The Mount Rushmore of the Cleveland Indians

1952 Bowman #115 Larry Doby

The Indians joined the American League in 1901 but were known as the Blues that year. In 1902 they were called the Broncos, and in 1902 they were called the Naps. They stuck with that name until 1915, when they were finally branded as the Indians.

From 1901 to 1947, the Indians finished first just once, in 1920, when the won the World Series. They won it again in 1948, and made it but lost in 1954. They then went through a terrible stretch in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s when they were routinely one of the worst teams in the league (hence why they were the subject of the movie Major League). Come 1994, though, they had a core of good young players. The Indians were the first team to lock up young players prior to free agency, giving them above-market contracts for arbitration-eligible players, and it paid off. After a 2nd-place finish that year, they rung off 5 straight 1st-place finishes (although they made the World Series twice, they lost both times.) Since then, it’s been up-and-down, with additional playoff appearances in 2001 and 2007, but no titles since 1948.

Let’s take a look at who belongs on their monument.

Top 15 hitters by WAR:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To
1 Nap Lajoie 76.4 1902 1914
2 Tris Speaker 71.0 1916 1926
3 Lou Boudreau 57.9 1938 1950
4 Kenny Lofton 46.3 1992 2007
5 Earl Averill 45.2 1929 1939
6 Jim Thome 45.0 1991 2011
7 Joe Sewell 41.7 1920 1930
8 Larry Doby 41.4 1947 1958
9 Terry Turner 35.5 1904 1918
10 Shoeless Joe Jackson 33.6 1910 1915
11 Bill Bradley 33.0 1901 1910
12 Al Rosen 30.8 1947 1956
13 Ken Keltner 30.4 1937 1949
14 Elmer Flick 29.4 1902 1910
15 Manny Ramirez 28.0 1993 2000
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/13/2012.

Amazing that only Lofton, Ramirez, and Thome make an appearance from the late 1990s teams. Lofton is probably most-associated with the Indians but moved around a lot, and Manny is most-associated with the Red Sox.

Quite a few of these guys spent a big chunk of their time with other teams. Lajoie rose to fame with both Philadelphia franchises. Speaker played 7 full seasons with the Red Sox before the Indians. Thome played quite a few years with the Phillies and White Sox. Speaking of White Sox, when you hear the name Shoeless Joe Jackson, I doubt it’s the Indians of whom you think.

That makes it sort of tough to decide who should go the Indians’ monument, since many of these players are associated with other teams.

Let’s look at the pitchers:

Rk Player WAR From To
1 Bob Feller 59.9 1936 1956
2 Stan Coveleski 51.8 1916 1924
3 Addie Joss 43.4 1902 1910
4 Mel Harder 42.2 1928 1947
5 Sam McDowell 39.7 1961 1971
6 Bob Lemon 34.7 1946 1958
7 Early Wynn 33.6 1949 1963
8 Willis Hudlin 28.7 1926 1940
9 Mike Garcia 28.7 1948 1959
10 Wes Ferrell 28.1 1927 1933
11 Gaylord Perry 27.4 1972 1975
12 George Uhle 26.3 1919 1936
13 Jim Bagby 26.0 1916 1922
14 CC Sabathia 25.7 2001 2008
15 Luis Tiant 24.5 1964 1969
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/13/2012.

Hmm…a similar story. Lots of names we don’t necessarily associate primarily with the Indians.

I am guessing Boudreau and Speaker will get credit for being both great players and managers of championship teams. Toss in Lajoie and Feller, and maybe this one’s a slam dunk.

Please vote for 4.


The Mount Rushmore of the Cleveland Indians — 57 Comments

  1. Feller and Boudreau were basically career Indians. Boudreau ended his career with the Red Sox, but he was pretty much done at that point. Lajoie may have enjoyed some great years with the Philadelphia teams, but considering the team was named after him for a period, I’d say he’s most associated with the Indians. Speaker is a no-brainer to round out the monument.

  2. I think the modern Indians teams that were very good have to represented somehow. I would agree with Lajoie and Feller for sure. The next spot would be either Speaker or Boudreau, I will go with Tris, since Feller already represents the 40s Indians.

    And I think, after considering ManRam and Thome, I will go with Lofton for the 4th spot.

    My apologies to Larry Doby, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, among others who didn’t make the cut. Also, no Joey Belle? Would have thought he was in the top 15 in WAR.

    I also feel that Bill Veeck should be a choice here. I guess he only owned the Indians for a few years, but he had quite an impact in that short time (Last WS championship, Larry Doby)

  3. Here we go again with too many worthy candidates for spot #4. Any historical baseball fan can make a good case for Boudreau, Lofton, Averill, or Doby. And that leaves out several other prime suspects.

  4. I don’t expect him to get a lot of support, but check out Addie Joss’s career statistics. He pitched in the deadball era and only for nine years, but his 142 ERA+ is 11th all-time, so still pretty impressive.

  5. Slam dunk? How can a franchise with over a century of history be a “slam dunk” – and with Boudreau on the mountain? Cleveland was a strong franchise for much of its history, too. Before division play, it was the most frequent first-division AL team after the Yankees: two-thirds of its seasons were in the first division and they’d never had a serious bad stretch. They should have a long string of big stone heads (and of pennants).

    Lofton and Thome were great players on a strong team; Joss’s record is amazing (though he probably would not have extended it if he’d lived); and Doby was a Hall of Fame pioneer. There’s a real string of wonderful pitchers to consider after Feller – Wes Ferrell’s career start with Cleveland was one of the greatest ever; Wynn and Lemon were the keys to the highest percentage team in AL history; Coveleski won 20 four straight times and carried the team in the ’20 Series. Besides, isn’t Speaker more closely linked to the Red Sox . . . would he be on that Rushmore (you can’t leave Speaker off Rushmores altogether)?

    No “slam dunk” for me! Lajoie, Speaker, Feller, Boudreau.

    • Having grown up in the ’80s, until reading your comment I assumed that Cleveland had always been awful besides the first decade after World War II (and later, in the ’90s). You are right — it turns out that Cleveland has won 50.9% of its games since being established(7th best in MLB history).

      Interesting contrast with the Athletics. The A’s have had four glorious championship periods, but have only won 48.5% of their games, making them the 17th best franchise. As an A’s fan, I’ve always thought of my team as the third most successful franchise (after the Yankees and Cardinals) since they’ve been to many World Series and won many of them (9), but obviously, when the A’s have stunk, they’ve stunk bad.

      What the two teams have in common seems to be that neither keeps their stars for their entire careers, making this vote difficult even though both teams have reasonable arguments to being considered historically good franchises. Contrast that to the Tigers, who were crammed with stars who stayed.

      For what it’s worth, the Tigers have won fewer games than the Indians (50.7%) and fewer championships than the A’s (4).

  6. Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie.

    It says everything about this franchise’s history that the
    consensus to this point is all players prior to expansion.

    At least for me, I gave no serious consideration to anyone
    post expansion.

    • Yeah, with Lajoie, Speaker, Feller the three obvious choices, it was pretty much impossible to narrow it down to only one more player. I went with Doby to acknowledge his huge (and usually somewhat overlooked) role in integrating the AL, not that he wasn’t a great player.

      Joss, Boudreau, Thome, and Lofton were tough to leave out.

    • Ed Walsh had 57 shutouts in 315 starts for 1 per 5.53 starts and Smoky Joe Wood had 28 shutouts in 158 starts for 1 per 5.64 starts.

  7. This is one where even dividing it into pre & post expansion wouldn’t be enough.

    I finally wound up going with Lajoie, Speaker, Feller & Boudreau although it almost made me physically ill not to include Doby. Then you’ve got guys like Rocky and Sudden Sam from my youth and all of the guys on the great teams of the ’90’s…

  8. Speaker started with the Sox and played too much there, so I went with Nap, Feller, Boudreau and for the 90s I went with Thome since Lofton wasn’t on the team in ’97.

    I think as a dishonorable mention Jose Mesa should be put chiseled on the mountain upside-down.

  9. After Nap, Tris, and Rapid, I want the 4th guy to be from the 90’s.

    Here’s the Cleveland comps between Lofton and Thome:


    .303 .379 .428 .807

    1346 Games
    1041 Runs
    477 SB


    .287 .414 .567 .982

    1377 Games
    927 RBI
    334 HR

    Can’t really pick one over the other.

    Nobody has ever managed the Naps for more than 9 years.
    But one of the three who did it for 9 was Boudreau, who won their last title as a Player/Man.

    And he did it that year with a 165 ops+ and a 3.0 dWAR at Shortstop.

    I think I have to go with Handsome Lou.


    Addie Joss was a career Nap, with the 11th best era+ of all time

    Of course, he only played nine years, and not at all after age 30.

    But, this is because he died of meningitis, which is so very tragic and monument-worthy…

    Hmmm, tough choice.
    I’ll pick Boudreau.

  10. Here are the Cleveland eras with various levels of success:
    1) early 1900’s – Nap days – put together some decent seasons Win%-wise, but only 1 2nd place finish (players – Nap Lajoie, Addie Joss)
    2) 1917 thru 1926 – won WS in 1920 (players – Tris Speaker, Ray Chapman, Joe Sewell, Stan Coveleski, Jim Bagby)
    3) 1932 thru 1940 – same a #1 above (players – Earl Averill, Mel Harder, Wes Ferrell)
    4) 1948 thru 1956 – very successful – many 2nd place finishes and 2 WS appearances with win in 1948 (players – Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Bob Lemon, Al Rosen, Larry Doby, Herb Score, Joe Gordon, Ken Keltner, Bobby Avila, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia)
    5) 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s – Yikes – just a few +.500 seasons during those 3 decades (players – Sam McDowell, Gaylord Perry, Luis Tiant, Andre Thornton, Mike Hargrove, Duane Kuiper, Brook Jacoby, Toby Harrah, Buddy Bell, Max Alvis, Frank Duffy, Julio Franco, Vic Davalillo, Rick Manning, Brett Butler, Cory Snyder, Oscar Gamble)
    6) 1994 thru 2001 – 6 playoff appearances including 2 WS (players – Sandy Alomar, Jim Thome, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Charles Nagy, Bartolo Colon, Orel Hershiser, Jose Mesa, Paul Assenmacher)
    7) 2000 to present – up and down with some nice young players over that time. (players – Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner)

    Not a lot of guys that are strictly Indians. This one is tough.

    Feller, Speaker, Lajoie, and Vizqel over Boudreau to have the second half of the century represented. Lofton misses out due to his being on the Braves for the 1997 WS season.

  11. I haven’t voted yet but after doing a search of the Indians all-time leader boards I saw that Earl Averill accomplished quite a bit. He is their all-time leader in PA, R, TB, 3B, RBI, and XBH. He is high on the list for other categories. Not bad for a guy who so far has 0 votes.

    • The problem with Averill is that the Indian teams he played for were just average teams, and I literally mean average. In his 10 full seasons with the team (1929-1938), they won 81, 81, 78, 87, 75, 85, 82, 80, 83, and 86 games, finishing no higher than 3rd and no lower than 5th in those ten years, with their closest brush with a pennant being 1935 when they won 82 games and finished 11 games behind the Tigers (and 7 behind the Yankees). I think it will be similarly hard to vote for a guy like Arky Vaughn for the Pirates because his team never won anything when he was there (despite a lineup that sported 4 HOFers)

      • Good points, Brent. Richard’s post caught me by surprise and made me wonder why I really hadn’t given Averill much thought. Averill never stood out, probably because when I was a kid his son got in the way – or the other Earl of Snohomish, but also because in the context of the ’30s, only one of his seasons seem exceptional, and even that one not by much. But the reason you give is a better explanation.

        I certainly hope this won’t apply to Vaughan – he’s at a different level – but you may be right about that too.

  12. Yay, finally my team! Now I can do an obsessively long post that breaks team history down into a bunch of arbitrarily chosen eras and decide on a Rushmore for each one.

    The Napoleonic Era (1901-1914): As noted above, the franchise first achieved an identity by acquiring Nap Lajoie, a legitimate mega-star and one of baseball’s all-time greats. The high point of this era was the spectacular 1908 pennant race, where they narrowly lost out in a three-way race against the Tigers and White Sox.

    The Rushmore: Lajoie, Addie Joss, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Terry Turner

    HMs: Bill Bradley, Vean Gregg, Elmer Flick

    World Champions / The Grey Eagle Era (1915-1926): Cleveland quickly went from one baseball immortal to another, thanks to a deal with the Red Sox to acquire HoF’er Tris Speaker for Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and cash. Speaker was the best player (and the manager) on the 1920 World Champions, and so this era runs from Lajoie’s departure to Speaker’s last season with the Tribe.

    The Rushmore: Tris Speaker, Joe Sewell, Ray Chapman, Stan Coveleski

    HMs: Charlie Jamieson, Steve O’Neill, Jim Bagby, George Uhle

    Between Titles (1927-1941): A good era, but is overlooked historically because it falls between the two championship teams. The Indians of this era were a first-division team more often than not, and featured some great players.

    The Rushmore: Earl Averill, Hal Trosky, Mel Harder and Bob Feller (Feller’s greatness spans two Indians eras, but the next era is too crowded)

    HMs: Wes Ferrell, Joe Vosmik, Willis Hudlin

    Champions Again / The Curse Begins (1942-1959): This era runs from Earl Averill’s departure to the Colavito for Kuenn trade, the start of the (in)famous “Curse of Rocky Colavito,” memorialized by the great Terry Pluto tome. It also contains the Indians second (and most recent) championship, the fantastic (and record-setting) 1954 pennant-winning team, and a bevy of stars.

    The Rushmore: Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn

    HMs: Al Rosen, Bobby Avila, Ken Keltner, Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, Herb Score, Joe Gordon, Rocky Colavito

    The “Major League” Era (1960-1993): The longest era by far, but also the era with the fewer stars and the least success. This is the era that made the Indians a league-wide joke and general laughingstock, auxiliary farm team for the Yankees (behind the KC Athletics, who were the primary farm team), and inspired the lovable losers turned scrappy winners of “Major League.”

    The Rushmore: Sam McDowell, Gaylord Perry, Buddy Bell, and Andre Thornton

    HMs: Luis Tiant, Tom Candiotti, Toby Harrah, Woodie Held, Sonny Siebert

    From “A Joke” to “The Jake” / The Era of Returned Relevancy (1994-2001):

    Ah, the 90’s. A new ballpark, a new attitude, and complete domination for the newly-formed AL Central Division. Only the 94 Strike and a super-tight wildcard race kept the Tribe from making the playoffs in 8 straight years, after being absent from October baseball since 1954.

    The Rushmore: Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel

    HMs: Sandy Alomar, Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Roberto Alomar

    The Budget Era (2002-present): Winning (or, more honestly, attempting to win) on a budget. No more big payroll 90’s behemoth teams. No more Roberto Alomar-type FAs. This era emphasizes short windows of contention, smart low-money deals for veteran FAs (Millwood in 05, for example), and building by trading away stars for multiple prospects. Sometimes it works (Colon and V-Mart), sometimes it doesn’t (Sabathia and Lee).

    The Rushmore: CC Sabathia, V-Mart, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore

    HMs: Cliff Lee, Asdrubal Cabrera (counting hopeful future performance)

    Overall Rushmore: Still, after all that, I’m going to go with the consensus picks. Lajoie, Speaker, Feller and Boudreau.

    • Nice work, CC. An insightful overview fun to read – obsessively well edited, if obsessive at all.

      As a Clevelander with a long view of this history, I wonder what your thoughts would be about some special Rushmore status for Lou Sockalexis, the Spider who in a sense named the Indians.

    • Good work indeed. And while checking out your choice of Bell for the 1960-93, I came to discover that he was the only Indians position player to reach even 20 WAR in that whole 34-year span. Yowza. Every other AL team had at least 3, except the Mariners (1), who were only alive for half that time. NYY, DET and BAL had 11 such players.

  13. You should do a “Mount Rushmore” of No Hitters/Perfect Games. Who’s gem was the sweetest? Or the sickest? Bobo was and went on to be a nobody. Vander Meer’s second no-no set baseball’s most untouchable record. Larsen’s was in a World Series game. Johan Santana ended one of baseball’s longest droughts. Ernie Shore pitched a no hitter in relief. Millwood/League/Wilhelmson/Furbush/Pryor/Luetge’s and Wagner/Dotel/Munro/Oswalt/Lidge/Saarloos’s showed great teamwork. Nomo no hit the Rockies in Colorado. The list goes on but it would be interesting.

    • Nice idea, Ted. Are we going to consider Haddix for this monument?

      Once Andy has taken us through the franchises, perhaps (as his energy and everybody’s interest allows) there could be a vote on future Rushmore concepts. These have been a lot of fun.

    • Alie Reynolds’ second no-hitter in 1951 cliched a tie for the pennant for the Yankees. Vander Meer’s feat was almost matched in 1947 by Reds P Ewell Blackwell. After pitching a no-hitter against the Braves, in his next start he lost a no-hitter against the Dodgers with one out in the top of the ninth inning.

      • I meant in back to back starts and now that you mention it Alie Reynolds’ nono should be in high consideration, too.

    • How about the all-mexican-extra-innings no-no, with Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon no-hitting the Astros in Pittsburg.

  14. Special, nostalgic mention to Fred Whitfield, who hit a lot of homers for the Tribe against the Yankees in the mid-sixties.

  15. Andy — I can’t get the write-in field to work. I wanted to vote for John Hart, the GM who assembled the ’90s team.

  16. BTW, people don’t tend to associate Roberto Alomar with the Indians but his best seasons were with the Tribe. Using WAR as the standard, he had his 1st, 2nd and 5th best seasons with them. A total of 19.3 WAR in only 3 years.

  17. Feller, Speaker, Lajoie and Thome.

    I broke with my previous votes by going with someone like Thome who wasn’t in the top six in his team’s WAR. Yet Thome came up as an Indian, spent his first thirteen seasons with them and was key to their rebirth, plus he came of age in the era of free agency when players move around more frequently. He needs to be on some team’s Rushmore, and that team is the Indians. Besides, he has a face meant to be chiseled in rock.

    Speaker also needs to be on some team’s Rushmore and the Indians are the logical spot.

    Lajoie maybe the most forgotten all-time great hitters ever. Sure we all know him, but I bet the average person who does know the names of Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Cobb, Hornsby and even Speaker will be hard pressed to remember Lajoie, one of the greatest righthanded hitters ever. He needs his Rushmore spot, too.

    • Lajoie’s obscurity today is probably a sign of increased appreciation of the base on balls. In ’01 Lajoie walked only about 20 times – the lowest total ever recorded for a qualifier batting over .425! With a little patience his career might have been good enough for people to learn how to pronounce his name.

  18. Lajoie, Feller, Doby, Lofton.

    My college roommate was from Cleveland and hated Lou Boudreau, I forget why, but some things you just gotta respect, so Lou’s out. He was also my least favorite Cubs announcer.

    Lofton’s from the Region, about five miles from where I grew up, and was an awesome basketball player in addition to being a definitive leadoff man – the point guard of baseball – so he gets the nod over Thome, a power forward (they’re much easier to find), who is apparently one of the real great guys of the game. I heard he has around a dozen or so nieces and nephews and pays for all of their college educations.

    If there were a fifth spot free it would go to Peter Laughner of Pere Ubu. Yes, I know he was a rock guitarist, but he remains a Cleveland icon, and if you were ever in Cleveland during the 1970s going to see Pere Ubu was a lot better bet than going to watch the Tribe.

    • tag:

      Request permission to differ: Boudreau to my mind was the best Cubs announcer. He explained the inside game to the listener in a way no one else ever did while I was following the team, Seventies, Eighties, Nineties. He occasionally butchered the language, true—kind of strange, since he was a college man, but the microphone scared him a little. Later Santo did the the same only worse and provided almost zero insight.

      The thing your friend probably didn’t like about Boudreau was that he really wasn’t too good a manager, 1948 notwithstanding. Bill Veeck didn’t think so, and Lou’s managing-only career after he left Cleveland for Boston, KC, and the Cubs suggests that when he couldn’t lead by example, he couldn’t lead much at all. There are anecdotes I’ve read about his mishandling of Dom DiMaggio and Jimmy Piersall that make him seem more insensitive than he really was. One of the reasons few really good players make good managers is that it’s so hard for them to believe in their hearts that those less talented, or less dedicated, or less focused, can’t just ratchet it up a little the way they themselves did.

      Consider: because of leg injuries early in life Boudreau was a slow runner, yet he was a star basketball player in high school and was an outstanding fielder at shortstop for most of his time in the big leagues. He was always facing the challenge and overcoming it, play after play, game after game. He was actually a very modest, unassuming man, too, and that must have compounded the problem: “I was nothing special, not really more talented than these guys, so what’s their problem?”

      • bstar,

        Thanks for the perspective, especially about Boudreau. I can’t remember exactly why my roomie disliked him, but you could be right on the money about his managing career. And you are in fact right about why he rubbed me the wrong way. As you say he was insightful about the ins and outs of the game, but I remember him getting ballplayer names wrong waaay too often, in an almost pigheaded way. He used to murder Manny Sanguillen’s name, and one would imagine that Vince Lloyd would have had to gently tell him off-mike how to say the darn thing. But he kept right on doing it.

        Your insights about why former stars often make poor managers are correct. And it extends across other sports too, with Bill Russell being another prime example. As player-coach he was incandescent, but purely as a coach he was a poor motivator, instructor and did not lead well.

        • When I first saw Manny Sanguillen’s name in print, I guess I was about nine or ten years old, and thought it was pronounced: San-jew-ellen. I had trouble with a previous Pirate catcher earlier: Jim Pagliaroni, but the guy between those two, I got right: Jerry May.

          • Right, snb, glass houses and stones, I guess. I replied to bstar on a previous post and mistakenly inserted his name again. Though I might not be able to write your nom de internet properly, at least I can pronounce it. :-)

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