#TBT: Building the ultimate Cleveland Indians starting lineup

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Aug 2, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Surrounded by his family, Cleveland Indians former player

Jim Thome

signs a one-day contract with Cleveland Indians president Mark Shapiro before the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

First Base: Jim Thome (2002)

The second player on this list who has been enshrined at Progressive Field, Jim Thome enjoyed the most successful season of his career in 2002 – right before he joined the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency that offseason.

That season, Thome hit a single-season team record 52 homeruns and drove in 118 RBIs on the season. He posted a ridiculous slash line of .304 / .445 / .677. Thome tortured opposing pitching in Jacob’s Field to the tune of a .350 average and an absurd .772 slugging percentage.

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The Peoria, Ill. native is one of the most beloved Indians figures. He still gets the loudest ovations anytime he shows up in Cleveland – no matter if it is during his comeback stint of 2011, wearing the uniform of an opposing team, or unveiling a statue that enshrines him as one of the best to ever wear the Cleveland uniform.

Thome took home the Roberto Clemente Award in 2002, an award that goes to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” He also captured the Cleveland BBWA Man of the Year Award for his performance and contributions to the community.

He certainly had a lot of great seasons in a Tribe uniform, so take your pick on the year. What is not debatable, though, is that Thome is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will someday have a plaque with his name in Heritage Park.

Until the time comes, his legacy can live on through this list as the Indians top first baseman of all-time. 

Second Base: Nap Lajoie (1904)

Nap Lajoie has been described as the first superstar in American League history.

Lajoie was the face of the Cleveland franchise when, quite literally, he became the face of the franchise. He was so popular that the club, which was known as the Bronchos, renamed itself the “Naps.”

A career .338 hitter, Lajoie put together the best season of his Cleveland career in 1904, hitting an eye-popping .376 over 140 games. He clubbed 70 extra-base hits, including 49 doubles, and stole 29 bases without being caught.

Lajoie tops the likes of Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Johnny Hodapp as Cleveland’s greatest second baseman.

Third Base: Al Rosen (1953)

Al Rosen missed the Triple Crown in 1953 by one batting average percentage point.

The last Indians player to win the AL MVP award, Rosen enjoyed what Bill James called the greatest ever by a third baseman in ’53. He hit for both power (43 home runs) and average (.336) while knocking home 145 RBIs. Rosen posted a mind-blowing .422 on-base percentage that season, slugging .613 on his way to collecting 367 total bases on the season.

Rosen recently passed away‘, but his memory certainly lives on as one of the greatest players in Cleveland baseball history.

Shortstop: Omar Vizquel (1999) 

Omar Vizquel was another fan favorite during his time in Cleveland.

He was a perennial Gold Glove shortstop, winning every season between 1993-2001, whose fancy footwork and bare-handed plays never got old during his 11 seasons with the Tribe.

Vizquel enjoyed the best season of his career in 1999, finishing 16th in the balloting for American League MVP. He batted .333 with a .397 on-base percentage with 88 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 51 attempts. He tallied 45 extra-base hits out of the two-spot behind Kenny Lofton and was even more dynamic defensively.

Known for his bare-handed plays, Vizquel made impossible plays look routine with his back turned to the action.

As an 11-time Gold Glove Award winner with 2,877 career hits (40th all-time), Vizquel deserves a nod to the Baseball Hall of Fame but that’s an argument for a different day.

Until then, Vizquel is the most exciting shortstop in Cleveland Indians’ history and he posted the single-greatest season by a shortstop in Tribe history with his performance in 1999.

Next: Outfielders