Indians’ Top 5 first basemen: Bell's take

March 30th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Mandy Bell’s ranking of the top 5 first basemen in Indians history. Next week: Second basemen.

1) Jim Thome, 1991-2002, '11

Key fact: Indians all-time home runs leader

Fans walking down Eagle Avenue outside of Progressive Field can see a bronze marker permanently secured in concrete right through the center-field gates that reads, “Jim Thome, longest home run, 511 ft, July 3, 1999.” That marker specifies exactly where Thome’s ball landed that Saturday night against the Royals, and it sits just feet away from a statue of him that was erected in 2014. Thome's legacy in Cleveland is evident, and in '18 he was honored for his legacy across the game. Thome became the first player voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA to have the Indians as his primary team since Bob Lemon in 1976.

"You know how there's a saying about good guys finish last?" his former roommate and teammate Sandy Alomar Jr. said when Thome was inducted. "I'm so glad that a great, genuine person like Jim Thome is in the Hall of Fame. He was such a hard worker and a great teammate. He's the most genuine guy I've ever seen.”

Thome was the power bat during the Tribe’s magical teams of the 1990s, and he holds the club record for most homers with 337. He ranks second in the organization with 937 RBIs and first in walks (1,008). His .414 on-base percentage and .566 slugging percentage rank first among Indians first basemen. He began his career as a 20-year-old with the Indians in 1991 and was selected to three All-Star Games before he left in 2003. But he made a return to Cleveland for part of the '11 season, hitting .296 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 22 games.

"Jimmy was so nervous about coming back," Alomar said. "When people came out and stood up and gave him an ovation, that was an incredible feeling for everybody, especially for people who were around for those times and knew what we went through in development, going from losing 100 games to winning 100. All of that, it was just a lot of hard work for growth as a unit, and he was one of the main pieces."

2) Hal Trosky, 1933-41

Key fact: The first Indians player to hit 40 or more home runs in a season

The number “162” is typically associated with the number of games played during a regular season, but in 1936, Trosky gave the figure a whole new meaning. The left-handed hitter was 23 years old and in his third full season in the Major Leagues when he hit .343 with a 1.026 OPS, 42 homers and 162 RBIs in 151 games. It was the first time an Indians player hit 40 or more home runs in a season, and it remained most in a single season until 1953, when it was broken by Al Rosen.

Trosky played more than 100 games in seven of his nine seasons with the Tribe, and he had more than 100 RBIs in six of those. His 1,365 hits, 287 doubles and 53 triples are the most of any first baseman in Indians history, and his 216 homers, 758 runs, 911 RBIs and 30.3 WAR rank second.

3) Carlos Santana, 2010-17, '19-present

Key fact: Owns career club record by a switch-hitter for home runs, RBIs and walks

The first thing Santana said when he returned to Cleveland in 2019 after a year with the Phillies was that he was happy to be home. He hit just .229 with a .766 OPS with Philadelphia but returned to the club he had played with for his first eight years in the Majors and was easily the club’s MVP in 2019.

When asked why he found so much success, he’d always respond, "Because I’m home.” After nine seasons with the Indians, he owns the club’s third-highest fWAR among first basemen (28.9). He also ranks second in doubles (266) and walks (834), and is third in runs scored (683), hits (1,156), home runs (208) and RBIs (680).

"Everything we say here about him is true,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We genuinely have a ton of affection for this kid. He shows up every day and all he wants to do is play. He’s got a smile on his face and he’s worked hard to become a better defender. A guy that you want playing first base. A guy that pays attention to the game and picks his teammates up.”

4) George Burns, 1920-21, '24-28

Key fact: The first Indians player to win a league MVP Award

In 1926, Burns became the first member of the Tribe to bring home the Most Valuable Player hardware following a season in which he led the Majors with 216 hits and 64 doubles. His .327 career batting average is first among all Indians first basemen, and he was a member of the '20 World Series championship team.

5) Ed Morgan, 1928-33

Key fact: First Indians player to hit more than 20 home runs in a single season

He may not be the most memorable player in Indians history, but Morgan is tied for the club's fifth-highest all-time OBP (.405) and sixth-highest batting average (.323). In 1930, he transitioned from getting sporadic playing time in the outfield to becoming the Tribe’s everyday first baseman. He took advantage of the opportunity and hit .349 with a 1.014 OPS, 26 home runs and 136 RBIs.

Honorable mentions

George Stovall is the franchise leader in defensive WAR among first basemen (0.9) and ranks third in triples (40).

Mike Hargrove has the sixth-highest fWAR among Indians first basemen (14.0) and slashed .292/.396/.382 with the Tribe.

A handful of nagging injuries limited Luke Easter to 491 games in his six-year Indians career, but he still finished ranked fourth all-time among Tribe first basemen with 93 home runs.