Cleveland Indians: 26 players, 26 years at Jacobs Field

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5 Oct 1996: Centerfielder Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians focuses on the baseball as he makes a running catch off a Todd Zeile hit in the first inning of game four of the Indians match up against the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Divisio

Jacobs Field became the home of the Cleveland Indians 26 years ago. With MLB rosters expanding to 26 men, here are the 26 players of the All-Jacobs Field Era team.

The Cleveland Indians had not lost to the Atlanta Braves or the Florida Marlins in the World Series yet. Jim Thome was a third baseman. Terry Francona had not begun his managerial career. Francisco Lindor was less than a year old.

These are just a few of the things that were true 26 years ago, when Jacobs Field opened its gates for the first time in 1994. Fast-forward to present day: the Indians have lost three Fall Classics–two of them in soul-stealing fashion. Thome is enshrined in Cooperstown. Francona is 91 victories away from becoming the Tribe’s all-time winningest skipper. Lindor is the face of the franchise. Jacobs Field isn’t even called Jacobs Field anymore, and hasn’t been for more than a decade. The time in between has flown faster than a home run off the bat of Albert Belle.

Among the other things that can be said of the last 26 years is that the Indians have enjoyed a great deal of success. The state of Cleveland baseball has hit its crests and trenches during this span, but the last two-and-a-half decades have been defined largely by competitive teams (with a few duds here and there) and a handful of dominant ones.

Cleveland has posted 17 winning seasons and made 11 playoff appearances since moving into Jacobs Field. This includes the strike-shortened ’94 season itself, in which the Indians finished one game back of the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central with a 66-47 record before play was suspended for the year. The world will never know what might’ve been had that season played out the string.

The championship that has evaded Cleveland since 1948 continues to dangle just out of reach, but the Indians and their fans have been lucky to see a long line of great players and managers pass through the organization since the beginning of the Jacobs Field era.

In 2020, MLB rosters will expand to 26 players, as opposed to the 25-man setup that the league has utilized for most of the last century. Naturally, the coinciding numbers inspired me to construct the All-Jacobs Field Era Team, picking 26 players from the last 26 years of Indians franchise history.

A few notes before we begin:

  • The “Jacobs Field Era” technically ended in 2008, when the stadium was renamed after an insurance company. It’s the same building, with the same memories, and the same baseball team calling it home. Progressive Field is, and always will be, The Jake.
  • A player who is selected does not need to have spent all or most of his career in Cleveland, but his time there has to have been memorable in some regard. Roberto Alomar comes to mind, as he only spent three years in Cleveland, but was an undeniably great and memorable player during that span.
  • A player’s tenure in Cleveland has to include some of the best baseball of his career in order to qualify. For instance, Josh Donaldson is one of the best third basemen to suit up for the Indians in this time frame, but his extremely short-lived stint in Cleveland was nothing compared to what he’s done in other uniforms.
  • A traditional roster that is meant to be used on the field would include an even balance between pitchers and position players, but the sheer volume of exceptional position players who have taken the field for the Indians since 1994 demands that we have a deeper bench than you’d normally see.

Lastly, this is based equally on statistics and personal opinion. There’d be no fun in basing this discussion entirely on numbers; at some points, my decision on a toss-up between two or three players will come down to who I remember more fondly, or who I think deserved more credit than they got. As a result, the players I’ve chosen are not necessarily who everyone else in the world would choose, and that’s okay. With the player pool we have to pick from, you’d almost have to try to field a bad team.

Let’s get started.

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