IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Second Baseman of All-Time?
In November, Indians Baseball Insider introduced a new column, The IBI Power Poll. 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 continues to be close, with Victor Martinez leading Sandy Alomar for first place. While Sandy Alomar Jr. is generally considered the greatest all-around catcher in Indians’ history, is injuries couldn’t be ignored. Offensively, there wasn’t anyone close to VMart’s brilliance with the Indians. So far, that’s proven to be the difference between the two.
In December, the second list focused on the Best Indians’ first baseman of all time, and this one wasn’t even close. Jim Thome is currently the leader by a landslide. Out of the 100+ votes, Thome has 82 votes, with Hal Trosky a distant second, and the only other candidate with double-digit votes.
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 or the best first baseman, feel free to do so now. We will continue to revisit each poll as we go through the lineup, until we have a complete starting lineup.
All-Time IBI Tribe Lineup:
January’s IBI Power Poll will take a look at the All-Time Indians’ Second Baseman. This one has the potential to have several
Let’s take a look at second basemen in the running, and there are many…many good ones:
Nap Lajoie, 2B (1902-1914)
There are many that say Nap Lajoie was the first baseball superstar, and that really wouldn’t be hyperbole. There are some that would say that Nap Lajoie is the greatest second baseman of all time. That really wouldn’t be hyperbole either. Of course, that’s always going to be conjecture, which is what makes baseball what it is today.
Lajoie was the second baseman for the Phillies as the league entered the new century, and the Phillies owner had guaranteed Lajoie that he’d be the highest paid player on the team. When Lajoie discovered that he was making $400 less than teammate Ed Delahanty, he decided to jump leagues. The new American League had formed, and Lajoie legitimized the league by joining Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1901.
He dominated the weaker league, winning the Triple Crown, and hit .426, which was the highest average posted in the twentieth century. Thankfully for Cleveland, Phillies owner John Rogers took to the courts, and got an injunction preventing Lajoie from competing for any team in the state other than the Phillies. He would skip all his team’s games in Philadelphia during that season, which likely led to the Athletics winning the pennant.
Lajoie was such a tour-de-force at the time that the Cleveland franchise was routinely called the Naps, and for good reason. Lajoie would lead the league in hitting in 1903 with a .344 average, and upped his average to a league leading .376 in 1904. He would also lead the league in hits (208), doubles (49) and RBI (102). The team struggled to a fourth place finish that year, and Lajoie was asked to take over as manager of the team, which he gladly accepted.
Lajoie was a good-but-not-great manager, and it’s likely that his managerial duties took away from his play on the field. His average would fall under .300 in 1907 and 1908, and midway through the 1909 season, Lajoie resigned as manager. He would hit over .300 every season after that for the Indians, until his final season with the club, in 1914, when he was 39 years old.
Arguably, his best season in Cleveland was in 1910, when he led the league in games, at bats, hits, doubles (51) and average (.384). From 1910 through the 1912 season, Nap never hit less than .365, and finished in first or second in hitting in all three seasons. Lajoie technically didn’t win the 1910 batting average in one of the best stories in baseball.
Lajoie bunted eight straight times on the last day of the season in a doubleheader, for eight hits and a sacrifice, then hit a triple in his last at bat to seemingly pass Ty Cobb in the batting race. The Browns manager had purposely told the third baseman to play back during the game, allowing Nap to take advantage. Cobb’s teammates were so “upset,” that most of his teammates sent Lajoie congratulations. AL President Ban Johnson would give Cobb the batting title, and while it was proven to be false, Bowie Kuhn would uphold Cobb’s title.
Lajoie would play 13 seasons with the “Naps,” and would hit .339, with 33 homers, 919 RBI, 865 runs and 240 stolen bases. He was inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 1937.
Bill Wambsganss 2B (1914-1923)
I went back and forth about listing Wambsganss on this list, but had to honor the simple fact that he was the starting second baseman during the 1920 World Series victory, as well as the guy that took over for Lajoie full-time in 1915. He lasted with the newly named Indians through the 1923 season, and while he had no offense to speak of (well, not much), was a decent defensive second baseman of the era, but led the league in errors a few times.
With that said, the 1920 season was his most memorable. Wambsganss went 3-for-6 in the pennant-clinching ballgame, but was one of only two regulars that hit under .300 for the Tribe that season. He was good friends with Ray Chapman, who was killed that season after getting hit by a pitch, and losing his double-play partner clearly affected him.
He still had perhaps the most memorable play of the World Series, that year in baseball, and one of the great moments in World Series history. In all seriousness, that one play got him a spot in the all-time listings of Indians’ second baseman. Game 5 of the 1920 World Series was noteworthy for several reasons. The first Grand Slam was hit in this World Series, followed by the first home-run ever hit by a pitcher in a World Series. “Wamby” would arguably top both. With two on and nobody out in the fifth, Wamby caught a line-drive on a hit-and-run, tagged second, then the runner coming from first for the only unassisted triple play in World Series history. As a matter of fact, it’s the ONLY triple play in World Series history.
In ten years with the Tribe, “Wamby” hit .258, with a career .650 OPS. He hit six homers, driving in 429 run, while scoring 556 himself…and oh yeah…he had that one pretty good play in the 1920 World Series.
Johnny Hodapp (1925-1932)
Hodapp was a highly sought after player as a youngster, coming to the Indians as a 19-year-old infielder in 1925. He started off his career as a third baseman, and went 2-for-5 in his first ballgame with the Tribe, and things were looking up, but a broken ankle would curtail his 1926 season, and would keep him from becoming a regular for the Indians until 1928.
He was used primarily as a utility player in 1927, but hit .304. His fielding at third kept him from becoming a regular. In 1928, Hodapp would play in more than 100 games for the first time, hitting .323, and driving in 73 runs. He was still a liability on the field though, which was exemplified by a four-error game on April 30th. Injuries would cost him six weeks that season though. He did showcase some offense though, with a two-homer game, as well as a game in which he had two hits in an inning …twice.
It was thought that Hodapp would miss the 1929 season after he twisted his knee in spring training. The plan was for the struggling third baseman to move to first base. Instead, he moved to second. He continued to hit, batting .327 with 51 RBI.
Things changed in 1930, which turned out to be his best season. He didn’t miss a game during the 154-game season, and it was highlighted by a 22-game hit streak from May through June 19th, that had his average sitting at .391 at the time. He would hit .354, which was sixth in the league (Al Simmons hit .381 that year, and it was the season in which Gehrig hit .379 with 174 RBI), and led the league in games, hits (225) and doubles (51). He would hit nine homers, and drive in 121, which would prove to be the most he would hit in a season in his career, by more than double (his next highest was 56).
In 1931, Hodapp “only” hit .295, with two homers and the 56 RBI, and was traded to Chicago after only seven games in the 1932 season.
At the end of the day, Hodapp was an injury-prone, relatively malcontented player. He could hit the ball, but was a defensive liability. Overall, Hodapp hit .318 for the Indians, with a .787 OPS in eight seasons. He hit 22 homers, and drove in 355, while scoring 302 runs. Pretty good statistics, but only played in 100 games or more three times, and only twice as a second baseman.
Odell Hale (1931, 1933-1940)
Hale split his career with the Indians between third base and second base, and while I contemplated leaving him off the list altogether, he did play 100+ games at second twice, and 70+ games at second base four times.
Hale would get a taste of the big leagues in 1931, playing in 25 games, and hitting a respectable .283. He would play the entire 1932 season in Toledo, hitting .333, which led the Indians to bring him back for the 1933. He would hit .276 that season, with ten homers and 64 RBI in only 98 games, mostly at second. He was just getting started.
In 1934, Hale was one of the better hitting second baseman. He hit .302, with 13 homers and 101 RBI. He would score 82 runs. He was even better offensively in 1935 and 1936, but would play most of his games at third. He hit .304 in ’35, with 16 homers and matched his 101 RBI from the year before. He upped his average to .316 in 1936, with 14 homers and 87 RBI, and scored a career high 126 runs.
In 1937, he would split his time between second and third, but would see a significant drop in offensive production. He would become the regular second baseman in 1938 and 1939, and his offense would pick up both seasons, but would never reach the levels of the ’34-’36 seasons.
After years of speculation about a trade, Hale was dealt in 1940.
Overall for the Tribe, Hale hit .293, with an impressive .800 OPS. He hit 72 homers, while driving in 563 runs. He would score 533 runs in his nine seasons with the Indians.
Joe Gordon (1947-1950)
Joe Gordon was a former MVP, and was considered one of the classiest players in baseball throughout his career. He won the MVP award in 1942 for the New York Yankees, after he hit .322, with 18 homers and 103 RBI. It was the only time he would hit over .300, but it was arguably his best offensive season. With the Indians, Gordon would belt 100 homers in his four seasons.
Gordon would serve during World War II during the 1944 and 1945 seasons, but would return to the Yankees in 1946. Gordon struggled with injuries that season, and was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for the 1947 seasons. While the rumors were that Gordon would be traded for player/manager Lou Boudreau, that proved to be false. Bill Veeck traded him for Allie Reyndolds, and Boudreau was at the heart of wanting Gordon.
Gordon and Boudreau x were the best double play duo in baseball. Gordon hit .279 that year, with 29 homers and 93 RBI, but he would save his best for when it counted most. In 1948, the 33-year-old belted 32 homers, and drove in 124 RBI, while hitting .280. To top it off, Gordon complimented that offense with perhaps the best glove at second base in baseball. The Indians would, of course, win the World Series in 1948.
Gordon’s offense would begin to slip in 1949, as his homers dropped 12 to 20, and his average dipped nearly 30 points, to .251. He would close his career in Cleveland in 1950, hitting only .236, with 19 homers and 57 RBI.
Overall, Gordon would throw up a .262/.354/.463 slash line, with an impressive .817 OPS. He would hit 100 homers, while driving in 358 runs, and scoring 318 in 566 games over four Indians’ seasons. A youngster named Bobby Avila was knocking on the door. Gordon, in a classy move, would spend an abundance of time with the young Avila. Avila would credit Gordon throughout his career for many of his achievements.
Gordon was also credited for being the player that most welcomed Larry Doby. Gordon, being a former Yankee, was an extremely influential player on the team, and Doby often credited Gordon for his transition to the bigs. Doby was a second baseman by trade, but that didn’t stop Gordon from showing him the ropes.
Gordon had it all, respect, offense and defense, and it landed him in the Hall of Fame in 2009
Bobby Avila ( 1949-1958)
Bobby Avila was the first player ever to be signed out of the Mexican League by a Major League baseball team, and nearly curbed one of the biggest events in baseball history. Leo Durocher and Branch Rickey had noticed Avila in 1946, and offered him a $10,000 contract. Before Avila could sign a deal though, Durocher was suspended for gambling, and Rickey had signed another second baseman, Jackie Robinson.
Avila would sign with the Indians in 1948, and made his debut with the club as a utility player in 1949. Joe Gordon took him under his wing, and after hitting .299 in a part-time role in 1950, he took over the second base position full time in 1951. He would hit .304 that season, with ten homers and 58 RBI during his first full season, and would follow that up with a .300 season in 1952, and led the league with 11 triples.
His average would dip to .286 in 1953, but would follow that up with his best season as a big leader. In 1954, Avila led the league with a .341 average, belting a career high 15 homers, with 67 RBI and 112 runs scored (both career highs as well). Even more impressive was that fact that he played much of the season with a broken thumb.
13 of his 15 homers either tied or won the game, and a grand slam on September 17th guaranteed at least a tie for the pennant. He walked 59 times, while striking out on 31 times. His OBP was an insane .402 that year, which was also a career high.
He would never match those numbers again, as he wouldn’t hit above .272 in his next four seasons with the Indians. Over his ten year Tribe career, Avila had a .284/.362/.392 slash line, with 74 homers, 442 RBI, and 688 runs scored.
Duane Kuiper (1974-1981)
Kuiper was part of the Indians as I was growing up, and had a place locked on the all-time list because of that. Of course, he was a pretty good player aside from that.
Kuiper would make his debut with the Indians in 1974, and in ten games, went 11-for-22, with two doubles and four RBI. His 1.133 OPS gave plenty for Tribe fans to ponder. He would split time in 1975 with Jack Brohamer at second. He would hit .292 in 90 games, and the Tribe then dealt Brohamer to allow Kuiper to play full time, which he did for the next four seasons.
Kuiper wasn’t much of an offensive player, hitting only one career home run, during the 1977 season. Kuiper has the most career at-bats with only one home run in the history of baseball. Still, he could get on base, and was one of the better contact hitters in baseball. Over his career with the Tribe, he would walk 176 times, while striking out only 208 times.
He led the league in fielding percentage at second base in 1976 and 1979.
Overall, Kuiper hit .274 with the Tribe, wuith a .320 OBP.
Tony Bernazard (1984-1987)
Bernazard may be a forgotten name on this list, but you can’t ignore his numbers with the Indians, as they were pretty good.
He was traded to the Indians from the Seattle Mariners for Jack Perconte and Gorman Thomas. His first season wasn’t all that special, as he hit .221 with a .577 OPS in 140 games, but it would get a whole lot better in the years to come.
In 1985, Bernazard rebounded from his worst season as a major leaguer with his best. He hit .274 that season, with 11 homers, 59 RBI, 73 runs and 17 stolen bases. He walked 69 times, while striking out only 72 times. He followed that up with his best career year. He hit a career high .301, with a career high16 homers and a career high 73 RBI. He scored a career high 88 runs, and had a career high.818 OPS.
He would follow that up with another decent season, but it was nowhere near his 1986 numbers. His average would drop to .239 with 11 homers in 79 games, before he was dealt to the Oakland A’s at the trade deadline.
Overall for the Indians, Bernazard had a .264/.334/.391 slashline, with 41 homer and 200 RBI, while scoring 244 runs.
Carlos Baerga (1990-1996, 1999)
Let me just remind you about Carlos Baerga. In 1993, Carlos Baerga became the first second baseman since hall of famer Rogers Hornsby to have back-to-back 200-plus hit, 20-plus homers, 100-plus RBI and 300-Plus average. There was an outside shot that he could haved done it in 1994 and 1995, had both seasons not been shortened by the strike. In 1993, he became the first player in major league history to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same inning.
There was a time when Baerga looked like a lock to make the hall of fame.
There had been a rumbling over the years about Baerga and how he would come into camp out of shape as he career progressed. He would ultimately work himself back into shape, but would ultimately struggle with stamina as the year would progress.
Baerga would return for a brief time in late August 1999 for a brief return, but nothing as significant.
Overall, Baerga’s numbers with the Indians over eight seasons is very impressive. His slash line is .299/.339/.444 with a .783 OPS. He hit 104 homers, drove in 565 runs, while scoring 549 runs in 941 games. For the early part of his career, he walked in the clouds, being compared to hall-of-famer Rogers Hornsby, and was the primary second baseman during a major part of the Indians’ 90’s heyday.
You have to wonder what would have been had he been fit.
Roberto Alomar (1999-2001)
If only Alomar could have been on this club earlier. The Indians were involved in discussions to bring Alomar to Cleveland after the 1995 season, but with Carlos Baerga entrenched at the position, it wasn’t likely. Of course the two friends had played winter ball together with brother Sandy Alomar Jr., with Baerga moving to third base, but it wasn’t to be…yet.
In 1999, the Indians finally signed Alomar to a four year deal. He would never hit below .310, and finished in the top five in MVP voting in both 1999 and 2001, and made the all-star game in all three seasons.
In 1999, he had a slash line of .323/.422/.533, with 24 homers, 120 RBI and a league leading 138 runs. He stole 37 bases on top of that. In 2000, his “worst season” with the Indians, he hit .310, with 19 homers, 89 RBI, 39 stolen bases and 111 runs scored. Finally, in 2001, he would hit a career best .336, with 113 runs scored, 20 homers and 100 RBI.
On top of that, Alomar, combined with Vizquel, would become one of the greatest double-play combinations of all-time. The would win gold gloves in all three seasons together, and combined with Travis Fryman, made up one of the best infields in Cleveland Indians history.
His career numbers with the Tribe is .323/.405/.515 for a .920 OPS. All the numbers there were the best in his career, as were his 63 homers. Keep in mind, he played in Toronto for two more total seasons than in Cleveland. While his most memorable games were clearly in Toronto, had the Indians been able to manage a World Series victory during his tenure, it’s likely he’d be remembered for his tenure in Cleveland a bit more than he is today.
In the Indians rebuild, Alomar was dealt to the Mets prior to the 2002 season.
There are a few guys listed here, that probably shouldn’t, but the only guy that maybe should get on this list is Ron Belliard. I just can’t bear to do it.
Here are my rankings.
#10: Bill Wambsganss—I’ll be honest here, the only two reasons I even put Wambsganss on this list is because of one play, and the World Series. His career WAR was 1.3 with the Tribe, and he just didn’t do much. He did have some longetivity, but he comes in at #10. I’ll be honest here, I sat and thought about Ronnie Belliard here as well, but I was just never a fan…so Belliard is my #11.
#9: Johnny Hodapp—If Hodapp had played in more games at second base, and if he had played more games, I’d have likely moved him up to #6 or #7, since I have a couple of preference choices ahead of him. His WAR with the Tribe was a solid 9.3 over eight seasons, batted .318 during his Tribe career, and had a .787 career OPS. He should probably be higher than this, but what can I say. I hadn’t even thought about Hodapp or Wambsganss since I was a kid, so out of memory, out of the top, I guess.
#8: Tony Bernazard—I suppose Bernazard gets the first personal push here as his numbers really all stem from his 1985 and 1986 seasons. His WAR during his four-year stint with the Tribe was only 3.0, but I can’t forget that big-time season in 1986, which at the time, was the best season for a second baseman since I was born. That stuff is hard to forget, so I bumped him past Hodapp.
#7: Duane Kuiper—Kuiper was always one of my favorite players for the Indians as I was growing up, and quite frankly, it was because I met him. In many ways, he was the face of the franchise while he was there, especially after Buddy Bell was moved. Kuiper did nothing offensively, but that adds to his quirks. Defensively, he was one of the best however, and you gotta give me some leeway for putting the guy I grew up watching higher than he should. Kuiper should likely be #10, but I figured I could mess around a bit with the bottom of this list, since it’s the top that we’re most worried about.
#6: Odell Hale—Now it’s time to get serious. Hale was outstanding, and I’d likely have bumped him up past Avila and Gordon had he played more at second base. He preferred third, and seemed to play better at third, but that’s not to take away from his very good numbers at both spots. In nine seasons with the Indians, he had an impressive 14.7 WAR, while hitting .293, with 72 homers and 563 RBI. He played for some very good Indians teams, and was one of the better players.
#5: Bobby Avila—Avila is a guy that my Dad grew up watching, and he told me a ton of stories about that 1954 season in which he hit .341. Of course, my pops mostly remembers how a guy that hit nearly .350 during the seasons, “couldn’t hit the ocean with a fish” during the World Series. Here’s the bottom line though. From 1951-1954, Avila’s WAR wa never lower than 4.4. Over his ten year career with the Tribe, his overall WAR was 26.4, while his career slash line was .284/.362/.392. Really good stuff.
#4: Joe Gordon—Gordon’s best seasons were with the New York Yankees, but you can’t discount his seasons with the Indians, especially since he was the starting second baseman on a World Series winning ballclub. His WAR with the Indians over only four seasons was an impressive 18.9, with an .825 OPS, 100 RBI and 358 RBI in only 566 games. You also have to take into account the fact that he was the ambassador to Larry Doby joining the team, and also helped develop his successor, Bobby Avila. You can’t measure that with numbers.
#3: Carlos Baerga—I know there are a lot of things that run through folks minds when they think of Carlos Baerga, but for me, it was those two seasons in 1992 and 1993 in which he seemed almost a sure thing to make the hall. During those two seasons, he hit .312, then .321. He had 205 and 200 hits. He had 32 and 28 doubles. He had 20 and 21 homers. He had 105 and 114 RBI. He even had 10 and 15 stolen bases. Those seasons were sublime, and the next two weren’t far behind, as the strike shortened both. His WAR with the Indians was 17.9, and he really did put up the beginning numbers of a hall of fame career. If only he had kept himself in shape. I actually thought he was going to be #1 when I started this, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
#2: Roberto Alomar—The only thing keeping Alomar out of the #1 slot is the fact that he only played three seasons. But boy, those three seasons were nothing but special. In three years, his WAR with the Tribe was 19.3, which was only 1.7 below his five-year total in Toronto. His .323 average is second only to Lajoie on this list, and his .920 OPS is tops. That’s likely helped by the fact that he only played in Cleveland those three seasons. What nearly put me over the edge though was that defense. Seriously, was there ever a better defender at second base in Cleveland than Alomar? I can’t imagine it. Still, his limited brilliance would put him at #1 if the #1 guy hadn’t been the very foundation of baseball in the Forest City.
#1: Nap Lajoie—I really had a hard time with this one, and literally just bumped Lajoie to the #1 slot. Look, they named the team after him. While the numbers support another as the #1 choice, the simple fact that they nicknamed the team after him should be enough. Lajoie was tenacious, and fit the mold of the players back in the day. He was a blue-collar scrapper, and singlehandedly entrenched baseball into the Cleveland psyche. He was a free agent, before free agency, and he was a superstar before the term was coined. He led the league in hitting twice (technically three times), and led the league in hits with the Tribe three times. He was in the running for MVP twice when it was extremely political (ha, like it isn’t now), and likely would have won it a few times before that had there actually been one in his prime. He was a player manager, and likely lost even more numbers thanks to that. His WAR in 13 seasons with the Indians was 76.4, and his 102.2 his 24th all-time. I could throw numbers up here all day, but the fact is he was the foundation of baseball in Clevleland, and they named the team after him.
I have a feeling that there will be an interesting battle for the #1, #2 and #3 slots, and maybe even the top 5. It certainly is an interesting discussion, so take part in the poll, and the discussion.
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 email@example.com.
the great thing about any poll is what folks use as criteria. As much as I don't buy the "I didn't see him, so I don't know" stuff...it's legit...
So can't fault someone from doing it.
That said...THEY NAMED THE ENTIRE TEAM AFTER HIM...lol...
Eddie Murray/Julio Franco
But I have to agree with Lajoie, not only because of the #`s he put up but he was with the Tribe much longer.
You could almost flip a coin on this one.
That being said my vote goes to Alomar. Duane Kuiper defensively was as good as anyone.. In the late 70's before ESPN Kuiper was a highlight reel on Mel Allen's this week in baseball.
I think if the Tribe had put Julio Franco at secondbase from day one he would be the top vote getter
I don't remember if it was the 2000 or 2001 season, but when we had traded for David Segui, I recall one of the announcers say that we are potentially witnessing the best infield defense ever assembled. They also showed a stat that had the 4 players combined career fielding percentage, and it was the highest of all time.