Indians' Top 5 center fielders: Bell's take

May 4th, 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 center fielders in Indians history. Next week: right fielders.

• Indians' All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

1. , 1916-26
Key fact: The only Major Leaguer to have three hitting streaks of 20 or more games in a single season

The depth that the Indians have had in center field will quickly become evident in this list, which makes Speaker’s No.1-worthy ranking all the more impressive. After spending nine years in Boston, winning an American League MVP Award in 1912, Speaker was acquired by the Indians in '16 and immediately made an impact, winning the AL batting title that year with a .386 mark.

The outfielder certainly didn’t stop there. He served as the team’s player-manager starting in 1919 and led the Indians to their first World Series victory in '20. That season, he led all of baseball with 50 doubles and hit .388 with a 1.045 OPS in 150 games.

His 74.3 bWAR is second in franchise history, trailing just second baseman Nap Lajoie (79.8). Of all center fielders, Speaker has the most games played (1,519), hits (1,965), doubles (486), walks (857), batting average (.354) and on-base percentage (.444). He also holds the Major League record with 449 outfield assists by a margin of 57. He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in '37.

“At the crack of the bat he'd be off with his back to the infield,” Red Sox right-hander Smoky Joe Wood said, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “And then he'd turn and glance over his shoulder at the last minute and catch the ball so easy it looked like there was nothing to it, nothing at all."

Related

From left to right: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tristram Speaker.

2. , 1929-39
Key fact: Only AL outfielder to be named to each of the first six All-Star Games (1933-38)

The fact that the Indians had an outfielder that could beat out the numbers Averill posted in his career seems hard to believe. The center fielder is the Tribe’s all-time leader in runs (1,154), triples (121), RBIs (1,084), total bases (3,200) and extra-base hits (724). His 50.9 bWAR is the fourth highest in club history among position players and the second best among center fielders.

Averill was a six-time All-Star, becoming the only AL outfielder to be named to each of the first six Midsummer Classics. His 226 home runs marked the club’s most until 1996, when Albert Belle broke the record. Averill was the third player to have his number retired by the Indians in '75 and was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame the same year.

"No other left-hander gave me so much trouble,” Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez said, according to Averill’s Baseball Hall of Fame profile. “When I think about how many points in Earl Averill’s lifetime batting average [.318] came off Gomez deliveries, I thank the good Lord he wasn’t twins. One more like him would probably have kept me out of the Hall of Fame."

3. , 1947-55, '58
Key fact: The first African American player in the AL

Just a few weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier, Doby became the first African American player in the AL. In his first full season in 1948, he hit .301 with an .873 OPS, helping lead the team to the first of two AL pennants. He hit .318 in the '48 World Series and launched a decisive home run in Game 4, marking the first homer by an African American player in the World Series.

Doby proceeded to earn seven consecutive All-Star nods for the Tribe. In 1952, he led the AL in runs (104), homers (32) and slugging percentage (.541). Among Indians center fielders, Doby recorded the second-most homers (215), third-most RBIs (776) and third-best on-base percentage (.389) and slugging percentage (.500). He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in '98.

4. , 1992-96, '98-2001, '07
Key fact: Indians all-time leader in stolen bases

Nothing proves just how much depth the Tribe has had in center field more than Lofton coming in at No. 4 on this list. He ranks third all-time in runs scored (975), ninth in hits (1,512) and 12th in walks (611), while having the third-best bWAR (48.6) and third-most runs, hits, doubles (244) and triples (66) among Tribe center fielders.

Over 10 seasons with the Indians, Lofton set the all-time franchise record for stolen bases with 452. He swiped the most bags in the AL for five straight seasons (1992-96), represented Cleveland in five All-Star Games and won four consecutive Gold Glove Awards (’93-96).

The defensive hardware was well-earned. Of all Indians outfielders, Lofton has the highest dWAR with 13.1. (The next closest is Jim Piersall with 4.8.) Lofton was inducted into the Indians’ Hall of Fame in 2010.

5. , 1984-89
Key fact: Led the Majors in RBIs with 121 in 1986

Carter played for the Indians from 1984-89, but he was only their everyday center fielder during his last two seasons in Cleveland. He also saw a good bit of time at first and left field, making it difficult to label his most prominent position, but his offense was enough to find his way on to the list. Of all Indians center fielders, Carter hit the third-most homers with 151 and tallied the fourth-most RBIs (530).

Carter never made an All-Star Game with Cleveland, but he received AL MVP Award votes in three different seasons. In six years with the club, he eclipsed 100 RBIs three times with an MLB-leading 121 in 1986.

Honorable mentions
had an electric start to his career with three All-Star Games and two Gold Glove Awards, and he led the Majors in runs scored (134) and doubles (53) in 2006. The path he started on looked like it could lead straight to Cooperstown, but injuries derailed his career, which also kept him out of the top five.

’s 17.2 bWAR is sixth-highest among Indians center fielders. Among Tribe center fielders, he's tied for fourth with Doby in triples (45) and has the third-most stolen bases (164), also ranking in the top 10 in runs scored (397), doubles (95) and batting average (.288).

Rick Manning spent nine years in Cleveland and won a Gold Glove Award in 1976 before he was traded to the Brewers in '83. He played in the fifth-most games of Tribe center fielders (1,063) and recorded the fifth-most hits (1,053) and stolen bases (142), and seventh-most doubles (142) and RBIs (336).