Al Rosen, perhaps the greatest Tribe third baseman of all-time, passed away Friday night at the age of 91. While his career was relatively short, his impact on the game goes far beyond just his 1953 MVP award for the Indians, and his 1987 Executive of the Year award with the San Francisco Giants.
Rosen encompassed the game of baseball throughout his life, and with Bob Feller, was a true ambassador of the game of baseball.
In honor of Rosen, here’s a piece I originally wrote in January of 2013 documenting the best third basemen throughout the history of the Indians’ organization. Obviously, cream rises to the top, and so did Rosen. Here are my rankings of the best Indians’ third baseman, and my ode to Al Rosen.
In my research of the all-time Indians’ third baseman, I came up with no less than 20 players that had a legitimate reason to be considered in the rankings. While some aren’t considered all-time greats in the pantheons of the major leagues, all made an impact in one way or another with the Cleveland Indians.
Here is the honorable mention list, with the reasoning behind them not being considered at third base.
Terry Turner played in Cleveland for 15 seasons from 1904 through 1918. He played third base for the Tribe from 1910 through 1918, but only three times was it more than half his games played, and only twice over 100 games. Still, he played 601 games at the position during that nine-year stretch. The only season that he hit above .262 was when he hit .308 in 1912. He’s a player that needs to be noted, but he did play more games at shortstop, and his career slash of .253/.308/.318 just won’t make the cut here.
Joe Sewell is a Hall of Famer, but most of that was as a shortstop. He played one full season as the Tribe third baseman in 1929, and it was a great offensive year, as he hit .315, with a .372 OBP and a .427 slugging. He just didn’t have enough games to be considered for two positions. He certainly will make shortstop interesting.
Odell Hale was already mentioned as a second baseman in an earlier poll, which was his most prominent position with the Tribe. He only played two full seasons at third, and they were two really good seasons in which he hit .304 and .316. He just doesn’t have enough games to qualify with the names that will be ranked. He’s definitely worth mentioning here because of just how good those seasons were even though it wasn’t his primary position.
Matt Williams had a tremendous season with the Tribe in 1997, leading them to the World Series. Williams pounded out 32 homers and drove in 105 RBI. He only played one season for the Indians before they dealt him closer to his kids, but it was a good one.
Here are the candidates for the Indians best all-time third baseman:
Bill Bradley (1901-1910)
Upon the inception of the American League, Bill Bradley was considered one of the best, if not THE best up-and-coming player in the entire league. He was a power hitter in a league that specialized in sacrifices during the “Deadball Era.”
Bradley started his career with the Cubs in the National league in 1899, but after he asked for a raise from his $300 salary and was rejected, he jumped to the newly formed American League to play with the Cleveland Blues for $3,500.
In his first season in 1901, Bradley hit .293 and scored 95 runs. It was nothing compared to his 1902 season, which was his finest to date. Bradley’s slash-line was .340/.375/.515, and he blasted 11 homers and drove in 77, while scoring 104 runs. He homered in four straight games, and was the first to ever do that. He had a 29-game hit streak that season, and was only 24-years old.
In 1903, he followed that majestic season with another solid year, hitting six homers and driving in 68, while scoring 101 runs, with a slash-line of .313/.348/.496. He had 22 doubles, including a game with three, and also hit for the cycle that season. In 1904, he again proved to be one of the best hitters in the game with six more homers, 83 RBI, 94 runs and a 300 average.
Bradley was considered one of the most aggressive fielders in the game, and the kind of baserunner that could make pitcher’s lives miserable. Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins believed that Bradley just might be the best third baseman of the era.
Then injuries began to take their toll…
A stomach illness caused his average to drop to .268 in 1905, and he didn’t hit a home run. He broke his wrist in 1906, playing in only 82 games. He was sick again in 1907, and hit only .223. He tore a ligament in 1908, but still played, finishing the year off hitting .243.
He did manage to change his game. He had 46 sacrifices in 1907, which was then an American League record. He shattered it the following year with 60 sacrifices, which ranks second all-time (behind Indians’ Ray Chapman).
In his final two seasons, he failed to hit .200, and was released in 1910.
His final numbers with Cleveland was .272/.317/.373 over his career, which certainly took a turn for the worse after 1904. He was one of the first stars of any team in Cleveland, and was the first true power-hitting third baseman.
Larry Gardner (1919-1924)
Gardner was a known commodity in the big leagues before coming to the Indians in 1919, winning World Series titles in Boston for the Red Sox in 1912, 1915 and 1916. In 1919, he was traded to the Indians with Charlie Jamieson and Elmer Myers for Braggo Roth. The move payed off, as Gardner manned third base, while Jamieson was an all-star caliber outfielder for the Tribe for years.
From 1919-1922, Gardner was the full-time third baseman for the Tribe, and played the position during their 1920 World Series season. Gardner never hit below .285 as a regular, and hit above .300 in his first three seasons in the Forest City.
In 1919, Gardner hit .300, scoring 67 runs. In the 1920, World Series season, and played in all 154 games, hitting .310, driving in 79 runs, while scoring 67. In 1921, Gardner continued to climb the ladder, hitting .319, with 101 runs and 120 RBI. He concluded his full-time gig in 1922 by hitting .285, with 74 runs and 68 RBI.
In those four seasons with the Indians, he hit 29, 31, 32 and 31 doubles, and was one of the best defenders in the league.
In six seasons with the Indians, he had a .301/.377/.728 slash-line, with 401 RBI, 128 doubles and 321 runs. Not too shabby.
Willie Kamm (1931-1935)
Kamm was a fan favorite of the Chicago White Sox for seven seasons before he was dealt to the Indians. His relationship with management had soured so much with Chicago that they never bothered to tell him he had been dealt. He found out thanks to a phone call from an operator and in the newspapers.
He immediately became the starter for the Tribe, hitting .295, with 66 RBI and 68 runs in only 114 games that first year. He followed that up in 1932, his first full season with Cleveland, by hitting .286, with 83 RBI and 76 runs.
His offensive numbers dropped a bit in 1933 and 1934, hitting .282 and then .269, but his defense was clearly solid, leading the league in fielding both seasons.
Kamm had a falling out with Cleveland manager Walter Johnson, which took several odd turns, but ended with Kamm in the commissioner’s office discussing the feud. Commissioner Landis cleared Kamm of any issues, but his time with the Indians as a player was over.
In his five seasons with in Cleveland, Kamm had a .284/.375/.370 slash, with 239 RBI and 257 runs in 522 games.
Ken Keltner (1937-1949)
Keltner grew up and developed his game in Milwaukee, playing for the independent Milwaukee Brewers as a youngster. Keltner was one of those hitters that launched mythical blasts, and created a buzz that had many major league teams taking notice.
The Indians didn’t outbid the Brewers with money, but did give the Brewers a slew of young players for Keltner, thus creating a pipeline from the Brewers to the Indians.
There was no rookie-of-the-year award in the 1930’s, but Keltner certainly could have been a top candidate in 1938 had there been one. Keltner played 149 games for the Indians, hitting .276, scoring 86 runs, hitting 26 homers and driving in 113.
In 1939, Keltner played in all 154 games of the season, hitting a career high .325, with 13 homers and 97 RBI. He also lead the league in fielding that season, and it continued for two more years after. He also had 35 doubles. He finished 12th in MVP voting that season.
For the next five seasons, Keltner’s average dropped below .300, including seasons in which he only had six and four homers. He was such a good all around player, that in those two sub-10 totals for homers, he still grabbed votes for MVP. He also made the All-Star game in all five seasons, but had his string broken in 1945 when he went to serve for World War 2.
1941 proved to be, in many ways, Keltner’s most memorable season. In the 1941 all-star game, Keltner pinch-hit with the AL down four in the ninth. He hit a one-out single that started a rally that ended with a Ted Williams, two-out, game-ending, three-run home run.
On July 17, 1941, Joe DiMaggio came to town sporting a 56-game hit streak. Keltner may have been the single reason why DiMaggio’s streak ended that day. The Yankee Clipper later called Keltner “The Culprit” to his ended streak.
Keltner wasn’t worried about DiMaggio bunting, so he played the Yankee great deep and towards the line. In the first inning, DiMaggio smashed a drive down the third base line that Keltner nabbed with a dive into foul ground that beat the centerfielder by a step in a bang-bang play. Again, in the seventh, Keltner faced another DiMaggio smash down the line. Again, Keltner had to dive to field it. Again, Keltner got up and fired to first base. Again, Keltner beat DiMaggio by a step.
Keltner returned from military service in 1946, and made the all-star game again even though his numbers were middling at best. He was saving his best for the 1948 season, when he hit .297 and blasted 31 homers with 119 RBI. He scored 91 runs and hit 24 doubles. He saved his biggest hit for the Indians’ one-game playoff with the Boston Red Sox. With two runners on and nobody out in a 1-1 game in the fourth inning, Keltner came up expecting a bunt sign from manager Lou Boudreau. Boudreau told him to swing away, and Keltner crushed a three-run jack over the Monster, and the Indians never looked back. Keltner also had six assists in that game.
Keltner struggled in 1949 after getting spiked (it happened several times in his career), hitting .232, with eight homers and 30 RBI. The Indians also had a top prospect in Al Rosen, who had been stuck in the minors for years because of Keltner, and the Indians ended up releasing him in favor of Rosen
In the end, Keltner played in seven all-star games, lead the league in assists four times and fielding percentage twice (he finished 2nd or 3rd seven other times). He ended his career with a .276/.337/.441 slash, with 163 homers and 850 RBI, while scoring 735 runs.
Al Rosen (1947-1956)
As I mentioned in the Keltner piece, Rosen was stuck behind the Tribe great for years. As good as Keltner was, both with the glove and bat, it’s hard to believe Rosen couldn’t find a way to break through. In 1946, Rosen hit .323, with 16 homers and 86 RBI in the Canadian-American League, then improved on that in 1947, hitting .349, while driving in 141 runs with 25 homers in the Texas League. He won the MVP in both leagues.
It still wasn’t good enough.
Rosen was brought up to compete for the position for a bit in 1948, but Keltner fought him off, and Rosen was sent to the Kansas City Blues where he promptly hit .327, hit 25 more homers, drove in 110 RBI and scored 102 runs. He had a two game stretch in which he hit five homers in a row. The Indians rewarded him by bringing him up to the team at the tail end of 1948, and he registered an at bat in the ’48 series against the Boston Braves (he went 0-for-1).
Rosen again was beat out by Keltner for third in 1949, and while he played some games in Cleveland with the big league club, he spent the majority of the season in the PCL, hitting .319, with 14 homers and 51 RBI.
That’s when the rubber met the road.
Rosen never played in the minors again.
You do have to wonder what could have happened had he gotten called up full-time before he turned 26. While Rosen’s career was impressive as it was, he missed out on several prime years, which likely cost him a spot in Major League baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Rosen simply mashed once he got his shot. In 1950, Rosen set the rookie record for homers with 37, while driving in 116 RBI. He scored 100 runs, hit 23 doubles, and walked 100 times, only striking out 72 times. The 37 homers remained an American League record until 1987, when Mark McGwire passed him with 49.
Rosen had a bit of a a down year in 1951 (.265, with 24 homers and 102 RBI and an .809 OPS by the way), but really took off in 1952 and beyond. In 1952, Rosen rebounded by hitting .302, drove in 105 runs while scoring 101. He hit 28 homers, and led the AL with 105 RBI.
Those numbers paled in comparison to 1953.
Rosen led the league in runs (115), homers (43), RBI (145), slugging (.613), and OPS (1.034), and won the A.L. MVP award. He hit .336 on the season. Rosen could have had the triple crown, but was called out on a close play at first during his final at bat. His unanimous selection as MVP was the first such vote since 1935. Not winning the triple crown couldn’t take away from the brilliance of the season.
Rosen played three more seasons, but injuries began to hamper him. He hit .300 for the last time in 1954, blasting 24 homers and driving in 102 runs in only 137 ballgames. His average dipped to .244 in 1955, with 21 homers and 81 RBI, while scoring 61 runs. It’s important to note that his OBP was .404. Sure, his hitting struggled, but he still walked 85 times, with 45 K’s. His final season was 1956, with a .267 average, 15 homers and 61 RBI.
Rosen retired after that season when his former hero and now Tribe GM, Hank Greenberg, wanted to give him a paycut. At the end of the day, Rosen hit 192 homers, drove in 717 runs, scored 603 runs and hit .285. Perhaps even more impressive was his offensive efficiency. He walked 587 times, against only 385 walks.
It’s important to note that he never played a full season until he turned 26, and in his final season, was only 32. He only played seven seasons, but you have to wonder what his career would have been had he played more, in particular in the late 40’s, when he was raking in the minors, while Keltner was holding down the fort in Cleveland.
Max Alvis (1962-1969)
Alvis was another home grown product that the Indians called up after big numbers in the PCL league in 1961 and 1962. He played 12 games for the Tribe in 1962, but became the full-time starter in 1963.
Alvis led the Indians in nearly every offensive category in 1963, hitting 22 homers, driving in 81, with 32 doubles, seven triples and 67 RBI. Alvis followed that up in 1964 with another solid year. He hitting .252, with 18 homers and 53 RBI, but missed six weeks of baseball thanks to spinal meningitis.
Many wondered if he should have taken more time off after his illness, and while his numbers didn’t take a significant dip, they didn’t improve the way many thought they would in the coming years. He played in 159 games in 1965, hitting .247, with 21 homers, 61 RBI and 88 runs scored.
Alvis hit .245, with 16 homers, 55 RBI and 67 runs scored in 1966, and made the All-Star team in 1967, hitting .256, with 21 homers and 70 RBI. In 1968, Alvis had some injury issues and hit only .223. He followed that up with more injury issues in 1969, hitting .225 while playing only 66 games. The Indians dealt Alvis to Milwaukee in 1970.
His overall numbers for the Indians was .249, with 108 homers and 361 RBI, while scoring 405 runs.
Graig Nettles (1970-1972)
I almost didn’t include Nettles, as he only played three seasons with the Indians, but they were solid years, and whispered of a player that could have been a Cleveland great.
Nettles started his career with the Twins, and some guy named Harmon Killebrew played ahead of him at third, prompting the Twins to deal Nettles, outfielder Ted Uhlaender and pitchers Dean Chance and Bob Miller to the Tribe for Nettles, Luis Tiant and Stan Williams.
Nettles shined defensively at third base in 1970 after many in Minnesota though he wouldn’t be a good defensive third baseman. He led the league with a .967 fielding percentage and hit 26 homers. He followed that up with another outstanding season in the field, setting records that stand to this day, with the most double plays and assists by a third baseman. He hit 28 homers and drove in 86 runs. In 1972, he hit 17 homer and 70 RBI, while hitting .253.
His defense can’t be questioned, and he managed to hit .253, with 71 homers and 218 RBI during his tenure in Cleveland, and was traded to the Yankees after he complained of playing time. He was often lifted for pinch hitters in 1972, which frustrated him greatlyu. He was traded to the Yankees for Charlie Spikes, John Ellis, Jerry Kenney and Rusty Torres. Boy, what a good deal that was, eh.
I still love my red Charlie Spikes bat, but the Tribe got jobbed.
Buddy Bell (1972-1978)
Buddy Bell may be the single reason why I began following the Indians with fervor.
I just loved him.
He actually started off his career with the Indians as an outfielder in 1972 as a 20-year-old, while Graig Nettles was settled in at the third base.
In his first season at third in 1973, after Nettles was dealt, the 21-year old hit .268, with 14 homers and 59 RBI, while scoring 86 runs. He played in his first and only all-star game with the Indians that year. Bell followed that season with improving numbers throughout his career with the Tribe, and along with Duane Kuiper and Andre Thornton, gave the Indians a promising, young infield.
Bell’s average improved from .262, to .272, to .282, to .292, but fell to .282 in his final season with the Indians. He wasn’t a power hitter, and his best days were still to come, but you could see the promise of a solid player. His WAR climbed to 4.4 during his final season with Cleveland, and he became a 6+ WAR player for Texas right after the trade.
In a move to acquire veterans, the Indians traded Bell to the Texas Rangers for Toby Harrah. His final numbers with the Indians were .274/.328/.382, with 64 homers and 386 RBI. He was one of the best fielders in the game, but just didn’t play on good teams. In Texas, in the 80’s, Bell played his best baseball, and Cleveland fans again wondered, “what coulda been.”
Toby Harrah (1979-1983)
I’ve always held it against Toby Harrah for being the guy that the Indians dealt for Bell, but if all things are to be considered, it turned out to be a fairly decent trade with regards to the fact that Harrah was a solid offensive player with the Indians. Of course, Bell’s numbers took off after the trade, so you do have to wonder.
Harrah hit .279, .276, .291, .304 and .266 with the Tribe, and hit 20, 11, 4 and 25 and 9 homers during that stretch. His 1982 season was far and away his best overall with the Indians, and in his career. He played in 162 games that year, scoring 100 runs and driving in 78 to go along with his 25 homers. His slash was .304/.398/.490. He played in his only all-star game, and finished 20th in MVP voting.
His overall numbers with the Tribe were a solid .281/.383/.417, with 70 homers, 324 RBI, and 444 runs.
Brook Jacoby (1984-1992)
I’ve always felt that Brook Jacoby was lost in the shuffle with Indians all-timers, as was the deal to acquire him. The Indians sent Len Barker to the Braves in August of 1983, and the Indians received both Jacoby and Brett Butler in the return. Both became staples of the team over the next several years.
Jacoby was always a solid defender with a pretty good bat. While his numbers weren’t special by today’s standards, his big 1987 season was more impressive than is given credit. His career is dwarged in many respects by the man and era that replaced him in the 90’s, but his numbers can’t be overlooked.
In full seasons with the Tribe, Jacoby hit under .264 only once, while hitting .272 or better five times. He hit 20 homers and drove in 87 in 1985, while hitting .274, and followed that up with a .288 season in which he hit 17 homers with 80 RBI. His RBI total droped 11 in 1987, but he blasted 32 home runs and hit .300. His .928 OPS that year was the best of his career, and the only time it surged past .800.
His average fell to .241 and his OBP to .300 (the lowest of his career up to that point, during a full season) in 1988 thanks to Sports Illustrated, but he rebounded to a 13 homer season in 1990, while hitting .272, and hit 14 homers in 1990, while hitting .293.
After hitting only .234 with a career low .285 OBP, the Indians dealt Jacoby to the A’s for Apolinar Garcia and Lee Tinsley. He returned to Cleveland via free agency in 1992 for a resurgent stint at third, hitting .261 while holding down the fort for this kid named Jim Thome.
Overall, Jacoby hit .273 for the Indians, with 120 homers, 523 RBI and 521 runs scored.
Jim Thome (1991-1996—as a third baseman)
I’m not going to spend much time on Thome, as I’ve already mentioned him in detail in the all-time first base discussion. Thome did spend enough time at third to be mentioned here, and while he wasn’t necessarily a great third baseman, he wasn’t as bad as some folks say.
How good was he during his stint at third base? In his first full season, he hit 20 homers (98 games, strike shortened) with 52 RBI. He followed that up with a 25 homer, 73 RBI season in 1995, that saw the Indians go to the World Series. He then clouted 38 homers and 116 RBI in his last season at third.
Pretty impressive numbers, and worth mentioning here.
Perhaps Thome’s best defensive move though was to agree to move to first to allow Matt Williams to come aboard in 1997. It was a big deal, and it paid off in the long run.
Travis Fryman (1998-2002)
Fryman played his early career with the Detroit Tigers before getting dealt to Arizona in 1997, then to the Indians after the 1997 seasons as the Indians moved Matt Williams to the Diamondbacks to be closer to his family.
Fryman struggled with injury in his Indians career, and he played over 100 games in only three of his five years with the club. In his first season with the Tribe, he hit .287, with 28 homers and 96 RBI. He followed that up by playing only 85 games in 1999, and hit only 10 homers and 48 RBI, and hit .255. He followed that up with arguably his best season offensively in the bigs.
He played in 155 games, scored 93 runs, hit 22 homers and drove in 106 RBI. He hit .321, and his .908 OPS was the highest in his career. It was his last true relevant season in the big leagues as a player, although he’s been a major part of the Indians minor league organization over the years.
He ended his career after the 2002 season.
His slash with the Indians during his tenure with the Tribe is .275/.339/.440, with 74 homers, 342 RBI and 288 runs.
Casey Blake (2003-2008)
Blake has to be mentioned here, as he played three full seasons at third for the Tribe, and his numbers really weren’t that bad. They weren’t hall-of-fame stuff, but they certainly are worth a mention here. His worst season regarding at third utilizing baseball reference’s WAR was 2.8, and his near-10 three-year total is worth merit.
In 2003, at 28 years old, Blake played his first full season in the bigs, and it was the first time he played more than 19 games in a regular season. He responded by hitting a respectable .257, with 17 homers and 67 RBI, while scoring 80 runs. He followed that up with an even better season in 2004, hitting .271 with 28 homers and 88 RBI, while scoring 93 runs.
He moved to the outfield in 2005 and 2006, but returned to third in 2007, and hit .282, with 19 homers and 68 RBI, with 63 runs scored. In 2008, he mostly played at third while he was with the Tribe, hitting .289, with 11 homers and 58 RBI, before getting dealt to the L.A. Dodgers for one Carlos Santana and Jon Meloan.
His overall numbers with the Tribe: .266/.337/.451, with 116 homers, 417 RBI and 434 runs scored in only 810 games. He did have nearly two full seasons in which he didn’t play third, and they were arguably his worst seasons overall.
Here are the rankings:
#13: Casey Blake—He probably deserves better here, but I just was never very fond of Blake. I’m not sure why. He was a blue collar player, but always seemed to be a tweener to me. This is a hard group to rank, as there were a lot of numbers that were very, very close together. I’m not really concerned about the players outside the top five, to be honest. His career WAR with the Tribe in six years is a very solid 14.2, but his two seasons in the outfield seem to prove my point. He’s a tweener, although I feel like I should bump him up because he brought in a good haul in his trade.
#12: Brook Jacoby—He probably deserves better here, which I feel is going to be a theme. Jacoby was the third baseman during my playing days, and I loved the way that he played the game. He was a gamer, another blue collar player in a long-line of blue collar players that I just feel lacked the multiple seasons that could push him past some of the other guys on the list. Of course, I could see him being ranked much higher than this, depending on presence, as I have the guy that really MADE me an Indians fan a lot higher than Jacoby, and he has numbers that may not be as good. His career WAR with the Indians in nine seasons is 13.9
#11: Max Alvis—Alvis got a bump up past Blake and Jacoby based simply of my Dad’s remembering of him. He was a solid fielder, had power, and an all-or-nothing bat. “He was scrappy,” my Dad said, “and he almost died, if I remember correctly.” My Dad recalled Alvis being the kind of guy that always did a bit more than you thought he could, and Dad said that he talked to him a few times at games, and that he seemed to be an incredibly nice person. Of course, none of that should play factor here. I just like hearing the stories, and regardless of the snarky fans that grace the social media, it’s part of the grandeur of the game. My Dad said that he never seemed the same after his bout with spinal meningitis, and while he had good seasons after the disease, he just never could reach the ceiling many thought he could. Alvis had a career WAR with the Tribe of 7.3.
#10: Willie Kamm—If Kamm had played longer with the Indians, I think I’d have him higher. He was another blue collar guy, but played most of his career in Chicago, even though he likely played his best ball for the Tribe, He hit five points better during his tenure in the Forest City. At the end though, his WAR in his five seasons was only 7.8, and while his career at third base is better than many on this list, he just doesn’t have enough time to make it past the 10-slot.
#9: Jim Thome—I’m not putting any numbers here, and I likely should have him higher than this. At the end of the day though, he only played two seasons with more than 100 games at the position, and he’s clearly known more as a first baseman and a DH. I’ll always remember Thome as that scrappy third sacker, who worked his butt off to be a good third baseman. It didn’t stop the Indians from adding Matt Williams though, and moving him to first. It was a good move. Thome became a decent first baseman, and the move likely added years and years, not to mention homers, to his career.
#8: Travis Fryman—Fryman was a complete package, and was always a complete fit with the Indians. There were numerous rumors involving Fryman coming to the Indians in the 90’s, and it left a feeling that he had been here longer than he actually was. He could have truly been something special for the Indians had he come over a couple of seasons earlier. As it stands, the Tribe got two really good years from Fryman, and three seasons that were average. I honestly feel like 8 is a bit high for him here, but when I look at the players behind him, there just isn’t anyone I would move him down the list for. Likewise, the players above him are clearly better. His career WAR with the Indians is a lowish 5.7, but mostly out of length of time and injury, not talent.
#7: Larry Gardner—Gardner spent the bulk of his career in Boston, but here’s another guy that could be higher if you looked at him the right way. In the end though, his four seasons, including the World Series season of 1920, don’t rank ahead of the guys in front of him. His WAR in Cleveland’s six seasons is 12.2.
#6: Toby Harrah—Some of my most vivid memories at Municipal Stadium were of watching Toby Harrah playing, standing next to Julio Franco. I recall a game in which I was doing my daily “Jjjjjjuuuuulllllliiiiiooooooo” screams when Toby walked over and said, “Do you have to do that every game, couldn’t you once yell, TOBY!” So I did…every game…even after the Indians had dealt Buddy Bell for him. He was a really good offensive player, and by 1983, I had forgiven (mostly), and forgotten (mostly), the fact that he was dealt for Buddy Bell. His WAR in five seasons with the Indians was a really good 17.5.
#5: Graig Nettles—I purposely didn’t put Nettles down until one of the last two or three to see where he would fit comfortably. When I plopped him into five, I couldn’t make any case that he wasn’t better than Harrah, and it all clicked. My Dad stopped rooting for the Indians when they traded Nettles, and after watching him for years in New York, I could see why. He only played three seasons in Cleveland, which arguably could keep him out of the top five. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. Another couple of years with the Indians, and he may have been a guy you put in first or second. His three seasons in Cleveland were that good though, both offensively and defensively, and his three-year WAR with the Indians was a stellar 16.7, and was never below 4.3. You could argue, that like Bell, his numbers were skewed by defense, but I shun all who follow that line of thinking.
#4: Bill Bradley—There’s a part of me that thought that Bradley was going to be lower on this list, but his outstanding stretches with the team, combined with his overall numbers make him a top five factor. He truly had a brilliant season and stretch with the Indians. His career WAR with the Tribe was a substantial 33 in his ten seasons, and you can split his career up into a half which was brilliant, a quarter which was average, and another quarter below average. He could be up higher, but there are just too many guys I had to put in the top five or six here. He played the second most games at the position in Cleveland, with 1,193 games.
#3: Buddy Bell—He may be my favorite Indians’ player of all time, but as good as he was, his seasons in Texas were better. When Bell left the Indians, I nearly did as well. This guy could flat out play, and having season tickets on the third base side left me watching his ability on a nightly basis. Had he stayed with the Tribe for another eight seasons, he’d be either at the top of the list of all-time greats, or pretty close. His WAR with the Tribe in his seven seasons with the Indians was 22.4, and was never below 1.7 in any season. It happened to be his rookie year.
#2: Ken Keltner—Keltner started off in the #1 slot, and I do think #1 and #2 are interchangeable in many, many ways. If they had moved Keltner to first base in 1947 and brought up Rosen, as many thought they would do, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened with both in the same lineup. While Keltner isn’t Hall of Fame material as his numbers stand now, you get the feeling that Rosen lost three or four years waiting for Keltner to move on, which really did keep Rosen from seriously being considered for a hall run. As it stands though, many believe Keltner to be the best hitting and fielding third baseman of the 40’s, and that’s nothing to shrug at. In 12 seasons with the Indians, his WAR was 30.4. Keltner played the most games at the position for the Indians, and by a substantial number.
#1: Al Rosen—The “Hebrew Hammer” was a special ballplayer who didn’t get his chance until he turned 26 years old. To put it in perspective, imagine if Matt LaPorta broke out last season with 37 homers. Alright…stop laughing…I know…I know. Rosen consistently put up the types of minor league numbers that would have forced most teams to make room. Unfortunately for the future MVP, one of the best third basemen of an entire era was ahead of him. That said, Rosen was spectacular, and while he played ten seasons, only seven were full seasons. Had he added three or four years of his season-long norms, he certainly would have been considered for the hall, and perhaps even as the Indians greatest player. His WAR over ten years,, as it stands, was 30.8, and combined with that MVP award, he’s my choice for the best Indians third baseman of all time.
Now what’s your vote?