Indians' Top 5 third basemen: Bell's take

April 13th, 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 third basemen in Indians history. Next week: Shortstops.

1. Al Rosen, 1947-56
Key fact: The last Indians player to win an American League MVP award

Third base is one position that doesn’t have a lot of clear-cut candidates as the all-time best for the Tribe. In a group that contains a lot of similar statistics, both defensive and offensive, three letters that forever accompany Rosen’s name help make him stand out from all the rest.

In 1953, Rosen won the MVP award and still stands as the club’s most recent recipient. That season, he hit an American League-high 43 home runs and drove in a Major League-high 145 runs with an MLB-best 1.034 OPS. In 10 seasons (just seven full seasons), Rosen was a four-time All-Star with six 20-plus homer seasons and he leads all Indians third basemen with 192 homers. Among players who played third in more than 25 games for the Tribe, Rosen’s career .879 OPS ranks the highest.

"He was an inspiration to us all and had a special presence, strength and intellect," former Indians team president Mark Shapiro said in a statement after Rosen’s death in 2015. "His fierce competitive nature and toughness was legendary."

2. Ken Keltner, 1937-49
Key fact: Made two difficult, backhanded plays to help end Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak

Keltner was a seven-time All-Star during his 12-year stint with the Tribe. Of all Indians third basemen, he’s logged the most hits (1,5610), doubles (306), runs (735), games played (1,513) and RBIs (850) and ranks second in bWAR (33.1). He was a member of the 1948 World Series championship team and hit .297 with a .917 OPS, a career-high 31 home runs and 119 RBIs that season.

Though he’s one of the few members of the Tribe who took home a World Series title, his name is often associated with another feat. On July 17, 1941, DiMaggio was attempting to extend his hitting streak to 57 games, but Keltner made two backhanded stops on hard-hit ground balls down the third-base line to rob DiMaggio of base hits. The famous streak ended at 56 and prevented what would’ve become a 73-game streak, as DiMaggio recorded a hit in 16 more contests after Keltner assisted in holding him hitless.

3. Bill Bradley, 1901-10
Key fact: Owns highest bWAR of all Indians third basemen

In 10 years with Cleveland, Bradley accumulated the highest bWAR of all Indians third basemen (34.9), the highest defensive WAR (10.8) and recorded the most triples (74). He also logged the second-most runs (649), hits (1,265) and doubles (238) among third basemen. Bradley finished his decade with the Tribe hitting .272 with a .690 OPS (111 OPS+). He had a breakout season in 1902 with the Indians, hitting .340 with an .890 OPS, 39 doubles, 77 RBIs and 104 runs scored in 137 games.

4. , 2013-present
Key fact: Holds single-season home run record for Indians switch-hitters

Ramírez has been a member of the Tribe since 2013 and became a permanent fixture on the big league roster beginning in ’16. In that first full season, Ramírez hit .312 with an .825 OPS. In the next two seasons, he was selected to the Midsummer Classic, won Silver Slugger awards and placed third in the MVP voting. In ’18 he joined Grady Sizemore and Joe Carter as the only three Indians players in franchise history with at least 30 steals and 30 homers in a season.

“He’s a guy that we can lean on,” teammate Shane Bieber said last August. “It’s awesome. It seems like he’s batting, like, six times a game just because of the impact he has. I’m sure it seems like that, maybe even more, for the other team. We’re able to lean on him. He’s a guy that you can trust in any situation.”

Ramírez has played more than 50 percent of his big league games at third, but has also spent time at second, short and the outfield. The middle infielder turned third baseman may shift away from the hot corner, especially if the Indians extend his contract beyond the 2021 season. But if he remains at third, he could easily work his way up in this list with a few more years under his belt.

5. Larry Gardner, 1919-24
Key fact: Member of the Indians’ first world championship team

Gardner owns the best batting average (.301) of the club’s third basemen who played more than 25 games. Despite only hitting 10 home runs in his six seasons with Cleveland, he ranks sixth in RBIs among third basemen with 401. Gardner also played a big role in the Indians’ 1920 world championship, hitting .310 with 118 RBIs during the regular season. The following season, he bested those numbers, posting a .319 average with 120 RBIs.

Honorable mentions
Buddy Bell’s career really took off just after he left Cleveland. He put together a solid seven seasons with the Tribe, hitting .274 with a .710 OPS. His 24.5 bWAR is the fifth highest among Indians third basemen. But when he got to Texas in 1979, he began a stretch of six straight seasons where he won a Gold Glove Award and was selected to the All-Star Game in four of those years. Travis Fryman won a Gold Glove with the Indians in 2000, alongside teammates Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar. It’s the eighth time in MLB history that three infielders on the same team each won the award. Of his eight-year career, he had his best in 2000 with the Tribe, hitting .321 with a .908 OPS.

Brook Jacoby recorded the third-most hits (1,178), home runs (120) and RBIs (524) of Indians third basemen and hit the fourth-most doubles (192). The two-time All-Star wrapped up his nine-year career with the Tribe, hitting .273 with a .750 OPS. Toby Harrah played five of his 17 seasons in Cleveland, posting a career best .304 average and .888 OPS in his All-Star year in 1982. He stole the third-most bases of all Indians third basemen (82) and ranks sixth in bWAR (18.7).