If you ask many fans about the best hitters in Cleveland Indians history, they will spin off some century old stats of Shoeless Joe Jackson or Tris Speaker. These guys were great ballplayers but the problem is, most fans never saw them play. In my 35 years as an Indians fan, I’ve seen a few bats that I think stack up to the old timers.
It’s funny to look at Manny now and to remember that young fresh-faced kid who was drafted by the Indians in 1991. Manny’s career in Cleveland is what propelled him into the national spotlight as one of the game’s best power hitters. Between 1995 and 2000 Manny only had one season in which he hit below .300 and routinely hit over 30 home runs. Not only did Manny hit for power, he hit consistently as well. He was the total package and was the best all around hitter to grace the confines of Progressive Field in the last twenty years.
Thome was a ballplayer that the fans could really get behind. He was a big Midwestern kid who could give the ball a ride out of the park like no one else. The Tribe drafted Thome in 1989 and he came out of the gates slow. He didn’t play his first full season with the club until 1994 when he hit 20 home runs and had a .268 batting average. That was enough to get Thome noticed and he followed that season up with two more back-to-back seasons in which he hit for over .300. As of April 4, 2012, Thome still holds the record for most home runs by an Indian in a single season (52) and most career homers by an Indian (337).
Lofton was never a big home run threat like Thome or Ramirez but he seemed to always get on base. Lofton absolutely owns the all-time Indians records for stolen bases. He has 75 stolen bags in 1996 and 70 in 1993. From 1993 to 1997 Lofton had an incredible run in which he hit for over a .300 for five consecutive years.
Belle didn’t have as long of a baseball career as some of the other guys in the top five and I think people sometimes forget how good this guy was when he was around. Take the 1995 season for instance, Belle led the Indians in home runs, not bad considering both Thome and Ramirez were also on that team. Belle was another Indians player in the mid-1990’s that could hit for power as well as average. He routinely hit over .300 and led the team in RBI in 1993, 1995, and 1996. His career in baseball wasn’t as long but he shinned twice as bright when he was on top of his game.
Sizemore is the only player on the list that wasn’t on the World Series teams of 1995 and 1997. His numbers aren’t as fantastic as the other players but then again, he hasn’t had as much time to amass the stats of the other players on the list. Despite his youth, I think Grady is certainly worth a mention. I have completely enjoyed watching this kid come up form obscurity and develop into one of the best all-around players in the major leagues. He has the power to deliver the long ball, the speed to steal bases, and baseball smarts to be a team leader. For example, in 2008 he hit 33 home runs, had 90 RBI, and 38 stolen bases. This guy is the real deal, and if he can stay healthy and remain with the Indians for a good amount of time, I have no doubt in my mind that his name will be all over the Indians’ record books.
The big problem with the Indians isn’t a lack of talent, it’s been a lack of luck and a lack of ability to put the talent all together. If you look at some of the great players the Tribe has had in the past twenty years it’s hard to believe they haven’t won a World Series since 1948.