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IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Shortstop of All-Time?

IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Shortstop of All-Time?
January 28, 2013
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There may not be a better position in the history of the Cleveland franchise than that of shortstop. Four Indians (Lou Boudreau, Joe Sewell, Omar Vizquel and Terry Turner) who ranked in the top ten with regards to all-time games played predominantly played short, with two of those players already in Cooperstown (Boudreau and Sewell), and another surely to join them in the very near future (Vizquel). Ironically enough, the player who will likely never show up in the hall (Turner) played the most games in Cleveland Indians history, although many of those were at other positions.

While there are many players that will consider mentioning here, none will be more top-heavy than this position, with the top three players likely to get the most votes. Omar Vizquel will likely lead the heartstrings of most voters, as he was the best defensive player during the most recent era of winning Tribe baseball. Lou Boudreau will likely lead the old-school baseball minds, as he is not only in the Hall of Fame, but was the unquestioned leader as the player-manager of the last Cleveland Indians team to win a World Series Championship.

Throw in hall of famer Joe Sewell, who was the starter-by-default at short during the 1920 World Series  thanks to one of the most horrific on-field tragedies in Indians history, and you have one heck of a chase for IBI’s look at the top shortstops of all-time.

This week’s poll will differ from past polls, as there really aren’t many that need to be ranked, and that need to be considered for best all-time. While there were many great Indians’ shortstops over the years, and while I’ll talk about many of them in this piece, the focus will be on those top three players.

Here is the honorable mention list for the position of shortstop.

Terry Turner was mentioned as an honorable mention at third base last week, and also could have been mentioned briefly at the second base position as well. Turner is the moderately obscure player that has played the most games for the professional ballclub that played its games in Cleveland. His career started with the Naps in 1904, and continued through the beginning of the Indians era in 1918. During his tenure, he’d play 741 games at short over 12 seasons, 604 games at third over 11 seasons, and 250 games at second over ten seasons. He was the Indians most predominant shortstop from 1904 through 1907, and again in 1910. He would then move to play most of his time at third. His career numbers weren’t anything special, nor were his offensive numbers as a shortstop, but his overall solid defense made him one of the better utility-ish players in the history of the franchise. He turned it into a 14-year career with the Tribe, that does worth mentioning as much as possible, since Turner won’t get ranked in an IBI power poll with regards to positional rankings.

Bill Knickerbocker played short for the Tribe for four seasons, from 1933 through 1936, and was a pretty good one during that stretch. During his time with the Indians, Knickerbocker had a .293/.333/.387 slashline before he was traded to the St. Louis Browns for his eventual replacement, Lyn Lary. He was a decent fielder, but was never renowned as anything all that special, and his best fielding percentage with the Indians was his .962 in 1934.

“Broadway” Lyn Lary’s claim to fame is that Babe Ruth gave him his nickname during his time with the New York Yankees prior to coming to the Indians. Bob Feller also recalled that Lary was the first strikeout he ever recorded. He played two seasons with the Tribe, in 1937 and 1938. His 1938 season was extremely solid, hitting .290 on the season (after hitting over .300 for much of it), with 77 RBI and 110 runs. He followed that up with a seasons in which he regressed severely. The Indians would keep him into 1939, but would sell him early in the year to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ray Boone is mostly known as the patriarch to the first three-generational family in the bigs, as the father to catcher Bob Boone, and grandfather to both Aaron and Bret. Boone would debut for the Tribe during the 1948 World Series season as a part-timer, and was named the starter at shortstop in 1949, when Lou Boudreau would move himself to third. Boone struggled that season replacing the great Boudreau, but would have his first really good season in 1950. Boone had a slash-line of .301/.397/.430, with seven homers and 58 RBI. Boone could never quite take off in Cleveland over the next 2 ½ seasons, although he showed a bit of power in 1951, hitting 12 homers, but only hit .233. He would up his average to .263 in 1952, and was traded in June of 1953 to the Detroit Tigers. Boone would hit 20-plus homers in the next four seasons with the Tigers. Still, Boone was a solid all-around defender, who deserves mention here.

Woodie Held was brought to the Indians in one of the most infamous deals, coming from the Kansas City A’s for Roger Maris, amongst others. Lost in the name Maris is the fact that Held was extremely productive with the Indians, becoming the first starting shortstop to hit 20-plus home runs in a season. He would do it three times, from 1959-1962, and would hit 130 homers in his Indians career, which remains fourteenth all-time in Indians history (nine behind one Grady Sizemore, who is 13th).

Two other guys that I should mention here is Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera. Peralta’s slash line while with the Tribe is a solid .264/.327/.422, and likely just misses this list. Cabrera nearly made it, and probably should have. I’ll revisit this list in a couple of years, and see if he can’t make things interesting. His slash-line is .279/.342/.416, and has shown some decent fielding ability.

There are other shortstops to be mentioned here, such as Frank Duffy and George Strickland, but their numbers just don’t hold up to the rest. A guy like Duffy, and even Tom Veryzer deserve mention just because they were there when many of us were growing up with the Tribe. While they were solid defensive players (In Duffy’s case, a tremendous , their offense leaves something to be desired.

Here are the candidates for the Indians best all-time third baseman:

Ray Chapman (1912-1920)

The name Ray Chapman likely brings up an immediate reaction, as he was the star Indians’ shortstop that was killed by a fastball by New York Yankees’ pitcher Carl Mays during the Tribe’s 1920 World Series season. Chapman was so much more than that one moment. He was one of the greatest all-around players in the game during his career, and was perhaps the most popular player on the team. He was truly was a player that reached far beyond the field, calling Will Rogers and Al Jolson friends.

The Indians brought him up in 1912 after a huge season for Toledo in which he had hit .310, with 101 runs scored and 49 stolen bases. He was brought up later in the seasons, hitting .312 in his first 31 games as the starter at the position. The 1913 season was his first full season as a starter for the Tribe, and while he would struggle a bit offensively with a .258 average, he led the American League with 45 sacrifice hits.

He broke his leg during the spring of 1914, but would still play 106 games at short. His average would increase to .275, and would see his other stats stay even with his pace of 1913. His first outstanding season would come in 1915, when he’d hit .270, while scoring a career best 101 runs, with 14 doubles, 17 triples and 36 stolen bases. Chapman and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson were the two stars of the team, and the Indians owner couldn’t afford both. The Chicago White Sox came calling, and the Indians, having decided to build their team around their shortstop, dealt Jackson to the Sox.

In 1916, Chapman would again struggle with leg issues and only play in 109 games, while hitting .231. He would again rebound in 1917, with his best season-to-date, turning into one of the best players in the league. Chapman’s slash that season was .302/.370/.409, leading the league with 693 plate appearances, while scoring 98 runs, hitting 28 doubles and 13 triples, while stealing a club record 52 bases. His stolen base record would stay in place until Miguel Dilone would break it with 61 in 1980, and was tied in 1984 by Brett Butler. Other than Dilone, Kenny Lofton is the only Indians’ player to have more stolen bases than Chapman in a single season (he did it six times).

His average and power production would drop in 1918, but that may have shrouded another great season. He led the league in walks, with regards to both his 84 walks and his 84 runs scored. He would once again rebound in 1919, hitting .300 in 115 games, with 23 doubles, 10 triples and three homers, leading the Indians to their best-ever second place finish, with an 84-55 record, finishing 3 ½ games behind the infamous Chicago White Sox 1919 team, led by former Indians’ outfielder, “Shoeless” Joe. Of course, those were the Black sox, and that season led to the ultimate banishment of several players, including Jackson.

Chapman’s offseason was a full one, as he would marry Kathleen Daly. Daly began to think of retirement that offseason, as his wife was the daughter of wealthy businessmen M.D. Daly, who worked for Pioneer Alloy Products in Cleveland. Chapman was already working for the company, and was willing to leave baseball to work for the family business. Tris Speaker, Chapman’s best man and the new Indians’ manager convinced him to return for one last seasons. The Indians were favorites with mystery shrouding the White Sox in 1920, and Chapman wanted to bring a pennant to the Indians for his friend Speaker, and an owner in James Dunn who had treated him well.

Chapman was having his best season in 1920. Coming into their August 16th game against the New York Yankees, Chapman was hitting .304, with 27 doubles, eight triples, three homers, 49 RBI, 97 runs scored and a .303/.380/.423 slash. How good was the season? His runs total was four away from his career high, and his 27 doubles was one behind his career high of 28. His three homers were tied for a career high, and he was within shouting distance of career highs in hits and RBI as well. There were still 43 games left to play.

Chapman was 0-for-1 that fateful August 16th day, when he came up to bat. Right-handed pitcher Carl Mays was a submarine pitcher, and was always a pitcher whose delivery was hard to find. He was generally disliked for his dour demeanor, and this was long before he would come to face Chapman in the fifth inning on August 16th. He was a bitter rival of Ty Cobb, with Mays often throwing high and inside on Cobb, and Cobb often dropping bunts to first, hoping to spike Mays.

To make a long story short, Mays would throw a ball high and inside on Chapman, who always crowded the plate. While Mays says he saw Chapman duck his head down and start to move away with the pitch, most spectators and players reported that Chapman didn’t even move, likely not seeing the submariners pitch on a cold, dark and overcast day. Chapman would struggle to stand, and would collapse while walking off the field. He was carried the rest of the way, and after surgery, would die the following day, on August 17th, 1920.

The Indians would immediately lose seven of their next nine ball games, but, of course, with a resurgent Tris Speaker, the Indians would streak through September on their way to their first World Series Championship.

Over his career, Chapman would hit .278, with a .735 OPS, hitting 17 homers, driving in 364 RBI and scoring 671 runs. He would steal 238 bases, which is still currently fifth all-time on the team.

Joe Sewell (1920-1930)

Sewell wasn’t the immediate replacement for Ray Chapman, after his death on August 17th, but 24 days later, the future Hall-of-Famer made his debut. Sewell was a solid minor-leaguer, but he wasn’t necessarily considered a sure thing. When Chapman died, and when his replacement Harry Lunte pulled a leg muscle, Sewell was called up because the Indians just didn’t have any other options. It was Sewell’s first professional season, and he was all of 92 games into it.

Sewell would hit .329 that season, and would never hit below .289 in his entire career with the Tribe. As a matter of fact, he would only hit below .300 twice, .299 in 1922, and .289 in his final year in Cleveland in 1930, and by then, he was playing third. While Sewell was a bit player (although a starter) on that 1920 season, he would open the eyes of many in 1921, when his brother Luke joined the team.

In his first full-time season with Cleveland, he would throw up a .318/.412/.444 slash, with 101 runs (his most ever with the Indians), 36 doubles, 12 triples, four homers and 93 RBI.

In 1922, as I mentioned before, his average would drop below .300 in what was his second to worst season as a member of the Indians, which isn’t bad considering his slash is .299/.386/.385. Starting in September of that season, Sewell would never miss another game as a member of the Indians. He would go on to play in 1,103 consecutive games. The Indians record is currently seventh all-time, behind only Cal Ripken, Jr., Lou Gehrig, Everett Scott, Steve Garvey, Miguel Tejada and Billy Williams.

Sewell would hit over 40 doubles five times with the Indians, and his 375 doubles are fourth all-time for the Indians. His OBP with the Indians would go over .400 four times, and would never drop below .374, and his .398 lifetime is eighth all time. His 1,513 career games with the Indians is tied for sixth all-time, with Ken Keltner. His 5,621 at-bats is seventh all-time with the Tribe. His 6,580 plate appearances with Cleveland is fifth all-time. His 857 runs scored is eighth all-time. His 1800 hits is fourth all-time. His 2,391 total bases is eighth all-time. His 869 RBI are sixth all-time. His 654 walks are eighth all time. His 1,332 singles are third all-time. His 468 extra-base hits are tenth all-time. His 234 sacrifice hits are fifth all-time. While all those stats are fairly remarkable, his best was simply astounding.

He would play with the Indians for parts of 11 seasons, and over 1,513 games. During that time, he would strike out 99 times…ever. You read that right. He would strike out 99 times, and in his entire14 year career, would only strike out 114 times. He would strike out 17, 20, 12 and 13 times in his first four seasons, which are all good totals, but would never again strike out more than nine times in one year. From 1925 through 1930, Sewell would strike out only 33 times, and remember, he played in every game. In his career, he averaged one K per nearly 63 at bats, which is barely second all-time behind Wee Willie Keeler, who played much of his career in the deadball era. The next closest players are nearly 20 at bats behind, at 45.08, and 44.92 AB per K. The highest rated active player is Juan Pierre, who is at 15.97. That should really put today’s game in perspective.

His career slash-line is .320/.398/.425, for that .823career OPS.

Lou Boudreau (1938-1950)

There might not be a more famous player in Indians history not named Feller simply because Boudreau led the Indians to their last World Series victory on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career, mostly with the Indians.

Boudreau would spend 1 ½ seasons in the minors, and would destroy the IL in 1939 with a .331 average, while hitting 17 homers. The Indians would call him up in 1938, but he’d only play in one game that year. After his big season in Buffalo in 1939, the Indians would call him up in August of 1939, and he would play the remainder of his career with the Tribe and the Red Sox.

Boudreau was the best shortstop in all of baseball during the 40’s, and up to that point, perhaps even all-time. He would lead the league in doubles three times, average once, and fielding percentage at short from 1940 through 1944, and from 1946 through 1948. On top of all of this, he was named player-manager of the Indians in 1942, at the ripe old age of 24, becoming the youngest player to ever manage a team from the start of a season. That’s a current record, by the way. Just to put it in perspective, Jason Kipnis will be 26 in July.

Boudreau’s best season in the first few seasons as manager would come in 1944. In 150 games, Boudreau would score 91 runs, while hitting 45 doubles, five triples, three homers and 67 RBI. His slash-line was .327/.406/.437. He would follow that up by hitting .307 in 1945 in only 97 ballgames.

In 1947, Boudreau would again hit 45 doubles, with four homers and 67 RBI, while hitting .307 and finishing third for the MVP award. He was saving his quintessential season, though, for 1948.

Cleveland Indians’ owner wasn’t all that happy with regards to Boudreau as manager, and he may have had a right to, as the Indians hadn’t come close to winning a pennant during his tenure as manager. After the 1947 season was over, Veeck wanted to deal Boudreau to the St. Louis Browns for Vernon Stephens, Jack Kramer, Paul Lehner, and some others. To say the least, the move was not popular.

Good ole’ Hal Lebovitz, then writing for the Cleveland News, published a Boudreau Ballot daily, and kept tabs on what the fans wanted. The tabulations were nearly 100% in favor for Boudreau, and after seven weeks, the Browns went ahead and dealt Stephens to the Red Sox for a slew of players and $310,000. Veeck, his hands tied, would sign Boudreau to a two-year deal.

Thank goodness he did, although Stephens would go on to have a couple of massive seasons with the Red Sox.

Boudreau would have his best season in 1948. He would score 116 runs in his only season with 100 runs or more. He would stroke 34 doubles, six triples and hit 18 homers, his most by eight, and only the second time in his career that he’d hit double-digit homers. He drove in 106, again, a career high, and again, only the second time he’d hit triple-digit RBI. He’d walk 98 times, while walking only nine. His slash was .355/.453/.534. In the one-game playoff against the Red Sox to decide the pennant, he would go 4-for-4, with three runs, two homers and two RBI in an 8-3 victory. All the hits were big. The first was a homer, and gave the Indians a 1-0 lead. The second was a lead-off single in the fourth, and he’d eventually score on a Ken Keltner 3-run jack that would put the Tribe up 4-1. In the fifth, Boudreau would hit his second homer of the game, to give the Indians a 6-1 lead. Boudreau was given a standing ovation during his last at bat in the ninth inning (the were playing at Fenway), and he singled to go 4-for-4.

 Boudreau would have a solid World Series campaign, hitting .273, with a run and three RBI.

Boudreau would play two more seasons with the Indians, and would never again reach the standards that he set in 1948. He would have a solid campaign in 1949, hitting.284, and would hit .269 in 1950. Boudreau would be relieved of his managing duties after the season, and ultimately, was released, where he signed with the Boston Red Sox.

Boudreau’s final stat line was impressive, with a .295/.380/.415 slash, and was widely regarded as one of the best players of the era, finishing in the top ten of MVP voting eight different times, and finishing in the top twenty in voting every season in which he played a full season.

As an all-time Indians’ player, he finished third in games played, fourth in at bats, second in plate appearances, ninth in runs scored, sixth in hits, seventh in total bases, fifth in doubles, third in walks, sixth in singles, seventh in extra base hits, fifth in times on base, and eighth in sacrifice hits, and was in the top 20 of nearly every major category in Indians history.

Julio Franco (1983-1988, 1996-1997)

In an extremely underrated move by the Indians, they sent the promise of Von Hayes to the Philadelphia Phillies, and received Jay Baller, Manny Trillo, George Vukovich and Jerry Willard, as well as one Julio Franco. Vukovich, Trillo and Franco would all become starters for the Indians. Franco was an incredible steal of a player. He would play short for the Tribe from 1983 until 1987, before the Indians would move him to second base.

In his first season with the Indians, he would hit .273, with 68 runs, 24 doubles, eight homers, 80 RBI, and would steal 32 bases, which he would do twice in his Indians career. His average would continue to rise throughout his career at short for the Indians, as it would increase from .286 to .288 to .306 to .319, before falling to .303 when the Indians moved him to second. He was never a power hitter for the Tribe, but did manage 10 homers in both ’86 and ’88, and drove in 90 in 1985, a year in which he scored 97 runs as well.

Franco was traded by the Indians to the Texas Rangers after the 1988 season for Pete O’Brien, Oddibe McDowell and Jerry Browne, and like Buddy Bell before him, would immediately see an increase in production and notice.

He would return to the Indians after a season playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995, but wouldn’t play at short during that stretch with the team.

Franco was never known as a fielding shortstop, which is why he ended up getting moved to second, then ultimately first and as a DH. His game was all about the offense, and with the Indians, his overall slash-line would be .297/.352/.400, with 62 homers and 530 RBI. He’d hit 33 triples, 189 doubles, 62 homers and drive in 530 RBI.

Omar Vizquel (1994-2004)

The Indians would trade slap-hitting shortstop Felix “El Gato” Fermin and Reggie Jefferson to the Seattle Mariners for the reigning gold-glove winning shortstop Omar Vizquel. When the deal was made, Vizquel and Fermin were both highly sought after by several clubs, and in particular, the New York Mets, who were looking to improve their shortstop situation.

The Mariners had this kid named Alex Rodriguez, who the Mariners were looking to fast-track to Seattle. That made Vizquel expendable. The Indians didn’t look at Fermin as the full-time answer at short. While he was a slick fielding player, he clearly wasn’t the player that Vizquel was. The deal was made so that Fermin could man the position until Rodriguez took over full time, and Jefferson could be the team’s full-time first baseman, or DH.

Oh what a steal it was.

Vizquel would win eight straight gold gloves at short with the Indians, and nine straight overall, including winning the award during his last season in Seattle. Omar was so much more than that for the Indians though.

There were bigger names on those teams in the 90’s, including Belle, Thome, Lofton and Ramirez, but perhaps none of them had as big an impact in Cleveland than Vizquel. Omar was the constant of all those teams. Belle would leave for more money, while Lofton and Baerga would leave via trade. Lofton would return, but leave again. Ramirez would leave for more money, and then Thome would as well. Roberto Alomar would even come and go, but through it all, Vizquel was there, fielding his position in a way that perhaps only one or two other have in the history of the game.

Vizquel was never an offensive juggernaut, but he was better than people give him credit for. His best season was in 1999. Vizquel would bat second for much of the year, sandwiched in between Lofton and Alomar, and would sizzle, hitting .333 on the season in 144 games. He would score 112 runs, which was the first time in his career he’d score more than 100, hit 36 doubles (the most in his career), and would drive in 66 runs, which at the time, was the most in his career. He stole 42 bases, and had a career high .833 OPS. He was 32.

Vizquel’s average would diminish after that season, but the .333 average was the amalgam, not the rest of the seasons. How good was he during his career with the Indians? He played in the tenth most games, had the fifth most at bats, the sixth most plate appearances, the sixth most runs scored (with more than Nap Lajoie, Joe Sewell and Lou Boudreau), the seventh most hits, the tenth most total bases, the eighth most doubles, 16th most RBI, tenth most walks, second most stolen bases, fifth most singles, eighth most times on base, 11th most sacrifice hits, and is the all-time leader in sacrifice flies.

But Vizquel will be remembered for his defense, and while the numbers will show a varying amount of things, there truly may not have been a better defender of any position for the Indians. Ironically enough, his only equal may be Lou Boudreau, who perhaps didn’t have the range of Vizquel, but certainly had the instincts and ability.

Vizquel’s over the shoulder catches and abilities to beat any runner by a half-step will always leave us as one of Omar’s Amigos…

The Indians tried to deal Vizquel back to the Mariners in 2003 for Carlos Guillen, but Vizquel’s surgically repaired knee didn’t pass the physical. Vizquel would go on the have a tremendous 2004 season, hitting .291 for the Indians in his last season. He would leave the Indians after the 2004 season, and would sign with the San Francisco Giants. Of course, he would win two more gold gloves with the Giants…go figure.

Vizquel, who played his first game the same day that Ken Griffey Jr. did back in 1989, retired at the end of the 2012 season, ending what will amount to one of the most underrated careers in the history of baseball…and ultimately should find him in the hall of fame.

Here are my rankings:

#6: Julio Franco—Franco just didn’t play long enough and good enough defensively to crack the top five here, and he certainly is a step below the top four. Franco definitely deserves mention here on the list though.  While much of this may be memories of yelling “Jjjjjuuuulllliiiioooo” all those years from my seats on the third base side, but people do forget just how good he was with the bat, and just how popular he was wearing the Cleveland Indians’ jersey. I loved the way that #14 stepped up to the plate. Franco would hold his bat high, and point it towards to pitcher. His lead, left-hand was always partially off the nub of the bat, with his ring finger and pinky off, and combine that with his strange knees-in, feet out crouch, and you have something special.

#5: Asdrubal Cabrera—Alright, this is a late edition. The more that I looked at Franco’s numbers and longetivity, the more I had to move Cabrera into this list just above him. Cabrera is slightly below Franco offensively at the same stages of their careers, but the next two seasons should be interesting. Cabrera is also a massive upgrade defensively than Franco, which really doesn’t say a whole lot for Franco, to be honest. I’m not saying Cabrera is a dog defensively, but he’s not in the equation with the top four guys on the list. With a big season in 2013, which I believe he’ll have, Cabrera will have a shot to bump up past Chapman for sure. With two more solid seasons, he’s a top four lock. I just don’t see Cabrera being in an Indians jersey long enough to pass any of the top three.

#4: Ray Chapman—Every ounce of my being wanted me to move up Chapman into the top three, but while his numbers were solid, and if he’d have continued playing, would have been borderline hall-of-fame worthy, he’s just not on the level of the guys ahead of him. During his playing days, he was one of the most popular players on the team, and in many ways, one of the most popular players in the league. He was in the middle of having perhaps his best season, when he was struck and killed, and in the middle of a World Season. His career WAR was 18th all-time with the Tribe, and had he have finished that season, and had he have perhaps continued his career, he could have altered this list considerably. First off, Joe Sewell became the starting shortstop, more-or-less because of Chapman’s death. Had Chapman made the hall, Sewell may not have ever gotten his chance, and perhaps would have added a couple years on Chapman’s career. Who knows now, but Chapman was more than just a footnote in Tribe history. He was a player.

#3: Joe Sewell—Sewell could have easily been #2 here for some folks I suppose. His career numbers are special. He’s the only shortstop here whose average is in the top ten all-time, at .320. His career WAR with the Tribe is seventh all-time, with his offensive WAR sixth, and his defensive WAR tenth. He was the starter for a World Series Champion team, a hall-of-famer, and would have been an all-star had there been an all-star team back then. I can honestly say that Sewell is a guy that I would have to have seen or heard stories about to move ahead of the next two guys, since to me, they really are interchangeable. The only more rounded player on this list by the numbers, is the guy I have at #1.

#2: Omar Vizquel—When I think shortstop for the Indians, I think Omar Vizquel. This is a second place that really hurts, because I had him at #1 at several points during this entire process. Vizquel’s career WAR with the Indians is 17th, which is ahead of #4 Chapman by one spot, and below both Sewell and Boudreau. His defensive WAR was ahead of all but Boudreau, but range is certainly a factor in that. With all of that said, I had to take impact into account. If I ask whether or not Vizquel was ever the best player on those teams in the 90’s, I rarely can say yes. He was underrated, and he was one of my favorite players, but there were always others that carried the team. Vizquel was always the glue in the background, and while he was important, I have to grade him below my #1 selection based on that. Vizquel was an incredible player, and whether or not he gets into the Hall, he is one of the all-time greats, and one of the Indians’ all-time greats for sure.

#1: Lou Boudreau—I’ve always been a massive Boudreau fan since I met him at a card show back in the 80’s. As popular as Omar was in the 90’s, Lou Boudreau was all that and more in the 40’s. Boudreau is third all-time with a career 57.9 WAR, and has the single season record for the Indians with a 10.2 WAR from his 1948, World Series and MVP season. He was fifth all-time with regards to offensive WAR, and first all-time in defensive WAR for the Tribe, but was much, much more than that. While I didn’t take into account his managerial skills in this, I did take into account the fact that he was a player-manager, and still excelled on the field. I have always wondered how good Boudreau would have been offensively if he could have just focused on playing the game instead of managing the game. Either way, Boudreau is arguably one of the top two or three Indians of all-time, and while Vizquel is certainly one of the top players on this list, Boudreau, to me, has much more significance on this list than Omar, and even Joe Sewell. There’s no doubt in my mind that Boudreau is the best Indians shortstop of all-time.

My current All-Indians Team:

Catcher: Victor Martinez

1st Base: Jim Thome

2nd Base: Nap Lajoie

3rd Base: Al Rosen

Shortstop: Lou Boudreau

IBI Power Poll All-Indians Team:

Catcher: Victor Martinez (only by four votes over Sandy Alomar)

1st Base: Jim Thome

2nd Base: Nap Lajoie

3rd Base: Al Rosen

Shortstop: ????

Your chance to vote in past polls:

Best Cleveland Indians’ Catcher of All Time

Best Cleveland Indians’ First Baseman of All Time

Best Cleveland Indians’ Second Baseman of All Time

Best Cleveland Indians’ Third Baseman of All Time

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

User Comments

February 2, 2013 - 8:27 PM EST
Wow that was the toughest one yet. I went with my head over my heart, as Boudreau was the better all around player.

No question in my mind though, Omar is HOF worthy.
February 2, 2013 - 6:46 PM EST
Just some friendly advice, make sure you watch your tense when writing articles. I feel like you totally overused the word "would." Aside from that though, great article!

Growing up in the 90s, I have to say I'm a huge Omar fan. He is the number one reason I got into baseball. Watching amazing defenders like him and Griffey rob batters of hits just seemed so much more exciting than the game does nowadays. So without a doubt, I have to put Omar at #1 in my book.
January 29, 2013 - 11:29 PM EST
Vizquel is the prototype defensive shortstop...but Boudreau may very well be the prototype all-around shortstop...

and of course...there's Sewell...who seems to fit in there as well...

Boudreau takes the lead by two...
January 29, 2013 - 8:54 PM EST
Voted Boudreau. He's clearly better all-around than Omar. I can say that even though Omar is my 2nd fave all-time. After saying that, consider this. There is something to be said for prototypes: the slick fielding, sure-handed SS, the RF with the strong arm & power bat, the speedy CF that can run down balls hit to the gaps, the 3B with the lightning reactions, the catcher with the ability to handle pitchers & the arm to shut down the running game. If you field a team of prototypes you'd be in good shape. Omar was THE prototype defensive SS.
January 29, 2013 - 3:50 PM EST
Have to agree with MacB. Boudreau was better than Omar in just about every facet of the game except for maybe stealing bases, though stealing bases was not as prominent then as it is now. This is simply a case of a lot of people probably not knowing much about Boudreau either by not seeing him play (few have) or knowing much about his legacy, whereas just about any Indians fan today knows who Omar is and has seen him play.
January 29, 2013 - 3:35 PM EST
Are people taking crazy pills here? I feel like Mugatu from Zoolander, I have to wonder what it is people are seeing here. Omar was a great defender, one of the best ever. But Lou Boudreau was the one the greatest SSs of all-time, period- both with the bat and the glove. He was a premium offensive SS for his time along with being one of the era's better defenders. Not to mention he actually won a World Series, both as a player and as the manager. How nuts is that? I just don't see how anyone is rating Omar over Lou. This isn't a debate over who can barehand a groundball better, but who was the better shortstop. Lou was better in just about every way.

Look, I know everyone loves Omar and has fond memories, but he was a mediocre hitter and was the worst offensive regular for several of his last full seasons. He would have to have been twice as good as Lou defensively to overlook the offensive deficiencies. Lou defined his position when he played, while Omar was the defensive specialist while others of his time defined the position. I just don't see what other see here, how the obvious Hall of Famer is getting overshadowed by the bordline guy who is most likely to get in as a Lifetime Achievement Award.
January 29, 2013 - 11:12 AM EST
Another extremely difficult choice between the top two. I completely understand your selection of Boudreau & can`t really argue with it but I went with Omar. Why, not sure except Omar was the best defensive shortstop I ever saw play; every bit the equal of Ozzie Smith. Omar did things w/ the glove that defied logic, had all those gold gloves, came very close to 3000 hits, was excellent at the stolen base & in a few years will also be a hof`er. Such a tough choice..
January 29, 2013 - 10:55 AM EST
IMO, this is really a pick 'em situation. It is impossible to choose between Omar (best fielder), Lou Boudreau (leadership) and Joey Sewell. I feel Sewell was hurt in this poll because he played for the Tribe so long ago but HE IS IN THE HALL OF FAME! Players shouldn't be penalized because those voting never saw him play. If this is to be about the best SS of all time the key words are ALL TIME. He had the best batting average of the three aforementioned and the best bat control. So, my vote goes for Joey Sewell although I wouldn't argue with the choice of Omar or Boudreau either.
January 28, 2013 - 11:32 PM EST
I do find it interesting that the only two folks voting are Boudreau and Vizquel...

My gut said just rank Sewell, Boudreau and Omar...

Sewell's getting a bum rap...but I absolutely agree with the voting so far...and I haven't even officially voted yet...;)
January 28, 2013 - 11:30 PM EST
Roger, when I finished my write up, Omar was #1. When I went through my first edit (you should have seen the initial errors), I considered a 1A and 1B. When I went through my second and final edit, then called my Dad, as I do with all these pieces, I shifted to Boudreau.

I'm not a guy that hinges on the series, but my Dad made a good point. He said that Boudreau was everything that Vizquel was in many, many ways...except he was the absolute and unquestioned leader of that team, and far and away the most popular player in Cleveland, and perhaps the most popular player not named Dimaggio in all of baseball in the 40's, and maybe more...especially during the era that saw many of the greats serve their country. me...was everything that was good about baseball. Everything to me could be summed up by what I always saw him doing in pregame. I had club seats by that time, and saw between 25-40 games a year (or more), and he did three things I loved. He would always sit on the home side of the dugout playing wall ball...nearly every game I saw...and not for a short amount of time. He'd be sitting there playing the game I played every day in little a pro, and the best part is he'd be chatting it up with someone, not even looking at the ball...throw-catch-throw-catch...and he'd never look.

2...he smiled 98% of the time I saw him...never saw a pro smile so much other than Manny Sanguillen. Smiling and joking...and he always was screwing around with Lofton (and Baerga...and Alomar(s)...and saw him flip Joey's hat off once...and feared he'd get killed...but Joey just laughed.

3...signed every game...every game...I have 10 of his autograph, on a glove, ball, bat, cards...I'd bring something different to every game...and he signed every one. My son has a wall montage with several of them put together.

Omar Vizquel is THE man in my book, and while folks said it was time for him to go, I was NOT on that bandwagon, and would have been ecstatic if he returned in any fashion, and at any point. His Toronto pics at the Jake on his website show his affinity for his time in Cleveland...

For's neck and neck...but historically speaking, I just think Boudreau is a step above...and not a high step either. Chripes...I may have just changed my mind again...
January 28, 2013 - 11:18 PM EST
Joey V...thanks?

If I told you how much time I put into these pieces, it would make you ill....but I love it. Inevitably the problem with a close-to-6,000 word opus is that when I get too close to something, it's drastically hard for me to edit it after a certain point. I do the best that I can under the circumstances of being a part-time writer trying to put out full-time-like pieces. I know I fail a lot at it, but have to stop at something short of insanity, or I'll end up divorced and fired. The facts of this piece are hardly verified by any stat service, but I do my due diligence, focusing the bulk of my numbers thanks to baseball cards...a ridiculous amount Indians bios and auto bios, and personal memory. To the best of my knowledge, most of my stats are true to data I've collected, but if I've made an error here or there...I certainly apologize. I'm not perfect, and like I said...the amount of time spent on these pieces are inordinately insane...I just love doing them and rehashing the rich history of this team.

If this were my chosen profession, and if I had the time to really dive into it, they'd be a whole lot longer, include a whole lot more info, and I'd have time to edit it with the fervor they deserve.

I am immensely proud of these them to death...but am aware that there are "weak points." It's the nature of my beast, and for that, I apologize.
January 28, 2013 - 10:45 PM EST
Great research. Fun reading- you provide a lot of good insights. Cut down on the errors, grammatical and factual, and your writing would be even better.
January 28, 2013 - 8:22 PM EST
Omar is my favorite player. When I was a kid and just getting into baseball Omar was the guy for me who made me feel like I was watching Mays or some other historic ballplayer. He was here through it all and had solid season after solid season. The face of the Tribe to the home fans and a stand up person as well as player. I will never see a better defensive short stop and he was involved the single most important baseball memory of my life. When he tried to squeeze Grissom home in the bottom of the 12th during the post season vs Baltimore. I was there and its one of the most distinct moments of my life. I have many "favorite" Indians. I love Thome, Lofton, Sizemore, Alomar was amazing to watch in 97 and I have always had a strange thing for Matt Williams as well but none can compare to Omar. If he was up against almost anyone else in this list I would pick Lou but I have got to go with Omar. Perhaps the reason I became so enchanted with baseball.
January 28, 2013 - 4:12 PM EST
sorry jim normally i agree with you however i have to depart from your choice on only one thing and that is intangibles to me the shortstop and catcher are very intangible ingredients to properly rate them. Lou boudreau was a great shortstop who was a winner but not near the winner that omar was to me omar is the best indians player in my 63 yr life. There was no one better at all the variables that you use to evaluate greatness Omar exemplyfied exceptionalism that was the indians of the 90's. They didnt have a captain but if they did the big c would have been worn by lil O! to me we need to retire his number at the earliest convenience whether astrubel stays with the indians or not. His contract is up after 2014 if he goes elsewhere no one should be given number 13 ever again. And if he would agree i would do it this season he was that great. Is he hall of fame he should be first ballot if you factor offense he prolly wont make it on first ballot but to me he and ozzie smith were the brooks robinson of their time. Brooks numbers offensively were not overwhelming but his defense made his offense even more potent. Omar was the same type of player, he did it so effortlessly that he made everything look so easy, and he made everyone around him better as well. Roberto Alomar says he deserved the same 1st ballot induction that roberto got. and in the 111 years of indians baseball he not only was the greatest shortstop but may have been the best player he or tris speaker.
January 28, 2013 - 2:13 PM EST
By the way, hey Jim, where it Felix Fermin and Mike Fischlin on this list lol.
January 28, 2013 - 2:13 PM EST
That's a tough one Devin. Need time and lots of years to figure that too. But if he lives up to all his billing and stays with the Tribe for 10+ years, he has a great chance to be the best ever since was drafted and developed by the org. A very LONG way to go though!
January 28, 2013 - 2:06 PM EST
Alright Tony. Big question. If Lindor reaches his full potential, where do you see him fitting in?

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