seven home runs and 45 doubles, batted in 83 men and had a league-leading OBP of .468. His 233 hits were a career high and he finished the 1911 season fourth in the MVP voting.
Highlight Game: May 7, 1911 @ St Louis. Jackson hit a bases-loaded, two-out, inside-the-park home run in the 12th inning against the Browns, helping the Indians to a 6-2 win.
Manny Ramirez (1999)
In his penultimate season with Cleveland before joining the Boston Red Sox as a free agent, Manny had his finest season as an Indian.
Ramirez hit 44 home runs, batted .333, and drove in an AL-leading 165 runs. He led all batters with a .663 slugging percentage, finishing among the top five in a range of offensive categories including on-base percentage, runs scored, total bases, and extra base hits.
Two years later he realized he could earn three times his $4.3 million salary in a big-market club, heading east to New England.
In the decade from when he joined the Indians in the Big Leagues to winning a championship with the Red Sox, Ramirez saw his paycheck rise from $109,000 a year to $22.5 million.
Highlight Game: September 24, 1999 @ Toronto. The only thing that could maybe top his three-home run game in Oakland the previous month was his eight-RBI game against the Blue Jays.
Ramirez hit a three-run home run in the third inning and a grand slam in the fifth, powering the Indians to an 18-4 victory in the SkyDome.
Competition: There are a lot of contenders to choose from. Kenny Lofton batted .349 with 60 steals in ’94, Rocky Colavito blasted 41 home runs in ’58, and Juan Gonzalez drove in 140 runs in 2001.
Going way back, Tris Speaker wins my vote for fourth place, batting .380 with 17 home runs, 130 RBI and 133 runs in 1923. He led the league with 59 doubles and also recorded 11 triples.
The Hall of Famer may not have been as good as he was in his mid-20s in Boston, but he still brought a lot of value to the team he managed.
Designated Hitter: Travis Hafner (2006)
Before injuries started to plague Hafner, he was one of the best power hitters in the game.
Following four years of steady growth, Hafner exploded with MVP-like numbers, despite missing the team’s last 29 games because of a broken hand.
Hafner led the AL in slugging percentage (.659) and—at the time of his injury—was leading the league in walks (100), second in home runs (42), RBI (117) and runs (100).
In the August of 2006 he hit 13 home runs and batted in 30 runs alone.
Hafner became the first player in Major League history to hit five grand slams before the All-Star break. Only four other players have ever hit five grand slams in one season.
Highlight Game: August 13, 2006 vs Kansas City. Hafner topped off an 11-run first inning at Jacobs Field with his sixth grand slam of the season, tying Don Mattingly’s single-season record.
Competition: Andre Thornton had a fantastic 1982 for the Indians, hitting 32 homers, 116 RBI and 90 runs. He went to his first All Star game and ranked fifth in the AL for home runs.
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