The first man on the list was Rene Gonzales, who walked only five times in his very brief Indians career. On an unrelated note, he’s also the last – and probably only – Tribesman to wear No. 88.
Jayson Nix belted two home runs on Monday, becoming the 7th Indians second baseman in the last 50 seasons with a multi-home run game and the first since Robbie Alomar in 2001. Each of the last 12 instances, all of which occurred between 1991 and 2001, came from Alomar or Carlos Baerga. The last to do so other than those two was Tony Bernazard in 1987.
The nine year drought between multi-home run games by an Indians second baseman had been the longest current drought for a position other than pitcher. Earlier this season, Austin Kearns also snapped a drought for left field which dated back to Matt Lawton in 2004.
Robert Alomar is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year.
He may not make it in on his first try, but he is guaranteed a spot in Cooperstown sooner rather than later. He will likely wear a Blue Jays cap into the Hall, but his place in Indians history is equally significant. While looking at his stats, however, I began to wonder: despite spending just three seasons in a Tribe uniform, is he the best second baseman in Cleveland history?
With that thought in mind, I set out to rank the best second baseman to wear a Tribe uniform. To qualify for my list, the player must have made at least 1,000 plate appearances with the Indians (roughly two seasons) and played at least 50 percent of his games at second base while with the Tribe. 22 players made the cut.
Let the countdown begin…
22. Pedro Gonzalez, 1965-67
Gonzalez was easily the worst every-day second baseman in Indians history. For just over two seasons he took the field nearly every day, posting a putrid .278 OBP. Perhaps his one redeeming quality was his fielding. In 1966 he ranked 2nd in the AL in range factor per 9 innings among every-day second basemen.
21. Jack Brohamer, 1972-75, 80
Brohamer is the only other Tribe second baseman to post a career OBP under .300, but his .292 OBP still gives him a significant edge over Gonzalez. Like Gonzalez, he was a reliable fielder, but offered little else.
20. Eddie Leon, 1968-72
Nothing quite sums up the misery of the 60s and 70s Indians squads quite like seeing their second basemen from 1965-75 rate as the three worst in franchise history. Leon spent two years as the everyday second baseman (1970-71). His .302 OBP was abysmal, but he had a little pop in his bat, hitting 10 home runs in 1970.
19. Tony Bernazard, 1984-87
This much I can say in defense of Bernazard, he wasn’t as much of a bust as the man we gave up to get him (Gorman Thomas). However, his self destruction in the 1987 season personified the disaster that was arguably the worst season in franchise history. His .301 BA in 1986 was one of the many reasons the Indians had hope in 1987. He was traded midway through the following year while batting just .239.
18. Ray Mack, 1938-46
Macks ranks among the worst second basemen in Tribe history, but may also be the biggest disappointment. After batting .283 and making an All-Star appearance in his first full season in 1940, Mack hit just .224 the rest of his career. He was traded in 1946 to the Yankees in exchange for three players including Gene Bearden, then a minor leaguer. Bearden would go on to win 20 games for the Tribe during their 1948 championship season.
17. Freddy Spurgeon, 1924-27
Spurgeon spent only parts of four seasons in the majors, all with the Tribe. He was the Tribe’s everyday second baseman in 1926 and hit .295 and lead the majors in sacrifice hits. He was a productive player when in the lineup and an above average fielder. Had his career lasted longer he would be ranked higher.
16. Bill Wambsganss, 1914-23
We’re starting to reach a certain level of mediocrity here with Wamby. Perhaps, best known as the only player to turn an unassisted triple play in World Series history, Wamby was the starting second baseman for nearly a decade. He wasn’t anything special at the plate, and was actually very poor in the field. His 43 errors in 1916 while playing SS forced the Tribe to move him to second base.
15. Carl Lind, 1927-30
Lind is a tough one to rank. He only spent one season as the everyday second baseman (1928) but it was an impressive year. He hit .294 that year and actually received MVP votes. His four seasons with the Tribe were his only years in the majors.
14. Jerry Browne, 1989-91
Browne’s numbers are actually better than some of those that rank ahead of him, but given the era in which he played he was well below average for the position. Perhaps adding to his low ranking is the fact that he was one of the three players acquired for Julio Franco, none of which came close to matching Franco’s production.
13. Bill Cissell, 1932-33
Cissell spent just a year-and-a-half in Cleveland and it was a roller coaster ride to be sure. He was acquired from the White Sox early in the 1932 season and hit .320 with the Tribe in his first season, and finished 11th in the MVP voting. The success was short-lived however as he hit just .230 the following season and was traded in the offseason.
12. Duane Kiper, 1974-82
Kuiper was a popular player during his time, but wasn’t much of a ballplayer. He consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in OBP during his time as the Tribe’s starting second baseman, despite batting at the top of the order throughout his career.
11. Roy Hughes, 1935-37
Hughes career started in Cleveland and he got off to a promising start. He hit .290 in his three seasons with the Tribe. He was traded that offseason to the Browns, but was never the same player outside of Cleveland. He does, however, hold the distinction of being the last Chicago Cub to collect a hit in the World Series – a single in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1945 World Series.
10. Johnny Temple, 1960-61
Temple was a three-time All-Star with the Reds before joining the Tribe in 1960. An injury shortened his 1960 season but he rebounded in ’61 with an All-Star campaign. It was a short stay in Cleveland, however, as he was dealt to the Orioles that offseason.
9. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2007-pres
By the time his career is over, we’ll likely think of Cabrera as a shortstop. But as of now, he fits the criteria for this list. Its tough to find the right spot for him, but his promising 2009 season is enough to land him in a spot in the top 10. His offense is adequate for a middle-infielder and he ranks among the top fielders in the game.
8. Ronnie Belliard, 2004-06
Belliard was one of my favorite players during his time in Cleveland, so perhaps I’ve overrated him a bit. While never an elite hitter, Belliard was a consistent table setter and flashed an adequate amount of power. His All-Star appearance in 2004 was a pleasant surprise in a miserable year for the Tribe.
7. Johnny Hodapp, 1925-32
Hodapp spent much of his career as a backup, but from 1928-30 he was was the Tribe’s primary second baseman and among the best in the game. During that span he hit .338, the second-highest BA among second basemen trailing only Rogers Hornsby.
6. Riggs Stephenson, 1921-25
I really struggled with where to rank Stephenson. He was never the Indians everyday second baseman, stuck behind Wamby for inexplicable reasons, perhaps simply a loyalty to one of the Tribe’s longest tenured players. Yet when he did player, Stephenson hit .337 as a member of the Tribe, the second highest BA among Indians second basemen. He eventually went on to star for the Cubs throughout the 20s and 30s and finished his career with a .336 BA. He remains one of the top hitting players not in Cooperstown.
5. Bobby Avila, 1949-58
Avila is another one that was tough to rank. His career averages are pedestrian, but he had a few stellar seasons including 1954 when he led the AL with a .341 BA and finished third in the MVP voting on one of the best Indians teams of all time. He was a two-time All-Star and finished in the top-10 of the MVP voting twice.
4. Joe Gordon, 1947-50
Hall-of-Famer Joe Gordon didn’t come to Cleveland until the very end of his career, but he still had something left in the tank. His 102 home runs rank second in Tribe history for the second baseman, and his .463 ranks third – both very impressive numbers for middle infielders of his era.
3. Carlos Baerga, 1990-96, 99
Baerga’s career got off to one of the best starts in Tribe history, regardless of position. From 1992-95 he appeared in three all-star games and won two Silver Slugger awards. While ultimately his career ended in disappointment, his time with Tribe ranks among the best in franchise history.
2. Roberto Alomar, 1999-01
The soon-to-be Hall of Famer falls just short of the top spot. Alomar was dynamic with the glove, arguably the second-best fielder in Tribe history behind Omar Vizquel. His numbers at the plate where equally impressive while in Cleveland. During his three years with the Tribe he hit .323 and was one of the game’s premier top-of-the-order hitters. His 138 runs scored in 1999 trail only Earl Averill’s 1931 season for the most in Tribe history.
1. Nap Lajoie, 1902-1914
Nap Lajoie, the player for whom the team was named for a period of time, takes home the top spot. As great as Alomar was, this ended up being a fairly easy decision. Lajoie’s career numbers rank among the Tribe’s all-time greats for any position and a very strong case can be made for him being the greatest all-around player in franchise history. His .339 BA with the Tribe trails only Shoeless Joe Jackson and Tris Speaker for tops in franchise history.