Cleveland Indians All-Time Team: Left Fielder
We are celebrating the history of the Cleveland Indians by building an all-time roster. In this installment, we select our starting left fielder.
At this point in my list, I’ve gone through the starting rotation and infield and I am now embarking on the outfield portion of the Cleveland Indians all-time team. When it comes to the outfield I have two distinct choices, I can choose outfielders based on the specific position in which they played or I can choose the three best outfielders regardless of where in the outfield they roamed.
I was initially determined to base my list on the former, but after further research, I chose to open the field to the three best outfielders.
I based this on the realization that the majority of the top outfielders played center field, and those players were such iconic Indians that it was impossible to leave them off the list. Furthermore, each of my selections for the all-time outfield spent at least some time at every outfield position, therefore justifying, at least in my mind, my choice to open the field.
I’ve spent enough time blathering on about my reasoning behind my picks so I’ll just get on with it. My choice for left field on the Cleveland Indians All-Time Team is Earl Averill.
Know as “The Rock of Snohomish” (he was born and raised in Snohomish, WA) or sometimes just “Rock”, Earl Averill spent 11 glorious seasons in an Indians uniform. In those 11 years, he made 6 All-Star teams and batted .300 or better 9 times.
Earl wasn’t the highly touted prospect one would expect from a Hall of Famer. He spent many years bouncing around from one semi-pro team to the next. He tried out for the Pacific Coast League Seattle Indians but was rejected and told he didn’t have what it takes to be a Major League player.
It wasn’t until 1925, playing for a team in Bellingham, that Averill was noticed by another PCL, the San Francisco Seals. As a member of the Seals, he lead the league in RBI with 178 and captained the team to a PCL Championship.
It was then that he drew the attention of Major League clubs, notably the Cleveland Indians. The Ohio club purchased Averill’s contract for the then incredibly high sum of $50,000. The gamble paid off and the new addition to the Tribe made his MLB debut in 1929 at the ripe age of 27.
His best individual season was 1936 where he lead the league in hits with 232, triples with 15, and finished second in the American League with a career-best .378 batting average.
In an era where Major League teams played 152 games a year (roughly), Averill played 150+ games in a season seven times, and never played less than 134 as an Indians. Although he managed to stay on the field, this Cleveland legend was quite injury prone.
In 1935, Averill was lighting firecrackers with his children in a pre-Independence Day celebration, when one of them went off in his hand. The Tribe outfielder suffered cuts and burns to his fingers, hand, chest, and face. He missed two weeks due to his wounds but made a full recovery but his hitting was negatively affected as he hit “only” .283/.368/.475 the rest of the season after the incident.
Then, in 1937, Averill began experiencing back issues. At one point he was stricken with temporary paralysis and The Rock of Snohomish was forced to seek serious medical care.
It was eventually discovered that he was suffering from a congenital spine issue which caused him severe pain and lower limb paralysis. Although he gritted his way through the season and made a big comeback in 1938, Averill was never the same.
In the 8 seasons before his back issues, he hit 30 or more home runs 3 times and on another occasion smacked 28 long balls. After the 1937 season, he never hit more than 14 home runs and would play his last Major League game just 4 years later.
Averill is the Indians all-time leader in total bases (3,200), runs (1154), RBI (1164) and triples (128). He also holds the Indian’s single-season records in hits (232) and runs scored (140).
In addition to those records, The Rock has the distinction of being the first AL player ever to homer in his first Major League at-bat, smacking a 0-2 pitch from Detroit Tigers Earl Whitehill over the fend in right field.
Earl Averill was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1975 with a career batting line of .318/.395/.534. He was arguably the greatest Indian hitter of all-time, and truly deserving of recognition on this list of the Cleveland Indians All-Time Team.