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IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' First Baseman of All-Time

IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' First Baseman of All-Time
December 30, 2012
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The IBI Power Poll is a semi-regular column that will take a definitive look at a list of something, anything really, that involves the Cleveland Indians. The plan is fairly simple: I'll take a look at a list of players, occurrences, potential happenings, uniforms, etc. I'll analyze all that's involved and rank them to the best of my ability. After ranking them, I'll add the IPI Power Poll, and give you a chance to make your vote count. Please, if you vote, add a comment to explain why you chose who you chose. That's where the real fun is. During the next IPI poll, I'll then take a look at the last poll, to see where we stand.

The polls will never close, so don't be afraid to take a look every so often at where we stand. Trends are fun to watch as well, and you just never know where hearts and minds will be.

In November, the first list focused on the Best Indians’ catcher of all-time, and I made my case for Victor Martinez as the best Indians’ catcher of all time. The voting by IBI readers was close, but in the end (meaning today), the readers were agreeing with me, but in a vote too close to call. VMart was/is barely beating out fan favorite, Sandy Alomar Jr., by only three votes (Alomar was fourth on my list). Coming in a distant third was Jim Hegan (my number 2), who was the catcher of record during the Feller era, as well as Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and Herb Score.

Of course, there isn’t a poll known to man that ends a conversation, and that’s the point of these IBI Power Polls, to start conversations…so if you’re reading this for the first time, and haven’t had a chance to vote for the best catcher, feel free to do so now. I'll continue to revisit these over time, just to see what's going on.

December’s only IBI Power Poll will take a look at the All-Time Indians’ First Baseman. I have a firm belief that this one will have a more cut and dry first place for first base. There will, no doubt, be a lively discussion about who comes in second. Please make sure to read, enjoy, and please vote at the end, and make a comment with regards to your pick in the comments section here at www.indiansbaseballinsider.com. Your viewership and opinions help drive this site, so we look forward to anything you might bring to the table.

While there were many first baseman mentioned in my list, there were several honorable mentions that just missed the cut for a variety of reasons. Doc Johnston and George Stovall were early timers with the Indians.

Stovall was with the Tribe before they were the Tribe, playing for the Cleveland Naps alongside Nap Lajoie. Stovall played eight seasons with the Indians, hitting .266 lifetime. While Nap might have thought a lot about him, his .627 OPS wasn't all that special, although he did muster up a 10.3 career WAR for the Indians. Over half of that came in two seasons.

Doc Johnston had two stints with the Indians, hitting .273, but had a seven-year OPS of .685 with the Tribe. His WAR was far beneath Stovall's, at 1.2, and is barely worth a mention, other than the fact that he was on the 1920 World Series team as the primary first baseman that season.

Lew Fonseca gave me the most pause of all the honorable mentions, and he was the best player not mentioned. He played with Cleveland from 1927-1931, had an incredible stat line of .337/.379/.468, for an .847 OPS. He had a 7.8 WAR, and led the league in hitting in 1929. So what's my issue? He only played over 100 games at first once, during that 1929 season. In 1927, he wsa the Indians second baseman, only played 56 games there in 1928, had an injury plagued 1930 season, and was traded midway through 1931. A great player for sure, just not enough longevity.

Vic Wertz is a name that many will remember based on his drive to dead straightaway center that Willie Mays caught. Wertz was more than just the guy with the hit though. While his best days were with the Detroit Tigers, Wertz still hit .270, with an .848 OPS for the Indians over five seasons. He hit 91 homers, drove in 326 runs, and had a 6.1 WAR. He ultimately played in 17 seasons in the bigs, made four all-star games (two in Cleveland), and was top ten in MVP voting twice with the Indians.

There are three other guys I want to mentione without stats, and that's Ed Morgan, Eddie Robinson and Chris Chambliss. All were good players, but didn't make the final list.

Let’s take a look at first basemen in the running:

George Burns, 1B (1920-1921, 1924-1928)

Burns had two runs with the Indians. He was purchased by the Indians on May 29th during the 1920 World Series season, and would stick with the Tribe through the end of the 1921 season, when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

During this stretch, Burns was a bit of a mixed bag, but more because of the talented Indians’ teams, and less because he wasn’t talented. He would only play first base in 12 games in 1920, and was used primarily as a pinch-hitter that season. His stat line was .268/.339/.375 on a team that was led by the great Tris Speaker. In the 1920 World Series, Burns went 3-for-10, scoring one run and driving in three, helping the Tribe to their first every World Series.

In 1921, Burns would start 73 games at first, sharing time with the 1920 starter, Doc Johnston. Burns was electric that year, upping his stat line to .361/.398/.489 for a cool .877 OPS. The Indians didn’t make the playoffs that year, and decided to go in a different direction.

The Indians would deal Burns, along with Joe Harris and Elmer Smith to the Boston Red Sox for the more established Jack “Stuffy” McInnis.

Burns became the regular first baseman for the Sox, and would hit .317 in 293 games, with an .822 OPS. The Indians corrected their mistake in dealing Burns by reacquiring him in January of 1924, when they sent Dan Boone, Joe Connolly, Steve O’Neill and Bill Wambsganss to the Red Sox, for Chick Fewster, Roxy Walters and Burns.

That’s when a pretty good career turned into something a bit more.

His lowest full season with the Indians over the next four seasons was .310, in 1924, and culminated with a scintillating .1926 season, in which had a stat line of .358/.394/.494, led the league with 216 hits and 64 doubles, while driving in 114 runners. Perhaps the most amazing part of his stat line is that he did it with only four home runs. The 64 doubles he hit that year is still a franchise record, and at the time, was a major league record. As it stands today, 64 doubles is tied for second, behind Earl Webb’s 67.

How good was the season for Burns? He won the MVP award, finishing in first by 30 points over the White Sox Johnny Mostil. Babe Ruth hit .372 that year, with 47 homers and 146 RBI…just sayin’.

Burns would play one more full season with the Tribe, and was sold to the New York Yankees in September of 1928, where he would win his second World Series.

Burns would end his career with the Indians having played parts of seven seasons, and 757 games. His stat line was an impressive .327/.375/.455, for an .830 OPS. He was also part of an Indians’ World Series team, and we know that is a rare feat indeed.

Hal Trosky, 1B (1933-1941)

Trosky was a highly thought of high school player out of Norway, Iowa, and after being courted in 1930 by some of the best major league teams in baseball, seemed destined to sign with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, who were in the middle of winning three World Series titles. That’s when Trosky met one Cy Slapnicka, a Cedar Rapids, IA native and then-Indians scout.

Slapnicka signed Trosky, which led to one of the most impressive careers in Indians’ history.

Trosky would work his way up through the Indians system, starting as a pitcher, before a change in his batting approach. Trosky initially was a right-handed batter, but had a cross-handed grip. With advice from Slapnicka, Trosky kept the grip, but started batting left-handed, and moved to first base.

In 1932, he hit 15 homers in 68 games with B Level Quincy. The Indians moved him to Toledo in 1933, and he crushed 33 homers in 132 games, and was brought up to Cleveland in September. During his first brush in the bigs, Trosky would hit .295, with a home run and eight RBI in 11 games.

Trosky’s first full season in the big leagues, his stat line was .330/.388/.598 for a .987 OPS. He hit 35 homers that year, drove in 142 RBI, had 206 hits, 45 doubles and nine triples. It was the beginning of an incredibly impressive seven seasons in which he drove in at least 100 runs from 1934-1939, hit 20 or more homers six times, 30 or more homers three times, and topped 40 once.

His best season came in 1936, when Trosky’s stat line was .343/.382/.644 for a 1.026 OPS. He would finish tenth in MVP voting that year, even though he was second in homers (to winner Lou Gehrig), and first in RBI (by 10 over Gehrig).

He would end his career with the Indians midway through the 1941 season when he broke his finger. Truth be told though, chronic migraines, which had started in 1938, would become too much for him. He would try and come back in 1944 and 1946 with the White Sox, but would never match his career numbers with the Tribe.

His overall numbers for the Tribe was .302/.371/.522 for a career .892 OPS. He hit 216 homers for the Indians, which at the time was second behind Earl Averill’s 226. He is currently fifth on the all-time list. His 162 RBI were the most in Indians history until Manny Ramirez broke it with 165 in 199. As it stands, Trosky’s 162 is tied for 20th.

Trosky may be the greatest first baseman never to play in an all-star game during an all-star era. He was unlucky in that some of the greatest first baseman of all-time played at the same time. Just in the American League, Trosky’s peers were Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig. That, along with migraineslikely kept him out of the hall-of-fame.

When he played his last game with the Indians, he was 28 years old. Of course, you do have to consider the fact that had Trosky not had migraines, it's distinctly possible that his last meaningful game would have been in 1941. Migraines kept him out of the war.

Even so, 28 years old...not hard to imagine a career restarting in 1945 at the age of 32, and resuming big numbers. Yeah, I know, another what-if. He's not the last one I'm going to talk about, because the next guy fits the bill as well.

Luke Easter, 1B (1949-1954)

Normally, I only talk about the Indians’ careers of the Power Poll, but I can’t help but talk about Easter’s career prior…because it is an interesting one.

Easter spent his early years playing in various independent Negro Leagues before being drafted in 1942 during World War II. He had broken his ankle during a car crash in 1941, ending his baseball season, and that same injury would get him discharged from the Army after just over a year.

In an interesting twist, Abe Saperstein (yeah, the same guy that started the Harlem Globetrotters a few years later) would sign Easter to his new Negro team, the Cincinnati Crescents. His team wasn’t able to gain admittance into the Negro American League, so the team, like so many others, barnstormed across the country.

With barnstorming and the Negro Leagues of the time, myth and reality blend together. Several baseball publications, including the Sporting News, reported that the first baseman hit 74 homers and 152 RBI, with a .415 average. He is also rumored to have hit a 500-plus foot homer to dead straight-away center in the Polo Grounds against the New York Cubans. Some reports have the home run coming for Cincinnati, and some, including Roy Campanella, remember it with the Homestead Grays.

He used that season to sign with the Homestead Grays, and became one of the highest paid players on the team after Josh Gibson had died.

Bill Veeck signed Easter for the Tribe in 1949, after already bringing in Larry Doby and Satchel Paige. At the time, Easter was a mythical legend that has really gotten lost in baseball history. He was sent to play in San Diego in the PCL league, becoming only the second black player in PCL history (behind John Ritchey, in 1948). Fans flocked to the stadiums to see him hit, with allegedly 30,000+ crowds showing up on a daily basis, at home and away. He would hit 25 homer for San Diego in only 80 games, playing with a broken knee-cap.  Easter was the eleventh black major leaguer when he made his debut in August of 1949. He told the Indians he was 27, but by then, he was already 33-years old.

He would play in six total seasons with the Indians, but only three full years, from 1950-1953. During those three years, he would hit 28, 27 and 31 homers, as well as 107, 103 and 97 RBI for an average of 29 homers and 102 RBI, and is reported to have the longest home run in the history of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. The home run went 477 feet, and went over the auxiliary scoreboard in right field.

His final stat line was .274/.350/.481, with 93 homers and 340 RBI. Easter was always one of the most affable and friendly players to ever wear an Indian jersey. After his career with Cleveland ended, he would go on to an extremely successful minor league career. He was fondly remembered, ironically enough, in Buffalo, where he once hit a home run over the 60-foot centerfield scoreboard, which was 400 feet from home plate. The home run was estimated to have gone over 550 feet.

Luke would move back to Cleveland after his minor league career was over, opened a jazz club, and worked as the chief steward of the Aircraft Workers Alliance. He was shot to death in 1979. 4,000 people paid their respects, including teammates from all across his long, storied, mythical career.

Vic Power, 1B (1958-1961)

Vic Power was one of the first Latino stars in the big leagues, and was involved in one of the most famous Indians’ trades because of one of the players involved departing Cleveland. On June 15, 1958, the Indians would send Dick Tomanek, Preston Ward and one Roger Maris to the Kansas City Athletics, for Power and Woodie Held. What speaks more to the trade is that the Indians weren’t unhappy with the return in the least, as Power was an exceptional player. Of course, we are talking about "Trader" Lane here, and while I don't think anyone in their right mind would make that trade again, Power was a quality first baseman. He wasn't Maris though.

In 1958, He would hit .317 with the Tribe, in 93 games, launching 12 homers and driving in 53. He would also win his first gold glove, a feat that he would match in every season with Cleveland. Ironically enough, the 12 homers in less than 100 games were the most he would hit with the Indians, and it was the only year he would play less than 147 games with the Tribe. It was also the only season in which he would hit over .300.

In his four seasons with Cleveland, Power had a stat-line of .288/.322/.413, with 37 homers and 260 RBI, as well as the four Gold Glove awards. He also can claim stealing home twice in one game against the Detroit Tigers. The irony is that he only stole three bases that season.

Power was primed to be the first black player in Yankees history. He was traded in 1953 after then-Yankees-co-owner Dan Topping said that he was a poor fielder. It was widely believe that it was race-related. The Yankees wouldn’t integrate until Elston Howard, in 1955.

Why?

Because he was one of the best fielding first baseman of his era, and the Yankees clearly had a fairly decent group of scouts. The Yankees loss was the Indians gain, right? But for Roger Maris?

Tony Horton, 1B (1967-1970)

There may not be any more a tragic tale in any Power Poll than that of Tony Horton.

The Indians traded Gary Bell to the Boston Red Sox for Horton in 1967, with the Red Sox looking for a starting pitcher on their way to the World Series. Horton was only 22-years old, and in 1963, Ted Williams had said of Tony Horton's swing, "The kid's a natural. You don't fool with a swing like that." High praise from a guy that was notoriously hard on other hitters' swings.

In 106 games for the Indians in 1967, Horton hit 10 homers. He followed that up with 14 homers in 1967. He played in 159 games in 1969, and had his best season yet, hitting 27 homers, driving in 93 runs, with a slash of .278/.319/.461. He was on his way to a similar sort of season in 1970, the year he turned 25. On August 28, 1970, he was hitting .269, with 17 homers and 59 RBI.

He would never play another game of baseball again.

There are lots of rumors about what happened to Horton, and they all centered around a mental breakdown. The distinguised Terry Pluto talked about it extensively in his book, The Curse of Rocky Colavito, and another tragic player-turned-sports psycologist, Sam McDowell had some thoughts on what happened to Horton. From Pluto's book:

"Tony was a perfectionish in a negative sense," said McDowell. "Because of his low self-esteem, he was continually trying to prove he was a failure by setting unrealistic goals, such as perfection. If you make your standard perfection, then you don't have to accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. I've seen other guys as tightly wound as Tony, but none would take failure as hard as he did. When he was 0-for-4, it was like the world caved in. I've never seen a player so despondent after a game. Back then, there was no such thing as a sports psychologist. The guys on the team did what they could to help him, but none of us had the training we needed. It's really sad. Tony had good numbers for a young player, but they were nothing to him. He had set himself up to fail no matter how well he played."

If you never read The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump, you are missing out on perhaps the greatest book about the Indians ever written.

How hard was Horton on himself? I read an article about a three-homer game that Horton had in Yankees Stadium, and could only focus on his last at bat in which he didn't hit a home run. A couple of months later, Horton was back in Yankees Stadium, facing off against left Steve Hamilton. Hamilton threw two eephus pitchus to Horton, which was chronicled on Youtube. You'll note Horton crawling into the dugout, which everyone laughed at at the time, but many point to that as being the beginning of the end.

The term "What If" has been used as a slogan by the Tribe over the past couple of years, but as my esteemed colleague Tony Lastoria opined in a former Tribe Happenings, perhaps using that slogan wasn't the smartest of ideas by the Tribe front office.

Andre Thornton, 1B (1977-1987)

Thornton was traded to the Indians from the Montreal Expos for middling starter Jackie Brown, who had gone 9-11 for the Tribe in 1976. It’s not a heralded deal in the annals of the Indians moves, but perhaps it should be. Brown would play only one more season for the Expos, going 9-12 as a starter and a reliever, while Thornton would play ten more seasons with the Tribe, and become one of the most popular players of his era. Not bad for a guy they picked up as insurance to the aging and much-injured Boog Powell.

Thornton would be the regular first baseman for the Tribe during his first three seasons. Thornton would injury his knee in spring training of 1980, and after surgery, it didn’t heal correctly. After a second surgery, Thornton wouldn’t play again that season.

When Thornton returned in 1981, Mike Hargrove had taken over at first base. Thornton would get spot duty throughout his career at first, but the position remained Hargrove’s until 1985.

Thornton can’t be spoken of without mentioning the tragedy early in his career. His wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident in October of 1977. He focused on his faith, his son, and baseball, and had one of his best seasons to date, hitting 33 homers, scoring 97 runs, and driving in 97 as well. His best season as an Indian would come in 1982, his first full season back with the Tribe, but it was mostly as a DH. He would crush 32 homers, and drive in 116 RBI. He would make the All-Star game for the first of two times. He would hit 33 homers in 1984, making the all-star game again.

In ten years with the Tribe, three primarily as a first baseman, and six primarily as a DH, his stat line was .254/.355/.453, with an .809 OPS. He would hit 214 home runs, which at the time, was third all-time for the Indians.

Mike Hargrove, 1B (1979-1985)

Hargrove was brought to the Indians in 1979 in a trade with the San Diego Padres for Paul Dade. He originally played left field for the Indians, but assumed first base duties when Andre Thornton got hurt prior to the 1980 season. He wouldn’t relinquish his first base job until 1985, when Pat Tabler would take over the job full-time.

Grover had been the rookie of the year for the Rangers in 1974, and was always known as a professional hitter. Of course, his lore as a player rests in his nickname, “the human rain delay.”

His routine:

Tap the shoes, play with a pad on his hand, or his batting glove, then tug on his jersey shoulder, then tug on his sleeves, then tug on his pants, then adjust the helmet, the very deliberately plant his left foot in the batter’s box, the softly plant his right foot in the box, the adjust his pants again. He would do this in varying degrees every at bat.

But he could play as well.

In 1980 and 1981, Hargrove would hit .304 and .317, and he had an OBP of .415 and .424. The latter led the league. Over seven seasons with the Tribe, Hargrove would roll out a .292/.396/.382 slash line…and yeah…that does say a .396 OBP, and it matches his career total, which ranks 68th all-time.

Of course, Hargrove would become one of Cleveland’s best managers of all-time, but that’s for another, rather short list.

Pat Tabler, 1B (1983-1988)

Tabler was traded to the Indians just prior to opening day in 1983 for Jerry Dybzinski. In 1983, he would split his time between left-field and third base, and had never played a second of first base through the end of the 1983 season. In 1984, he would play 67 games there, as well as left and third, but wouldn’t become the regular-ish first baseman until 1985, when Hargrove’s time diminished.

Tabler wasn’t, by any stretch, flashy or spectacular, but he was as consistent as you can get. His best season came in 1987, when he hit .307, with 11 homers and 86 RBI. He had 34 doubles, and made the all-star team that year.

Perhaps Tabler’s greatest claim to fame though was his ability to move runners in scoring position. He was dubbed “Mr. Clutch,” hitting an incredible .527 with the bases loaded for the Tribe in 55 at-bats.

His career stats with the Indians were .294/.356/.408, with 39 homers and 343 RBI. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1988 for Bud Black.

Paul Sorrento, 1B (1992-1995)

The Indians would acquire Sorrento from the Minnesota Twins for Curt Leskanic and Oscar Munoz, and would be a true unsung hero on the early Tribe teams of the 90’s.

Sorrento would wasn’t the glamour player that many think of when they think of some of the better first baseman, even on this list, but he was blue-collar through and through. He would hit 18 homers in his first two seasons as a regular first baseman with the Indians, hit 14 in his third year with the Tribe (in only 95 games), then finish his career off with 25 homers in only 104 games.

In his four years with the Indians, he hit an impressive 75 homers, driving in 266 runs, while scoring 220 in only 487 games. His stat line was .261/.340/.457, for a fairly impressive .797 OPS.

The Indians would let him walk after the 1995 season, when they brought back Julio Franco to take his place.

Jim Thome, 1B/3B (1991-2002)

Thome is the only player on this list that was actually drafted by the Indians, and that was as a third baseman, of course. Thome would debut with the Indians in 1991, and would get called up for some games in 1991, 1992 and 1993. He wouldn’t play in 90+ games until 1994, and wouldn’t really become a full-time member of the team until the World Series season of 1995. He would be the full-time third baseman for two full seasons, before the Indians would ask him to move to first base prior to the 1997 season.

In true Thome fashion, he didn’t blink, learned the position, which allowed the Indians to acquire Mark Williams for their second World Series appearance. Williams would be dealt for Travis Fryman after the 1997 season, and Thome would remain at first base for the rest of his Tribe career, discounting his brief stint as a DH with the Indians in 2011.

There isn’t anything in here that I can tell you about Jim Thome that most of you don’t already know. His first year at first base for the Indians, Thome would hit 40 homers, and drive in 102. He would lead the league in walks with 120, score 104 runs, and had a stat line of .286/.423/.579. It would be the second season in a row with an OPS above 1.0, and he would do it two more times, including his incredible 2002 season, which I’ll get to in a second.

Thome’s numbers in many ways would increase over the next several years. His homers dropped to 30 in 1998, but would increase to 33, 37, 49, and finally 52 in his final season at the Jake. During that 52 homer season, Thome would drive in 118, once again, lead the league in walks with 122, and had a stat line of .304/.445/.677. His .677 slugging led the league, as well as his 1.122 OPS. Amazingly enough, that OPS is third highest all-time. The other two aren’t on this list, but I’ll get to them in another power poll.

Thome’s career numbers with the Indians are insane. His 337 homers with the Tribe are first all-time. His stat line in 13 years with the Indians is .287/.414/.566 for a .980 OPS. He has 1008 walks, and 1400 ‘s. He’s scored 928 runs in 1399 games. His 1008 walk are the most in Indians history by 151, and his strikeouts are the most by over 500. He’s top three in every major power category.

Hell, I didn’t even mention his playoff numbers.

If there are other guys I’ve missed, so be it, but that’s life. I tried to make it definitive, but you can’t please everybody.

That said, here are my rankings.

#10: Paul Sorrento—It’s really hard for me not to mention Sorrento, as he was part of that initial run that the Indians made there in the 90’s, as I always mentioned. His WAR over his career with Cleveland was 3.0, and while I hesitated to put a guy like Chris Chambliss here, his was only 3.1. Sorrento was an unsung guy on those teams, and sure, perhaps a bit unspectacular, but those 25 homers in 104 games really sticks out for me. It was good enough for a top ten listing all-time for the Indians at the very least. I suppose a part of this is how much I’d love to have a Sorrento on the current team, and how much I appreciate that 1995 team. Of course, this could be my small way to get some folk out there to remember Pauly.

#9: Pat Tabler—I was never a big Pat Tabler fan, to be honest, and I actually considered dropping him from this list. I’m not sure what my deal is with regards to my dislike of him, but it’s there, and is perhaps why he is #9 on my list. He does have a respectable 6.3 career WAR, and he certainly was devastating with the bases loaded. To the best of my knowledge, his average with the Indians with the bases loaded would rank #1 all-time with at least 15 bases loaded hits. I’m not 100% sure of that, and don’t feel like looking it up, but I’m sure it’s close. He was also a #1 pick way back in 1976 by the Yankees, so there’s that.

#8: Mike Hargrove—I’m not going to lie, when I saw Hargrove’s career Indians WAR of 12.6, I was shocked, but his first three seasons in Cleveland were 2.7, 3.1 and 2.9, which carried him. Still, it’s hard for me to rank the slap-happy hitting Hargrove higher than seventh, even though you could make a legitimate case that he could be ranked above Horton, Power and Easter. I just don’t see it. Besides, I think we’ll see Hargrove making a run at #1 in another power poll next month. We shall see.

#7: Tony Horton--Growing up, my Dad talked about Tony Horton a lot. It wasn't always in glowing terms, but he always thought that Horton was going to be one of the kids that brought the Indians back to respectability. It's hard to say what would have happened, but the "natural" sure did put up some impressive corner infielder-like numbers. In four seasons with the Tribe, Horton clouted 68 homers, and drove in 255 RBI. His WAR during his short stint in Cleveland was an impressive 6.7. At 25, Horton was out of baseball, but boy, if you squint your eyes, it's not hard to see Horton playing another five or six years at least, and hitting 20 or so homers each year.

#6: Vic Power—I didn’t know much about Vic Power before I did this ranking list, and had a lot of fun reading up on him, and remembered the only other time I thought much about Power. Everything that I read told the story of a happy-go-lucky player that had flash and panache, and it just screamed Manny Sanguillen to me. I met Sanguillen many years ago as a kid when he sat down with my Dad and I while we were eating lunch one day in Cleveland. I had on my Indians’ hat, and this had to be in 1978 or 1979, and Sanguillen stopped at some bayfront, seafood place (which name escapes me now). I was under 10-years old, but my Dad and I immediately knew who he was. He was there as a greeter for some conference, and he asked me about my love for baseball and the Indians, and asked if I knew who Vic Power was. I didn’t, but he mentioned him as a hero of his, and that he had played for the Indians. We talked for 20 minutes or so, and it’s one of those moments you never forget. I remember not understanding half of what Manny said. I remember that flashy smile, and how he took the time to talk to me, and not the other way around. And I remember him talking about Vic Power. Sure, it’s an idiotic reason to put him ahead of some other guys, but so be it. It’s not a stretch, by any stretch, and you throw in the defense…and I’ll stick with him at #6.

#5: Luke Easter—I’ve always been a fan of mythos, and Luke Easter is the Indians ‘What If.” While Vic Power may be my personal story, Luke Easter was my pure baseball story. Easter was so shrouded in grey during his initial playing days, that he couldn’t even get into the major Negro League. He was never mentioned in the same breath as guys like Josh Gibson, but was certainly respected in the same manner once he joined the Grays later in his career. Once he joined the Tribe, he was already past his prime, and he still clobbered a ton of home runs, and you have to love a guy that players such as Roy Campanella revered. During his three full seasons with the Indians, his WAR was 2.9, 2.1 and 3.3, and those were the seasons in which he was age 34-37. His 8.6 WAR in a six season career that didn’t begin until he turned 33 is insane, especially when you consider how good those teams in the late 40’s were. He returned to Cleveland after his playing days were over, which only adds to his mythical stature.

#4: George Burns—I should just say the term MVP, and stop there. Burns won the MVP in 1926, but it’s not the MVP award that we are familiar with today. The MVP award back then was a quirky to say the least, and there were lots of quirks that went along with it. Probably the biggest quirk was that once you won it, you couldn't win it again. You noticed that I mentioned Babe Ruth before. Well, Ruth had won the first "official" MVP award in 1923, and legitimately could have won it in every seasons past that through 1930 (Walter Johnson won in 1924, and was a pitching triple crown winner, so perhaps that was an exception, but Ruth had a massive season that year). With that said, Burns was a fantastic first baseman during his second stretch with the Indians, and while the MVP award was his because of the quirky system, it shouldn't take away from his fantastic season, only add to it. Since there are only two other Cleveland Indians' MVPs, you have to give him credit where credit is due.

#3: Andre “Thunder” Thornton—Alright, I really struggled with this one, only because I wanted to move him up a spot, or even two. The problem is that while I remember him as a first baseman during my first days as an Indians fan, he was predominantly a DH. The fact that I had him as fourth right up until I moved him to third right before publishing may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m not sure if it’s a stretch down or up…which likely means he is in the right slot. Here’s what makes me feel better about his ranking. His first full season at first base for the Indians was fairly spectacular, and brought along with it a 4.0 WAR. His second season, and this is the season after his wife and daughter died, was unimaginably even better, as first baseman’s WAR rose to 5.0. In many ways, this showcased his ability to rise from the ashes. His last full season as a first baseman saw a bit of a drop in numbers, but he still had a solid 2.5 WAR. While he would never again be a full-time fielder, those first three seasons are enough for me. Thornton will no doubt show up on another list, and have a run at #1 there.

#2: Hal Trosky—There’s quite a bit of mythos that goes along with Trosky, much like Easter. In 1936, when he was 23, he hit .343, with 42 homers, 162 RBI and had 405 total bases. I still can’t get over that he finished tenth in MVP voting, and wasn’t even the first Indians’ player. Earl Averill finished third that season, after hitting 28 homers and driving in 126 run. His OPS was a bit higher than Trosky’s, but all the intangible numbers point to Trosky. Of course, Averill was the known commodity, and the eventual hall of famer. His 405 total bases is 23rd all-time, and the most all-time for the Indians. He crossed the 400 total base mark at 23, and the only other player to do it younger than Trosky was Joe Dimaggio, who was 22. The migraines destroyed his shot at the hall-of-fame, but as a power hitter, with a WAR of 27.8 throughout his Tribe career, he comes in a distant second.

#1: Jim Thome—I’m not sure if there’s going to be another position that seems to be as no-brainer as this one, but Thome had my first place vote before I ever started really looking. I don’t even feel like I have to explain this one, as everyone that reads this knows Thome’s story. He had seven consecutive 30-homer seasons with the Indians, closing out his Tribe career with 52 homers in 2002. He is the career leader in franchise history, with 334 home runs, and is in the top three of every major power number. Combine that with the fact that he’s my favorite all-time Indians player, and you have my easy #1.

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

camfrommaine63
January 1, 2013 - 2:15 PM EST
Can't help but throw out my top 5 /5 have to be retired, no allegations of cheating. I know griffey,Jones, Wynn are not first base but when I thought about the 90s early 2000s these guys ce to mind I'm proud. who are your top 5 and 5? From that era?1990-2005 @camfrommaine
camfrommaine41
January 1, 2013 - 2:09 PM EST
Jim thome is the best home run hitter not named Aaron Mays, or mantle, and after color barrier broke. No steroids or cheaters, Frank Thomas Tony gwynn, thome ,griffey, chipper, are the best hitters sure fire hof, maddux ,glavine ,smoltz ,johnson , Pedro best pitchers,
Dale Butler
January 1, 2013 - 1:41 PM EST
I think Thome hands down is the best. No one on the list can challenge Jim offensively and, although he wasn't the best defensive first baseman of the group, he wasn't bad. Easy peasy.
Adam
January 1, 2013 - 11:44 AM EST
Like you said Jim Thome's numbers speak for themselves. They certainly had some guys who could have been up there with him "if" things had worked out differently.
Rich
December 31, 2012 - 9:17 AM EST
My memory of Horton is how he would stand at the plate grinding the bat between his hands, with his forearm muscles bulging. I always thought that he would hit so much better if he could just relax a little.

By the way, those numbers he put up were in the late 60's when the pitchers had all the advantages and Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title in '68 with a .301 average and Luis Tiant had a 1.60 ERA. You wonder what kind of a career Horton would have had if he came along 30 years later when they had sports psychologists and the pitcher's huge advantage had been balanced out by a lower mound and smaller strike zone.
Norm
December 31, 2012 - 5:21 AM EST
I never saw Burns or Trotsky but was fortunate enough to see the others. Easter was the best by far considering his age declining skills and war injury when he signed with the Indians. MY grandfather and father both told me they had seen him play in the earlier life in the Negro Leagues and said he was a shadow of the player he once was when he came to Cleveland. My father always insisted that he was more powerful than Thome.
Bric
December 31, 2012 - 1:14 AM EST
Lots of great memories rekindled by this story.
Saw Luke Easter play in the international league.
Saw Tony Horton catch a ball in his glove then let the ball trickle out of the mitt, inch-by-inch.
Tony was too tense to be able to close the glove.
Booing did not help; fans back then were not fans.
200 people in the park, and no one was cheering.
Jim
December 30, 2012 - 11:37 PM EST
Dick--it took me a few hours...that for sure....over a few days. The fun is the journey. I live looking up and remembering the players from years past. I hadn't thought about the Sanguillen story in many, many years...

As per WAR, lol, I'm on the fence. I think it's overrated in the fact that sabr guys believe it to be the end all...the main and sometimes only look at success. I don't buy advanced metrics as an end all, but part of a bigger picture...
Jim
December 30, 2012 - 11:32 PM EST
Rocky--

Great story..,.thats the stuff I wanted to come out of this piece. While its clear that Thome is the best all-time, the fun is the next few guys, because u can really go in a bunch of different directions...
Richard
December 30, 2012 - 10:42 PM EST
Another guy I was going to mention was Tito Francona. His 1959 season was better than some players careers. But after I looked at the stats, he played OF much more than 1B.
dick
December 30, 2012 - 8:45 PM EST
wow, impressive piece... So how long did it take you to produce this 1B tribe history?

I was also a freddie whitfield fan. Also a Norman Whifield fan: "WAR, what is it good for? absolutely nothing!"
Rocky55
December 30, 2012 - 7:32 PM EST
My Dad says Hal Trosky & Luke Easter. I say Andre Thornton. The stats say Thome, whom I haven't forgiven. Without the migraines, Trosky might have all of the Tribe's career records. One of my favorite childhood Tribe memories was Herb Score saying on the radio "Come on Tony, get a hit." just before Horton delivered a GW HR. Day game, late 60's, back yard barbecue, 20 something adults & kids dancing around & celebrating.
Jim
December 30, 2012 - 6:59 PM EST
T-
That's what got Tabler on the list to begin with, and got Thunder to 3...

Thornton was a big deal to me...woulda had him second, but most of his career was as a DH...
Jim
December 30, 2012 - 6:56 PM EST
I had Whitfield on my list, but thought there were two or three other guys that were better, including Chambliss. I never saw Whitfield play, but that's actually a great story...

still would have Sorrento ahead of him...and agree that he was a product of the team...

Time to look for Whitfield vid!!!!
Jim
December 30, 2012 - 6:50 PM EST
Thanks for reading guys...I've written hundreds of articles here, but this may have been my favorite...thanks for putting up with my diatribe...
Jim
December 30, 2012 - 6:47 PM EST
Bob--that's exactly what I said in the article...but thanks for reading...
Joe
December 30, 2012 - 5:56 PM EST
Great article Jim. Being a Tribe fan for well over 50 yrs., great to see some of those names again. Tony Horton was a real tragedy. He had a lot of talent, and thought he would be a prominent first baseman for some time. Back then, reporting was not as good as now, so never really got the whole story. Real sad ! Luke Easter is a name I grew to know from his time in Buffalo, being raised just over the border from there. Saw him several times, and he sure hit some monsters. Thought Chris Chambliss might have made the honor roll as well. But all the rest of the names mentioned as well sure brought back a lot of memories of some good, and some not so good teams. Great nostalgia. Thanks again Jim.
Richard
December 30, 2012 - 5:29 PM EST
This may be my age showing but,,,
Somewhere on this list should be a guy named Fred "Wingy" Whitfield. He was the Indians 1B from 63 thru 67. He hit over 20 HR in 3 of those years. His OPS was over 700 for most of those years. And a Yankee killer also.
Besides, kids would imitate his upright batting stance where he would almost turn his back on the pitcher. (The highest form of flattery.)
Sorrento? Please. I liked Paulie too. But I think he was a victim (beneficiary) of his surroundings,
Bob
December 30, 2012 - 5:15 PM EST
Thome moved to first so Indians could acquire Matt Williams
Tony
December 30, 2012 - 4:33 PM EST
Great piece by Jim.....love these kinds of articles. Thome is obviously the runaway choice, but after this I think it comes down to personal preference. For me, Thunder Thornton and Pat Tabler were two guys I was a huge fan of while growing up in the 80s, and for that they both would be 2A and 2B for me. There have obviously been better 1B than them, but these were the guys I watched on a daily basis and learned to love.
troy
December 30, 2012 - 3:41 PM EST
1970 was my first season as a Tribe fan when i was 9 yrs old. My favorite players were Tony Horton, Ray Fosse, Graig Nettles and Sam Mcdowell.I Ever since then i always wondered what if?

What if Tony Horton had never had the emotional problems that ended his career? What if Ray Fosse didnt have his shoulder fractured in the 1970 All Star game that robbed him of bat speed and power? What if Sam Mcdowell stayed sober. He was the Randy Johnson of his era. What if we would have kept Graig Nettles and Chris Chambliss? The 1970's could have been a great era had the team not been sabatoged by rotten luck! In any case Jim Thome is the best but my father swore Luke Easter would have been had he played here from day one
James
December 30, 2012 - 3:36 PM EST
I don't think there is much competition here. Thome is one of the greatest hitters of all time and has been consistently underrated his entire career. His 2002 season was highly underrated and no one came close to him in the batter's box that year. When Thome goes to Cooperstown (I think he is the only person on this list goinf) he will wear a Chief Wahoo cap.

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