CLEVELAND – Every year (pandemic-shortened seasons aside), fans get to watch the best professional baseball players come together to face off in the All-Star Game. It’s a chance to see that season's most elite players fill out two rosters. But what if it was possible to create a roster consisting of a team's greatest players in their prime?
The Tribe has seen plenty of All-Star-caliber players come through Cleveland. If it was possible to pick the best players from their most successful seasons and create a roster, who would make the Indians’ list? Let’s take a look at the Tribe’s all-time roster based on each player’s best season:
Catcher: Victor Martinez, 2007
Key stats: Slashed .301/.374/.505
Sandy Alomar Jr.’s 1997 season put up a good fight, but Martinez’s 25 homers and 114 RBIs edged out the former Rookie of the Year. In his second All-Star season, Martinez logged 40 doubles and drew 62 walks while hitting .301 with an .879 OPS in 147 games.
First Base: Jim Thome, 2002
Key stats: Set the franchise single-season home run record
If the roster needs some power, it will certainly receive it from Thome’s 2002 season. The slugger launched 52 homers and led the AL in OPS+ (197), walks (122), slugging percentage (.677) and OPS (1.122). It seemed at the time as though 2002 would be Thome’s final impression on Cleveland fans in the last season of a 12-year run with the Tribe, but he returned for 22 games in '11 and smacked three more homers.
Second Base: Nap Lajoie, 1904
Key stats: Led the Majors in hits, doubles, RBIs, average, slugging percentage and OPS
Lajoie had a handful of impressive seasons for Cleveland (they did name the team after him after all), but his 1904 season was his best. He dominated the competition with 208 hits, 49 doubles, 102 RBIs, a .376 average, a .546 slugging percentage and a .959 OPS (200 OPS+).
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau, 1948
Key stats: 1948 MVP winner
In the Tribe’s last World Series championship season, Boudreau was stellar, slashing .355/.453/.534 to earn the MVP award in his seventh All-Star season. In 152 games, he recorded 34 doubles and six triples with career highs in homers (18) and RBIs (106). He finished the year with a career-best .987 OPS (166 OPS+) and drew 98 walks.
Third base: Al Rosen, 1953
Key stats: 1953 MVP winner
You can’t have the Indians’ all-time roster without the team's last MVP Award winner. Rosen earned the hardware by leading the AL in runs scored (115), homers (43), RBIs (145), slugging percentage (.613) and OPS (1.034) in ‘53. He finished the year with a .336/.442/.613 slash line.
Left field: Albert Belle, 1995
Key stats: First player to record at least 50 doubles and 50 homers in a single season
Just in case Thome needed some help in the power department, Belle’s ’98 season surely will do the trick. He led the American League in runs scored (121) and RBIs (126) and the Majors in doubles (52), homers (50) and slugging percentage (.690). Belle came up just shy of bringing home the MVP Award, placing second while earning his third of five career Silver Slugger Awards.
Center field: Tristram Speaker, 1916
Key stats: Slashed .386/.470/.502
In '16, Speaker's .386 average was just one of eight categories in which he led the AL. His .470 on-base percentage, .502 slugging percentage, .972 OPS, 186 OPS+, 41 doubles, 211 hits and 8.6 offensive WAR bested all other hitters. Speaker made quite the first impression on his new team that season, as he went on to put together a magical 11-year career in Cleveland, slashing .351/.442/.522 after his stellar ’16 performance.
Right field: Joe Jackson, 1911
Key stats: Set franchise records in hits and batting average
It’s hard to top a season that set the Tribe’s franchise record in hits (233) and batting average (.408). In his first full big league season, Jackson set career highs in hits, batting average, doubles (45), stolen bases (41), on-base percentage (.468, which led the Majors that season) and OPS (1.058, 193 OPS+) in 147 games. He finished fourth in the MVP Award voting and was the runner-up for the batting title that year behind Detroit's Ty Cobb, who hit .419.
Designated hitter: Manny Ramirez, 1999
Key stats: Led the Majors with 165 RBIs
Yes, he may be an outfielder, but there’s no way this roster would be complete without penciling Ramirez’s 1999 season somewhere on the roster. No player in the Indians’ organization has ever plated more runs than Ramirez did that season. The man with one of the smoothest right-handed swings the game has ever seen knocked in a Majors-leading 165 runs while launching 44 homers (sixth most in club history) and 34 doubles. He also led the AL in OPS+ (174), slugging percentage (.663) and OPS (1.105) that year. In 147 games, Ramirez hit .333 and placed third in the MVP Award voting.
Starting pitcher: Bob Feller, 1946
Key stats: Set franchise records in complete games and strikeouts
Arguably the best pitcher to go through the organization, Feller has rightfully earned his spot as the starting pitcher on the Tribe’s all-time roster with his impressive showing in 1946. He led all pitchers in wins (26), games (48), starts (42), complete games (36), shutouts (10), innings (371 1/3) and strikeouts (348). He also tossed a no-hitter against the Yankees on April 30 of that season.
Relief pitcher: Jose Mesa, 1995
Key stats: Owns lowest ERA among hurlers with at least 60 innings in a single season
Of any pitcher with at least 60 innings in a single season, Mesa’s 1.12 ERA is the lowest. The closer converted 46 of 48 save opportunities (and his first 38 straight), which stands as the most in a single season in franchise history.