Over the next few weeks I’ll be filling in the time during the dead of winter with a look at the greatest Indians by uniform number.
To accomplish a project such as this some guidelines need to be laid down.
For starters, the player must have worn the number for at least three seasons. This eliminates Tribe legends from appearing with their early-career numbers (Jim Thome as No. 6, Bob Feller as No. 14, etc) as well as short-lived cameos (Frank Robinson as No. 20, Juan Gonzalez as No. 22, etc).
Additionally, only the player’s seasons while wearing the number will be considered. For example, Rocky Colavito wore No. 38 for three seasons, but they were the first three years of his career. So only these years will be compared to other candidates, rather than his entire Tribe career.
As we get into the more obscure numbers these rules will need to be bent, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
00 – Paul Dade, 1977-79
Dade’s Tribe career – as a utility man for three seasons in the late ’70s – was anything but memorable. But he’s stands out in Tribe history, not only as the first player to wear some form of the number zero, but also as the man the Tribe shipped to San Diego in exchange for Mike Hargrove.
Most commonly worn by: Dade (three seasons)
0 – Junior Ortiz, 1992-93
Ortiz holds the odd distinction of being the only Indian to ever wear a single-digit zero on his back. He was a journeyman backup catcher who was signed as a free agent a year after helping the Twins to the 1991 World Championship. He holds the distinction of being one of just four players with 500+ plate appearances in an Indians uniform without hitting a home run.
Most commonly worm by: Ortiz (two seasons)
1 – Bobby Avila, 1949-58
Surprisingly, the number one hasn’t been a popular choice in Cleveland. Since Avila was traded, it’s been worn by only a handful of relevant players (Billy Martin, Johnny Temple, Tony Fernandez, Casey Blake). Avila was a three-time All-Star in Cleveland, and perhaps best known for his 1954 batting crown – the only time it’s been won by a member of the Indians since the conclusion of WWII.
Most commonly worn by: Avila (10 seasons)
2 – Brett Butler, 1984-87
While under-appreciated during his time in Cleveland, Butler may have been a superstar in another era thanks to an OBP that hovered around .400 every year. His 17.2 WAR from 1984-87 ranked 11th in the AL, just behind George Brett and just ahead of Lou Whitaker. Acquiring Butler and Brook Jacoby from the Braves in exchange for Len Barker was undoubtedly one of the franchise’s best trades of the 1980s.
Most commonly worn by: Einar Diaz (seven seasons)
3 – Earl Averill, 1930-39
Despite the fact that the number hasn’t been worn since 1962 (although it wasn’t officially retired in Averill’s honor until 1975), an argument could be made for No. 3 ranking among the most prolific in Indians history. Averill wore the number in six All-Star Games, Dale Mitchell (who changed numbers frequently) wore it in another, and long-time Tribe infield Woodie Held wore it for the majority of his Indians career.
Most commonly worn by: Averill (10 seasons)
4 – Joe Gordon, 1947-50
From 1947 through 1957 the number was worn consecutively by Gordon and Jim Hegan, which resulted in five All-Star appearances for the number. But ever since it’s been cursed. Since 1960, the only players to wear the number in consecutive seasons are Tony Bernazard, Joel Skinner and Trevor Crowe. In fact, between Mark Carreon (1997) and Tony Graffinino (2009) the number mysteriously disappeared, one of the longest droughts for a relatively common number in Tribe history.
Most commonly worn by: Jim Hegan (seven seasons)
5 – Lou Boudreau, 1939-50
One of the greatest players in franchise history was also among the first to have his number retired. If not for an ill-advised trade in June of 1958, the number might also be known for Roger Maris – who wore No. 5 in Cleveland. Earl Averrill was also the first Indian, and major leaguer, to wear No. 5 on the back of his jersey in 1929. Despite the fact that most early uniform numbers were determined by batting order, Averill actually hit third for the Tribe, likely the reason he later adopted No. 3.
Most commonly worn by: Bourdreau, (12 seasons)
6 – Joe Vosmik, 1931-1936
More Tribe legends have worn No. 6 than any other number. Rocky Colavito wore it early in his career. Larry Doby wore it in 1953 (for some reason he and Bill Glynn switched numbers for a period of time and I’d love to know the story behind it), Ken Kelter, who frequently changed jerseys, wore it for a few years, and Jim Thome hit his first career home run will wearing No. 6. Harvey Kuenn, Minnie Minoso and Bob Lemon also briefly wore the number. But only Vosmik can really lay claim to the number as his own. Vosmik appeared the in 1935 All-Star Game and finished third in the MVP voting while wearing the number that year.
Most commonly worn by: Vosmik (six seasons)
7 – Kenny Lofton, 1992-96, ’98-01, ’07
While Lofton immediately jumps to mind when most Tribe fans think of No. 7, this is actually a tough call. Al Rosen, a four-time All-Star and MVP in 1953, donned the number for the majority of his Tribe career. As did Hal Trosky in the 1930s. While other numbers have seen a greater number of cameos, No. 7 undoubtedly has been the primary number for the largest number of Tribe legends.
Most commonly worn by: Lofton (10 seasons)
8 – Albert Belle, 1990-96
Belle, who hit 235 home runs while wearing No. 8, is an easy choice for this one. His seven-year stretch in the number is one of the greatest runs any uniform number has witnessed in Indians history. A number of other notables have donned the No. 8 (Luke Sewell, Ken Keltner, Ray Boone, Ray Fosse) but Belle stands out by a wide margin. Unfortunately, the number (which probably deserves to be retired) has been essentially dead since Belle left. Hopefully Chisenhall can revive it in 2014.
Most commonly worn by: Belle (seven seasons)
9 – Carlos Baerga, 1990-96, ’99
No. 9 has witnessed some great cameos. It was Bob Feller’s first number. Same for Buddy Bell. Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner closed out his career in No. 9 in Cleveland. But Baerga is the only regular to really make a name for himself while wearing the number. Ryan Raburn brought some sign of life to the number this past year and hopefully continues in 2014.
Most commonly worn by: Baerga (eight seasons)