Celebrating the 118-year history of the Cleveland Indians franchise, I have selected my All-Time Indians team. In this piece I choose my first baseman.
My choice for Cleveland Indians All-Time first baseman was not an easy decision. This spot was the toughest choice on the infield.
There were two clear candidates that rose to the top and both had a strong argument for this position. Ultimately, it was the career impact that drove me to select Jim Thome as my all-time first baseman.
Thome began his career as a Cleveland Indian, drafted in the 13th round of the 1989 June Amateur Draft. He made his MLB debut in 1991 at age 20, and in 1994 won a starting role at third base. Thome credits his hitting success to then Indians hitting coach Charlie Manuel.
Manuel served as Indians hitting coach from 1994-1999 and then as manager from 2000-2002. Nearly Thome’s entire career as a starter in Cleveland was spent under the tutelage of Manuel.
The team as a whole thrived under Manuel as hitting coach. In that five-year stretch the club led the AL in runs scored three times, including a franchise record 1,009 in 1999.
It wasn’t until 1997 that Thome made the move over to first base full-time. From that point his career really took off. Thome made the AL All-Star team three times in a row from 1997-1999.
From 1996-2002, Thome drove in and scored 100+ runs in all but his injury-shortened 1998 season. Not typically known for his batting average, Thome hit over .290 four times during that stretch, including twice eclipsing the .300 mark.
He hit more than 30 home runs in seven consecutive seasons for the Indians, including his single season club record of 52 in 2002. Thome carried his power over to the postseason as well. He ranks fifth all time in MLB with 17 postseason home runs.
Thome holds the team’s all-time home run record with a 337 mark. That total is nearly 100 home runs above the second-best, 242, hit by former teammate Albert Belle. He is second all-time in RBI with 937, and fifth in runs scored with 928. He also ranks fourth all-time in wRC+, trailing the likes of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie.
Continuing down the line of his career ranking as an Indians, Thome is third lifetime in OBP (.414), SLG (.566), and fifth with a 46.4 fWAR. He also ranks second in the very important category of Off, or Offensive Runs Above Average.
Off is a statistic that give a total picture of a player’s offensive value by combining their contribution at the plate with their impact on the bases. It takes into account league, era and park factors to give us a theoretical number of runs relative to league average.
If you’ve read my previous installments of the All-Time Team, then you are familiar with my explanation of wRC+, which I find to be a very useful metric with which to judge a hitter. The thing that makes Off a better tool for judging offensive value is that it takes base running into account, giving a more total picture of offensive value.
In the category of Off, Thome’s 378.2 is second only to Tris Speaker as the Indians most productive offensive weapon historically. Beyond his Indians career, Thome was an all-time great in MLB history. His 612 career home runs is eighth best all-time (second among first basemen), and his 1,747 walks rank seventh (first among first basemen).
Though he played his games in one of the most controversial eras in baseball history, Thome kept his name clean and clear. He was the 2002 recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award and was a nominee on numerous other occasions. Thome was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, and his statue can be found at Progressive Field guarding the right field gate.
The only other first baseman I seriously considered for this spot was Hal Trosky. In truth, he would have been a great choice, but Thome just did more over his career than Trosky.
Trosky was a very good hitter in his own right. He spent nine years in an Indians uniform from 1933-1941 and slashed .313/.379/.551 in that time.
His best season came in 1936 when he led the league with 162 RBI while hitting .343/.382/.644 and hitting 42 home runs. He also led the league in total bases that year with 402. Only 29 times in Major League history has a player compiled 400+ total bases in a season.
Trosky was a great hitter and right up there with Thome as the top two first basemen in team history. In the end Thome edged him out on my list but Trosky deserves all the respect in the world.
If you had another player in mind for this spot I’d love to hear about some of your favorites. Check out the next article in the series as I pick my Cleveland Indians All-Time second baseman.