Cleveland Indians all-time team: Thome, Belle, Lofton give lineup plenty of 90s flavor


In an effort to avoid going stir crazy with MLB and every other major sports league shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve decided to take a look at the best of the best for each baseball franchise. We’ve created a 30-day series making an all-time team for each MLB club. We’re breaking down one team each day throughout April, continuing today with the Cleveland Indians.

As a (hopefully?) fun twist, I’m making a Baseball Stars team for each. That’s right, the old-school Nintendo video game “Baseball Stars,” which I still consider to be the best baseball video game ever. It allowed you to create teams and I used to make all-time lineups for prominent MLB franchises. There are the eight position players with four starting pitchers, one reliever and five bench position players on each Baseball Stars squads.

Let’s get to Cleveland’s lineup.

Catcher

I’m sure some would name Sandy Alomar Jr. here and he was with the team for 11 years and played on several playoff teams. He also only averaged 90 games per season during his run. Only four times did he play 117 or more games. By WAR, he was only above 2.0 (which is the benchmark for a regular starter) three seasons. One might recall that Victor Martinez was a full-time catcher for most of his time in Cleveland, however. He also hit .297/.369/.463, good for a 120 OPS+. Gimme Victor. 

First base

No need to complicate things here. It’s Jim Thome

Second base

I’m generally avoiding the area of the Dead Ball Era unless it’s an all-time great, but Nap Lajoie was. He was so good they once were called the Cleveland Naps. In his time with Cleveland, he hit .339/.389/.452, good for a 155 OPS+ (remember, no one slugged). He’s the franchise leader in WAR and hits. If Roberto Alomar spent more time here or Carlos Baerga played for 15 years like he did in 1992-93, I might’ve gone a different route. Instead, it’s Nap. 

Shortstop

Francisco Lindor is climbing, but unfortunately he’ll almost certainly be signed elsewhere after 2021. There will surely be sentiment for Omar Vizquel as well. From 1940-48, though, Lou Boudreau was in the top 10 of MVP voting all but one season. He won the award in 1948. In his 13 years with the Indians, he hit .295/.380/.415 (120 OPS+). He ranks third in Tribe history in position player WAR after Lajoie and Tris Speaker. 

Third base

For now, the pick should probably be Al Rosen, who was exceptional from 1950-55 (151 OPS+ during those five seasons), but I’m going with Jose Ramirez. He’s locked up through 2023 and trails Rosen by less than seven WAR. 

Left field

Few could put up the stat line of prime Albert Belle. From 1992-96 (his last five years in Cleveland), Belle hit .303/.385/.604 (158 OPS+) with 162-game averages of 42 doubles, 47 homers, 139 RBI, 115 runs and 13 steals. He finished second in MVP voting once and third twice. He was a wrecking crew at his peak and we aren’t looking elsewhere. 

Center field

While we lament that we never got to see what a healthy Grazy Sizemore’s career would have looked like, let’s put a personal favorite out here. C’mon down, should-be-Hall-of-Famer Kenny Lofton. He bounced around a lot, but he still managed to end up fifth in position player WAR on the Tribe. 

Right field

In order to play Lofton, I had to move all-time great Tris Speaker to right field. Apologies to Manny Ramirez. 

Designated hitter

I didn’t apologize to Larry Doby in right field because I knew I was bumping him here. That means Ramirez, Travis Hafner, Carlos Santana and David Justice don’t get to start, but Doby is absolutely going to be in this starting lineup. He broke the AL color barrier and sits eighth in position player WAR for the franchise. He carried a 141 OPS+ through his first stint with the team. 

Starting pitchers

The first one is really easy. It’s Bob Feller

After that, it’s really tough to sort through all the leaderboards. They are in double digits in terms of how many pitchers threw at least 2,000 innings with the club and that skews the WAR leaderboard. ERA is tough because eras have different climates for run scoring. Among pitchers post-Deadball era, the best ERA+ belongs to Mike Clevinger, but I’m not sure he’s been doing this thing long enough to make it. Next is Corey Kluber and sign me up there. 

Also, there are two Hall of Famers from the post-integration era in Bob Lemon and Early Wynn who I’m taking. 

Apologies to CC Sabathia, Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Charles Nagy, Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon, Orel Hershiser, Sam McDowell and so many more. 

Reliever

Atop the save board you’ve got Cody Allen, Bob Wickman, Doug Jones, Chris Perez and Jose Mesa. I’m going off the board, though. The impact Andrew Miller had in 2016 and 2017 is good enough to get my vote. He was on a different level during that run. 

The Lineup

Baseball Stars uses six characters for each name. What follows is the Baseball Stars lineup. 

  1. Lofton, CF
  2. Doby, DH
  3. Thome, 1B
  4. Belle, LF
  5. J-Ram, 3B
  6. Victor, C
  7. Tris, RF
  8. Nap, 2B
  9. Lou, SS

SP: Feller, Kluber, Lemon, Wynn
RP: Miller

On the bench, let’s go with Manny (Ramirez), (Francisco) Lindor, (Al) Rosen and Omar (Vizquel). I really wanted to use Hafner just to enter the name Pronk. So many others warranted a look here, such as Joe Sewell, Ken Keltner, Ray Chapman and on and on we could go. 

Man, that starting lineup is stacked. We could play around with that order all day, so long as Doby-Thome-Belle stays 2-4. I wouldn’t approve of moving my man Kenny out of the leadoff spot, either. 

As always, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with your own team (@MattSnyderCBS).





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