35th Anniversary: Maybe This Year

The worst deal the Indians ever made? Does the name Wayne Garland mean anything? He was the gold standard, literally. In 1976, the Indians signed the free agent pitcher to a 10-year contract worth $2.3 million. Today that’s chump change, but 30 years ago it made even George Steinbrenner clutch his checkbook. Garland, it turned out, had a bum shoulder. After 48 losses (and 28 wins) in a Tribe uniform, Garland lost the $2.3 million to his agent, ex-wife and the IRS, and gained a job coaching Class A ball for $20,000 a year. Now, you want the Indians’ all-time all-star team since 1972? C’mon, make it hard. I could have done this on a cocktail napkin at a bar with a beer and a couple other old graybeards. Here are the margin notes.
Jim Thome
Cleveland baseball fans are still on a first-name basis with most of the superstars on this list. With the Indians for 12 years, Thome holds most of the club home run records. He broke in as a skinny third baseman, but spent his last six years here as a massive first baseman.
Roberto Alomar
Alomar’s three sparkling seasons with the Indians give him the nod over Carlos Baerga. The Vizquel-Alomar double play combination was the hottest we ever saw, even though their relationship was chilly off the field. Too bad about Baerga. I once thought he would approach Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby as an offensive second baseman. By age 30, however, Baerga was burned out, the victim of bad habits.

Omar Vizquel
Omar Vizquel is clearly the best shortstop in this time span, just as Sandy Alomar is the best catcher.

Buddy Bell
Bell, pitcher Gaylord Perry and Cleveland Magazine arrived the same year (a nice trifecta). I like Bell over Travis Fryman for three reasons. He was here longer, he was a better player and the third reason is personal. Bell, a 20-year-old when he was called up by the Indians in 1972, soon became Cleveland’s finest third baseman of the last half century. His personality bubbled, the fans loved him, he could have been the face of the franchise for years, but he clashed with the front office during salary negotiations. After seven years in Cleveland, he was traded for Texas third baseman Toby Harrah.

Albert Belle
Belle led the Indians in home runs six times and holds the unofficial franchise record for most suspensions without pay and most times in jail. Most people dislike Belle. The rest hate him.
Kenny Lofton
(1992-96, 1998-01, 2007)
The best center fielder in the last 35 years of Indians baseball comes down to Joe Carter vs. Kenny Lofton. The Indians loved Carter best of all. He drove in more than 100 runs four times and his trade to the San Diego Padres brought Baerga and Sandy Alomar here. Lofton, whose game is speed even at 40, was better. He led the American League in stolen bases five times and holds the team’s career stolen base record. His prickly personality doesn’t always fit in, but he can win games with his feet, his glove and his bat.
Manny Ramirez
Ramirez led the team in home runs three times. Like Belle and Thome, he left for the millions of free agency. Thome and Ramirez are on the doorstep of 500 career home runs.
Sandy Alomar
(1990-2000) See: Omar Vizquel. Enough said.
Andre Thornton
(1977-79, 1981-87)
Andre Thornton spent 11 years with the Indians and was an anchor during the darkest period in Indians’ history, hitting 214 home runs and driving in 749.
Gaylord Perry
Perry arrived from San Francisco in a trade for flamethrower Sam McDowell in 1972. It is not true that every pitch Perry threw had K-Y Jelly on it — only when he needed a big out. He won 24 games in 1972, exactly one-third of the team’s total, and 21 games in 1974. The Indians have not had a 20-game winner since.

C.C. Sabathia
The 27-year-old ended this season with exactly 100 victories, the Tribe’s first Cy Young award since 1972 and his career ahead of him. He won’t win his next 100 games in a Cleveland uniform. Sabathia will be a free agent after the 2008 season, and you know how that goes.
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