Cleveland Indians: 26 players, 26 years at Jacobs Field

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
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 /
5 of 5
Cleveland Indians
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Starting Lineup

1. Kenny Lofton – CF (1992-96, 1998-2001, 2007)

Kenny Lofton is in his own realm as a player who spent three different stints with the Indians over the course of his career. The most lucrative of these from an individual standpoint was his first, from 1992-96. During this span, Lofton finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1992, won four consecutive Gold Gloves, made three straight All-Star teams, and finished top-15 in MVP voting three times.

Lofton missed out on the second of two Indians World Series runs in 1997, a year he spent with the Braves before returning to Cleveland in 1998.

Lofton was the quintessential leadoff hitter, averaging a .375 on-base percentage in an Indians uniform; a mark that would be even higher if not for a relatively down 2001 season and the 196 plate appearances he recorded at the age of 40 in 2007. (Even in those years, he reached base at clips of .322 and .344, respectively).

Lofton’s most notable statistical accomplishment with the Indians was on the base paths. Lofton holds all of the Tribe’s top three spots for stolen bases in a single season, and six of the top 10. His 452 steals in an Indians uniform are nearly 200 more than Omar Vizquel, who is second on that list with 279.

No matter how many players wear the number seven on the backs of their jerseys for the Tribe in the future, it will always feel like it should be Lofton’s to keep.

2. Francisco Lindor – SS (2015-Present)

The only man who could unseat Vizquel for the right to start at shortstop on this team, Francisco Lindor needs no introduction. Lindor already ranks 20th among Indians position players in career bWAR at 28.6, and he’s not even out of his arbitration years yet.

Lindor finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, and has made the All-Star game each year since. He has two Gold Gloves to his credit, and it stands to reason he’ll finish with many more than that.

Live Feed

Ron Kulpa ejected Terry Francona and Phil Nevin, then had to leave game himself (Video)
Ron Kulpa ejected Terry Francona and Phil Nevin, then had to leave game himself (Video) /


  • MLB Magic Number tracker: Complete playoff picture (UPDATED Sep. 15) FanSided
  • MLB Power Rankings: Bull market Braves, Black Monday for the Twins FanSided
  • MLB Playoff Picture: 3 weekend storylines that could change everything FanSided
  • MLB Playoff Picture: Predicting every series if season ended today FanSided
  • MLB power rankings: Ranking the top 10 2022 MVP candidates FanSided
  • The young superstar has authored some of the most memorable moments in recent Indians history, from his majestic grand slam in Game 2 of the 2017 ALDS to his exuberant sprint around the bases after blasting a two-run bomb in his home country of Puerto Rico in 2018.

    Even more than his statistical, on-field contributions, it is his contagiously joyous personality that has helped him permanently engrave his name in the history of the Indians. Lindor is widely regarded as the best shortstop in baseball today; however long his tenure in Cleveland, he will have a case for the greatest shortstop to ever wear an Indians uniform when it’s all said and done.

    3. Roberto Alomar – 2B (1999-01)

    Roberto Alomar reminds us of a time when future Cooperstown inductees made it a point to come to Cleveland during the prime of their careers, which is decidedly not the case in present day. Alomar was already on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory when he joined the Indians in 1999, and he continued to be one of the league’s best players upon donning the red, white, and navy blue.

    The second baseman won a Gold Glove in each of his three seasons with the Tribe, and finished top-four in MVP voting twice. Alomar and Vizquel–who also won the Gold Glove in each of the former’s three years in Cleveland–teamed up to give the Indians one of the most defensively gifted middle infields in baseball history.

    Alomar also put up better offensive numbers in Cleveland than he did anywhere else. His three-year batter’s box resume includes a .323/.405/.515 slash line and well over 100 runs per season. His career-high 138 runs scored in 1999 are the second-most in a single season in franchise history.

    The Indians never made it past the first round of the playoffs with Alomar on the roster, but he carried more than his fair share of the load in 1999, when he slashed .368/.409/.579 with four doubles, four runs scored, and three driven in against Boston in the ALDS.

    The fact that Alomar was so great, for so long, for several different teams may preclude him from being remembered primarily as an Indian. But make no mistake: for a fleeting moment in history, he was one of the best players to ever take the field in Cleveland.

    4. Manny Ramirez – RF (1993-2000)

    I believe there’s a case to be made for Manny Ramirez as the most underrated right-handed hitter of all time. Ramirez put together some absolutely ludicrous seasons in an Indians uniform, and though his connection to the Steroid Era casts doubt on the legitimacy of his career as a whole, the noise on that front didn’t begin until well after he had left Cleveland.

    Ramirez holds the highest single-season OPS in franchise history, a mark of 1.154 which he posted in 2000. That record followed an equally impressive 1999 campaign in which he posted the fourth-highest OPS ever among Indians players with a mark of 1.105. No Indians player has a higher career slugging percentage or OPS than Ramirez during their tenure in Cleveland.

    His 165 runs batted in during the 1999 season are the most in a single season by any player in baseball history since before the second World War.

    Ramirez ended his career in Cleveland by finishing top-six in MVP voting (and as high as third) in each of his final three seasons. He would then go on to win two world championships as a member of the Red Sox, and was crowned MVP of the 2004 World Series.

    As his career wound down, Ramirez became less celebrated for his accomplishments on the field and more scrutinized for his seemingly endless string of antics off of it. But before all that, he was a blossoming superstar making a name for himself at Jacobs Field.

    5. Jim Thome – 1B (1991-2002, 2011)

    Those who lived through Jim Thome’s time in Cleveland aren’t in need of any reminders of what a privilege it was to be graced with him for so many years. He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He holds the Indians’ franchise record for home runs, both in a single season and all-time. His 337 career bombs in an Indians uniform are just a shade under 100 more than second place on that list, Albert Belle.

    Thome’s career on-base percentage from 1991-2002 was .414, which is a ridiculous clip to maintain over the course of 5,723 plate appearances, and the highest of any Indians hitter since before the Great Depression. As likely as he was to send a poorly located pitch screaming 120 feet over the right field fence, he was just as likely to take his walks and swat base hits.

    Amplifying Thome’s legacy in Cleveland, and as a baseball player in general, is that he never fell under suspicion of cheating the game. Thome came of age during one of the most scandalous periods in baseball history, but managed to get himself a plaque in Cooperstown without turning to the illegal advantages used by so many of his peers.

    His number, 25, is retired by the Indians and there’s a bronze statue in his likeness beyond the center field wall in his old home park. There may be others who deserve similar honors in Cleveland, but none deserve them definitively more than Thome.

    6. Albert Belle – LF (1989-96)

    Before we continue, I would like you to put yourself in the shoes of an opposing pitcher who just clawed his way through the first five hitters in this lineup only to see Albert Belle stomping to the plate out of the six-hole. And, by the way, if you get frustrated because the first five guys all went yard and you decide you’re going to take some liberties with your pitch location, Belle is going to charge the mound and dropkick you into center field.

    Belle wasn’t the most likable guy by any stretch of the imagination. He was, by all accounts, a difficult person to be around in a clubhouse, both for his teammates and the media. He’s also had some questionable run-ins with the law since leaving the game of baseball. Having acknowledged his abrasive personality, let’s focus on what he did on the field, because there aren’t many players who can claim to have been as dominant as Belle was, for as long as Belle was.

    From 1992-96, Belle launched at least 30 homers and drove in at least 100 runs every year–a trend he kept up for three more years even after leaving Cleveland. He finished second or third in MVP voting each year from 1994-96. He holds the second- and fourth-highest single-season home run totals in Indians history, with 50 in 1995 and 48 in 1996. Only Thome hit more during his Indians career than Belle.

    As intimidating a slugger as Belle was, he didn’t sacrifice a great deal in pure hitting ability. Belle struck out in just 15.9% of his career plate appearances with the Indians, and posted a cumulative slash line of .295/.369/.580. He came within mere decimal points of winning a batting title in 1994 with a .357 average.

    Considering the modern-day plate approach of selling out for home runs at the expense of other positive outcomes, it would be refreshing to see more hitters with Belle’s skill set in 2020. His career ended abruptly due to a hip issue in 2000, and he never got into the Hall of Fame.

    7. Victor Martinez – C (2002-09)

    Sandy Alomar Jr. would’ve been a natural choice here if he hadn’t been injured so often, or at least put up more consistently dependable offensive numbers on a year-to-year basis. Instead, we’re going with one of the more reliable bats to come through Cleveland since the turn of the century.

    Victor Martinez was never the most adept defensive catcher, but there is no question who the Indians’ best hitting backstop has been over the last 26 years. Martinez slashed .297/.369/.463 and racked up 19.3 bWAR in his Indians career before getting traded to the Red Sox in the summer of 2009.

    Because of his hitting ability, the writing was always on the wall for Martinez to transition into a first baseman/DH hybrid before long. He served as the Indians’ primary catcher from 2004-07, and then injuries befell him and dampened his final years in Cleveland. After 2010, his one full season in Boston, his days as a full-time catcher were over.

    In addition to being one of the better pure hitters on this roster, Martinez was also lights-out at the plate when it mattered most: in the 2007 postseason. Martinez slashed .318/.388/.500 between the ALDS and ALCS that year, with two home runs, two doubles, six runs, and seven driven in.

    The same level of hitting prowess that landed Martinez on the map, he would maintain well into the twilight of his career with the Tigers.

    8. Travis Hafner – DH (2003-12)

    I considered Edwin Encarnacion and David Justice for this honor. In reality, both were (or still are, in Encarnacion’s case) better career players than Travis Hafner. But Hafner played for the Indians for longer than both Encarnacion and Justice combined, and at his best, was one of the most prominent designated hitters in the league.

    From 2004-07, Hafner averaged just under 32 homers per season and over 100 runs driven in. In 2006, Hafner became the only Tribe player not named Thome, Belle, or Ramirez to hit at least 40 home runs in a season since 1959. (Jose Ramirez just missed joining him on this list in 2018.)

    Hafner’s best seasons were 2005-06, in which he finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in MVP voting. He eclipsed the 1.000 OPS threshold in both seasons; his 1.097 mark in 2006 ranks fifth all-time in a single season in club history.

    Hafner didn’t do much in his lone playoff appearance, accumulating just eight hits in 50 plate appearances in October 2007. After the 2007 season, Hafner struggled to stay on the field for much of the rest of his time in Cleveland. He only played in 100 games once from 2008-12, and he finished his career with the Yankees in 2013.

    Hafner’s tenure with the Indians isn’t what you would classify as magical, but he provided the club with some thump in the middle of the order during what turned out to be some dark years in contrast to the winning ways that immediately preceded and followed his prime. Look, I’m lifting him for a pinch-hitter in a big spot, but he gave the Indians what he could for 10 years. Let’s allow the man his due, shall we?

    9. Jose Ramirez – 3B (2013-Present)

    Jose Ramirez rounds out our batting order and defensive alignment by way of being the longest-tenured standout third baseman in Cleveland since 1994, but let’s not pretend he wouldn’t have a strong case to start for this team anyway.

    Though Travis Fryman was a fine addition to the team in the late 90’s, he spent the bulk of his career in Detroit and missed over a full season’s worth of games in his five-year stint with the Indians. Fryman did win his only career Gold Glove in Cleveland in 2000, but his inability to stay on the field–in addition to the fact that Ramirez is the superior hitter–keeps him just outside the conversation.

    Ramirez’s 56 doubles in 2017 were the third-most in franchise history, and the most by any Indians hitter since 1926. He finished third in MVP voting that year, as well as in 2018, when he clubbed 39 home runs. He may have a few years to go before solidifying his place among all-time Tribe greats, but he is on the right path.

    Perhaps the most endearing thing about Ramirez is that he came out of nowhere. He was once a utility infielder before planting himself as a fixture in the heart of Cleveland’s 2016 World Series lineup, and his metamorphosis hasn’t stopped since (though it did take a disconcerting sabbatical for the entire first half of the 2019 season).

    Like Lindor, his teammate on the left side of the current Indians infield, Ramirez is as easy a personality to root for as he is a player. Simultaneously unassuming and beaming with quiet swagger, Ramirez puts his heart, soul, and every last inch of his five-foot-nine frame into the game of baseball. He is truly a joy to watch, as was (or is) every player on this list.

    If you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through the past, a journey that included some of the most iconic players in the history of Cleveland sports. Among the fun parts about putting this roster together has been looking back and remembering where I was in my own life at various points throughout the last 26 years of Indians baseball.

    Those of us who treasure the Indians have all witnessed each generation of the franchise at different points in our lives, from different points of view. I was just a kid in the mid-90’s. I latched onto those players and that team, and I never let go. Twenty years later, I had developed enough existential dread to wonder whether 2016 was the universe’s way of telling me I’m never going to see the Indians win a World Series.

    Next. No Indians players selected to 2020 Cooperstown class. dark

    To those of you who are older than me, I hope the next 26 years bring you the championship you have waited so long for–the one you deserve. To the younger generation who might just be developing its love for the Cleveland Indians, buckle up. We might be here for awhile.