Cleveland Indians/Guardians All-Time Team
The Cleveland Indians/Guardians are certainly no strangers to the history books. In their 121-year history, they’ve won well over 9,500 games. Add to that 15 postseason appearances, six pennants, and two World Series titles, and you have what is certainly one of the more historic franchises. However, a club cannot get anywhere without its share of terrific players, and here we will endeavor to answer that question. By position, these are the greatest Indians/Guardians of all time.
Cleveland Indians/Guardians All-Time Infield
Catcher: Victor Martinez
Signed before the 1996 season as an amateur free agent, Victor Martinez didn’t reach the big leagues with the Indians until 2002. That season, he established himself as one of the club’s top prospects, hitting .336 with 22 homers for Double-A Akron. This catapulted him up to the big leagues, and by 2004, he became a fixture behind the plate. During his eight years in Cleveland, he was selected to three All-Star teams. He hit .297 with 103 homers, 900 hits, and a 120 OPS+. His 19.3 overall WAR is highest among catchers in club history.
First Baseman: Jim Thome
One of the offensive cornerstones of the Indians during the 1990’s, Jim Thome made a Hall of Fame career out of a 13th-round draft pick. In fact, he was called up and sent back down three times from 1991-93. 1994 was his first full big league season. However, it was after this strike-shortened campaign that he made his real mark. From 1995-2002, Thome hit .293 with 304 homers, 832 RBI, 1,156 hits, a .588 slugging mark and a 159 OPS+. His 2,667 total bases rank fourth in Indians/Guardians team history and a WAR of 48.0 is sixth on that list.
Second Baseman: Nap Lajoie
Nap Lajoie came to the then called Cleveland Bronchos after a legal battle in Pennsylvania over which Philadelphia club several players could play for in 1902. He hit .379 in his first 86 games as a Broncho and, by the next season, the team had renamed itself the Naps. Over his 13 years in Cleveland, Lajoie hit .339 with 2,047 hits, 424 doubles, 919 RBI, and 240 stolen bases. He won four batting titles, including back-to-back titles in 1903 and ’04. His glove was also terrific, as he posted an 11.5 defensive WAR in Cleveland. He established himself as player-manager by 1905, leading the team to 377 wins during his tenure.
Third Baseman: Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley was the quintessential Cleveland player. He was born there in 1878, but his playing days began in 1899 with the Chicago Orphans (now Cubs). After two years, he jumped to his hometown team and never looked back. Over the next decade, he hit .272 with 1,265 hits 238 doubles, 473 RBI, and 157 stolen bases. He was also a very good defender, posting a 10.8 defensive WAR during his time there. His overall WAR of 34.6 just barely edges out Jose Ramirez for this spot.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau
Lou Boudreau, much like Lajoie and Thome, is an obvious choice. He signed with the Indians before the 1938 campaign but didn’t make an impact until 1940. That season, he broke out, finishing fifth in MVP voting. After becoming player-manager in 1942, he put together a Hall of Fame career, hitting .296 with 1,706 hits, 367 doubles, a batting title in 1944, and an MVP Award in 1948. An overall WAR of 62.2 ranks him third in Indians/Guardians history. His prowess extended off the field, as he was one of the last player-managers in the game. He led the team to 728 wins and the 1948 World Series championship.
Cleveland Indians/Guardians All-Time Outfield
Left Fielder: “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
Shoeless Joe Jackson was traded to the Naps as a “player to be named later” in 1910. Over a six-year stay in Cleveland, he hit a walloping .375 with 937 hits, 168 doubles, 138 stolen bases, and a staggering 182 OPS+. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting for four consecutive seasons (1911-1914) and led the league in hits in 1912 and ’13. His patience at the plate was prevalent as well, getting on base at a .441 clip during his time in Cleveland. He walked 260 times with the franchise and struck out a mere 140 times.
Center Fielder: Tris Speaker
After several successful seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Tris Speaker was traded to the Indians for a couple of players and some money. Once there, he made an immediate impact, winning a batting title in his first season. Over 11 years in Cleveland, he hit .354 with 1,965 hits, 486 doubles, 108 triples, and 155 stolen bases. He hit over .350 seven times while there and led the league in on-base percentage three times. However, his best season came in 1923, when he hit .380 and led the league in doubles (59) and RBI (130) at the age of 35.
Right Fielder: Elmer Flick
Elmer Flick finds his way onto this list because he posted the highest WAR out of any right fielder in team history (30.7). He’s also the other player, besides Lajoie, to be involved in the infamous Philadelphia legal battle mentioned earlier. After winding up in Cleveland, Flick carved out nine years of his Hall of Fame stint in the big leagues. He hit .299 in Ohio with 1,058 hits, 164 doubles, 106 triples, and 207 stolen bases. Picking up a batting title in 1905 and leading the league in triples in three consecutive seasons was the icing on this particular cake.
The decision here was somewhat difficult, but in the end, the Hall of Famer won out. Earl Averill holds Indians/Guardians’ all-time records in total bases (3,200), triples (121), and RBI (1,084). He hit .322 in 11 years with the Indians with 1,154 hits and 226 homers. He finished in the top five in MVP voting three times and had six consecutive All-Star appearances. His best year came in 1936 when he hit .378 while leading the league in hits (232) and triples (15). He finished a career high third in MVP voting that year.
Bob Feller holds the all-time Cleveland record for wins (266), strikeouts (2,581), and complete games (279). Over his 18-year career, he also pitched to a 3.25 ERA and a 122 ERA+ with five 20-win seasons and an ERA title. Next in the rotation is Mel Harder, a guy who held down the rotation throughout the 1930’s. His entire 20-year career was spent in Cleveland, where he won 223 games with a 3.80 ERA and a 113 ERA+. He made four straight All-Star games (1934-’37) and posted the third highest WAR of any pitcher in club history (48.5).
Third in line is Stan Coveleski. Over nine seasons with the Indians, he won 172 games with a sparkling 2.80 ERA. He had four consecutive 20-win seasons, and in one of them he kept his ERA below two. He picked up an ERA title in 1923, a strikeout title in 1920, and led the league in shutouts twice. The final arm is Addie Joss. He holds the club’s all-time marks for ERA (1.89) and shutouts (45). From 1902-1910, Joss won 160 games and completed 234 of his 260 career starts. Six times, he posted a WHIP below one, and he holds the all-time career WHIP mark for all of baseball (0.968).
Larry Doby made history as the first African-American player to play in the American League. His 215 homers rank seventh in Cleveland history and he led the league in the category twice. Seven consecutive All-Star appearances, a runner-up in the MVP vote, and 1,234 hits cement his legacy as one of Cleveland’s very best. Joe Sewell spent 11 seasons in Cleveland, hitting .320 with 1,800 hits, 375 doubles, and a 111 OPS+. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting four times. He also provided above average defense around the infield, being part of 783 successful double plays in his career.
Along with the aforementioned Feller, Bob Lemon helped solidify Cleveland pitching throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. The Hall of Famer won 207 contests and was selected to seven All-Star Games. He won 20 games six times, pitching to a 3.23 ERA and a 119 ERA+. Finally, we have Early Wynn. During his ten combined years with the Indians, he won 164 games with a 3.24 ERA and a 119 ERA+. He won 20 games four times and made three of his six consecutive All-Star appearances. His best season came in 1954, when he won a career high 23 games and finished sixth in MVP voting.
Manager: Terry Francona
Terry Francona is the winningest manager in Cleveland history, with 753 triumphs. He also holds the distinction of being the first Cleveland manager to crest 700 wins since Mike Hargrove. Francona has helped bring a pennant to the city as well, though they still seek a World Series title. In 2017, he guided the Indians to 102 wins and the second best record in baseball. Under his leadership, the team has an average yearly finish of 1.9 with a .556 winning percentage. They’ve also spent a combined total of 152 games over .500, the most since Al Lopez’s tenure during the 1950’s.
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Victor Martinez, Jim Thome, Nap Lajoie, Bill Bradley, Jose Ramirez, Lou Boudreau, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Tris Speaker, Elmer Flick, Earl Averill, Bob Feller, Mel Harder, Stan Coveleski, Addie Joss, Larry Doby, Joe Sewell, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Terry Francona, Mike Hargrove, Al Lopez