April 15, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
25°F

Commentary: Ranking the top 10 Indians since 1980

During a rainout a couple weeks back, my mind was wandering, as it often does even when there’s an actual game on the field.
Anyway, I started thinking about the greatest players in Indians history and deduced that it would pretty much come down to the 12 that are members of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
So, to narrow it down a bit, I started thinking about the best players to wear a Cleveland uniform since 1980 — right around the time I started following the Indians.
Anyway, here is one man’s Top 10 list of the greatest Indians since 1980. Enjoy.
Kenny Lofton
(CF: 1992-96, 1998-2001, 2007): K-Love was the total package, an elite leadoff man and arguably the game’s best defensive center fielder during much of his tenure in Cleveland. That’s why I put him above all others that have worn an Indians uniform since 1980. He didn’t hit home runs — few leadoff hitters do — and made up for it by leading the league in stolen bases five times (and is the Indians’ all-time leader). His over-the-wall catch to rob Baltimore’s B.J. Surhoff in 1996 is one that will forever be etched in the minds of those fortunate enough to see it live or on replay.
Albert Belle
(LF, 1989-96):  Few were fond of Mr. Freeze as a person, and that included some of his own teammates. But that just lent to his status as one of the most feared hitters in the game during his time in the cleanup spot for Cleveland. Belle led the team in homers six straight seasons and was arguably one of the greatest clutch hitters in franchise history. He was robbed of becoming the Indians’ fourth MVP winner in 1995, the year he became the only player to record 50 doubles and 50 homers in the same season, losing out to Boston’s Mo Vaughn.
Jim Thome
(3B/1B/DH, 1991-2002, 2011): One of the most popular players in club history, Thome is the Indians’ all-time leader in home runs by a wide margin and walks, and trails only Hall of Famer Earl Averill in RBIs. He was a three-time All-Star with the Indians and wasn’t limited to designated hitter — beginning his career at third base before moving to first. They’re building a statue of the guy at Progressive Field. Enough said.
Manny Ramirez
(RF, 1993-2000): One of the biggest run producers in Indians history, the Baby Bull cut his teeth with Cleveland and morphed into one of the game’s top offensive weapons before leaving town. Fans rose in anticipation of Ramirez’s final at-bat as an Indian during the final game of the 2000 season in Cleveland and he responded with a home run. How cool is that?
Omar Vizquel
(SS, 1994-2004): Some people question whether the perennial Gold Glove winner  deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. They obviously never saw him play on a regular basis. I’ve witnessed some of the best shortstops in the game in person and have seen taped highlights of others, and none of them could touch Omarvelous, in my opinion. Plus, he was no slouch with the bat during his time in Cleveland, always carrying a respectable batting average and penchant for big hits.
Sandy Alomar
(C, 1990-2000): Of all the players on this list, none were elected to the All-Star team more during his Cleveland tenure than Alomar (six times). He put the topping on his
All-Star experience by winning the MVP award at the 1997 mid-summer classic in Cleveland with a game-winning home run off Shawn Estes. There’s no question he is the greatest catcher in Indians history.
CC Sabathia
(P,  2001-08): The Big C was the best of the Cleveland pitchers during this time frame, making the All-Star team three times and winning the
Cy Young in 2007. He posted double-digit win totals in all of his seasons with the Indians and is one of the most dominant pitchers to ever take the mound for the Tribe, period.
Carlos Baerga
(2B, 1990-96, 1999): The short and stocky second baseman was overshadowed by the talented cast of characters surrounding him. He was a three-time All-Star and gave the Indians one of the game’s top offensive players at his position.
Charles Nagy
(SP, 1990-2002): The consummate professional, Nagy is on this list for his longevity and consistency. Spending much of his Indians career as the ace of the pitching staff, the three-time All-Star posted double-digit win totals eight times.
Roberto Alomar
(2B, 1999-2001): I hesitated to put Sandy’s brother on this list because he spent only three seasons in Cleveland, but they were three magical years alongside Vizquel. Alomar, an All-Star and Gold Glover in each of those three seasons, gave Tribe fans the opportunity to watch greatness for a short time.
Honorable Mention
Grady Sizemore (CF, 2004-12); Joe Carter (OF, 1984-89); Victor Martinez (C, 2002-09); Travis Hafner (DH/1B, 2003-12); Cliff Lee (SP, 2002-09); Andre Thornton (1B, 1977-79, 1981-87); Bartolo Colon (SP, 1997-2002); Asdrubal Cabrera (2B/SS, 2007-present).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.