There are a lot of unhappy people in Cleveland at the moment (Drew Carey and LeBron James were reportedly last seen comforting each other on the Hope Memorial Bridge, holding hands while staring wistfully into the Cuyahoga River). And can you really blame them? After waiting 68 years, it finally looked as though the Indians were going to win their third World Series, especially after they went up three games to one on the Cubs.
But thanks to guys like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, whose bats woke up at just the right moment, Chicago fought back to take the series and win their first championship since 1908, making Cleveland the team with the current longest World Series drought.
So to help Indians fans take their minds off the heartbreaking loss, we thought we’d remind them of the good times, by looking back at the 15 best Cleveland Indians since 2000 (unsurprisingly, many from the 2016 roster made the list). Here’s to hoping that it’s not another seven decades before the Tribe gets to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy again.
Honorable Mention: Jason Kipnis, Bartolo Colon, and Shin-Soo Choo.
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15 Cody Allen
Andrew Miller gets much of the credit for Cleveland’s lights-out bullpen this season, but it’s not like batters were breathing a sigh of relief when they got through with the tall lefty, because that meant they then had to deal with closer Cody Allen, who picked up his second consecutive 30-save season this year, with a 2.51 ERA, 87 strikeouts in 69 innings, and a career-best 1.000 WHIP.
In five years with the team, Allen has struck out batters at a rate of 11.5 per nine innings, with a stellar 2.61 ERA. As any big league manager will tell you, the key to a successful team is a good closer, and Allen has been one of the best in the AL for the past three years.
14 Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller makes the list for his heroic postseason efforts alone, despite only being a member of the Tribe for part of one season—but what an incredible partial season it was, with 46 strikeouts in 29 innings, an ERA of 1.55, and a perfect record of 4-0 after coming over from the Yankees.
After fanning a pair of Cubs in Game 4 of the World Series, Miller set the record for most strikeouts by a reliever in a single postseason with 29, and he accomplished it in just 17 innings. He practically single-handedly defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, striking out ten out of 12 batters, leading both Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, arguably the two greatest relievers of all time, to both call him “amazing.”
13 Mike Napoli
On top of leading the team in home runs (34, tied with Carlos Santana) and RBI (101), veteran Mike Napoli served as the unofficial team captain, not just on the field but in the clubhouse, as well. As one broadcaster put it, half the team respects him while the other half fears him, but, either way, the younger Cleveland players look to him as an example of how to conduct yourself at the major league level.
It’s not a coincidence that Napoli is a regular fixture in the postseason, and he brought that experience with him to Northeast Ohio, leading the Indians to their first World Series appearance in almost two decades and nearly their first championship since 1948.
Manager Terry Francona credits his first baseman with playing a pivotal role in helping to develop the team’s strong chemistry.
12 Carlos Santana
Switch-hitting first baseman/DH Carlos Santana has been a potent bat in the lineup for Cleveland since his first full season back in 2011, but he broke out this year, with career highs in home runs (34), RBI (87), hits (151), and OPS (.865), all while cutting down on strikeouts and bumping up his average from .231 over the last two seasons to .259.
In seven years with the club, Santana has hit 151 home runs with 508 RBI and an on-base percentage of .365. More importantly, he regularly serves as a catalyst for the Cleveland offense, even batting leadoff at times despite his above average power and below average speed.
11 Manny Ramirez
What with his two World Series championships with the Red Sox and the controversial end to his career, Manny Ramirez’s time in Cleveland seems like a distant memory, but he had arguably his best seasons ever in an Indians uniform, including his last year with the club in 2000, when he hit .351/.457/.697 with 38 home runs and 122 RBI, earning him a trip to the Midsummer Classic, a Silver Slugger Award, and a 6th place finish in AL MVP voting.
Although he put up incredible numbers in Cleveland (mostly in the ‘90s), including a .313 batting average and 236 home runs over eight seasons, Manny was often maligned in the media for his laidback attitude, which Boston fans would later refer to as “Manny being Manny.”
10 Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez has enjoyed a long and productive career in the bigs, including stints with the Red Sox and the Tigers, but the bulk of his stats, including 103 home runs and 900 hits, were accumulated in an Indians uniform.
Although not the greatest defensive catcher, regularly ranking among the worst backstops in the league in terms of throwing out runners, “V-Mart” more than made up for it with his stick, hitting .302/.376/.484 while averaging nearly 100 RBI per season from 2004-2007, finishing in the top 25 for AL MVP voting three out of four times in that stretch, and winning the Silver Slugger award for the top offensive catcher in his first full season in the majors.
9 Francisco Lindor
Although the youngest player on this year’s team at just 22 years of age, Francisco Lindor is already the most valuable, with a .306 batting average, 27 home runs, and 129 RBI combined in a season and a half of service in the majors. On top of his impressive offense, which should make him a perennial All-Star going forward, Lindor also provides Gold Glove caliber defense at short, sporting a .982 fielding percentage this season and range that rivals any midfielder in the league.
Francisco has also proven to be a clutch postseason performer, batting .310 with a pair of home runs in 58 at-bats. Cleveland closer Cody Allen even said that, despite his tender age, the Puerto Rican shortstop, who was picked 8th overall in 2011, is already one of the team’s leaders, a quality that most major leaguers don’t acquire until well into their careers.
8 Travis Hafner
Drafted in the 31st round out of a small community college in Arkansas, Travis “Pronk” Hafner went relatively unnoticed for most of his career. After his first full season with the Indians, however, when he hit .311/.410/.583 with 28 home runs and 109 RBI, everyone in the league knew his name. He would follow up his 2004 breakout campaign with two even better seasons, batting .306 with 75 home runs from 2005-2006, finishing fifth and eighth, respectively, in AL MVP voting.
Unfortunately, due to injuries, after his fourth consecutive 100-RBI season, his numbers at the plate would fall off considerably, failing to hit more than 16 home runs and 57 RBI in a season for the rest of his career, ending his time in the bigs with a disappointing stretch with the Yankees in 2013, when he hit just .202 with 12 home runs.
7 Michael Brantley
Unfortunately, after being forced to undergo season-ending surgery in August, Michael Brantley was not able to join in on the postseason festivities, but his contributions to the team over the past few seasons are not to be overlooked.
After a couple solid years in the majors, batting .288 and .284 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Brantley evolved into one of the league’s elite hitters in 2014, posting a career-best batting average of .327 with 20 home runs and 97 RBI, finishing third in MVP voting. He followed it up with a .310 BA in 2015, leading the league in doubles, with 45, and helping to set the foundation for an eventual World Series run the following year.
6 C.C. Sabathia
With a record of 223-141 and 2,726 strikeouts since he made his debut in 2001, C.C. Sabathia is one of the most successful pitchers of the 21st century, and many of his best years came in Cleveland, where he won his only Cy Young Award after going 19-7 with 209 strikeouts and a 3.21 ERA while leading the league in innings pitched in 2007.
In recent years, what with the significant loss to velocity on his fastball, Sabathia, who has been with the Yankees since 2009 after a short stint in Milwaukee, has struggled to find his early-career form, failing to win more than nine games in a season since 2013. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was one of the most dominant and durable pitchers in the game while with the Tribe, posting a winning record each season with the team.
5 Grady Sizemore
Grady Sizemore’s tenure in Ohio might have ended on a low note, batting just .220 over his last two seasons with the club after struggling to recover from injuries, but he was the face of the franchise for several years, making consecutive All-Star appearances from 2006-08 and batting .281 with a .372 on-base percentage and 107 home runs from 2005-08, finishing in the top 25 for AL MVP voting each season during that stretch while taking home a pair of Gold Gloves for his defense in centerfield.
Unfortunately, after leaving Cleveland, he hasn’t been able to recapture his early form, failing to hit more than six home runs in a season ever since. At the moment, his career appears to be in limbo, sitting out all of last season after his minor-league contract with the Rays ended in 2015.
4 Corey Kluber
Although the outcome wasn’t what Cleveland fans were hoping for, there’s still no denying that Corey Kluber put on one of the greatest postseason performances of all time this year, going 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in six games and starting three out of seven games in the World Series, topping off what very well could be his second Cy Young season in three years.
Had he been able to pull off a win against the Cubs in game 7, his name surely would have gone down in franchise history next to the all-time greats, such as Bob Feller and Bob Lemon, but instead he’ll have to settle for being one of the best players of the 21st century. But at just 30 years old and showing no signs of slowing down, there’s still plenty reason to believe he could bring a World Series championship to Cleveland in the not-too-distant future.
During the season, Kluber went 18-9, matching his career-best record from 2014, with a 3.14 ERA and 227 strikeouts, his third 200-strikeout season in a row.
3 Cliff Lee
In total, four Cleveland Indians pitchers have won the AL Cy Young Award, with three of them coming in the 21st century (including the aforementioned C.C. Sabathia and Corey Kluber), but perhaps no one was more deserving of it than Cliff Lee, who, in 2008, went 22-3 with a league-best 2.54 ERA and 170 strikeouts compared to just 34 walks in 223.1 innings of work.
The left-handed hurler finished his tenure in Cleveland with a record of 83-48 before helping the Phillies win a pennant in 2009. Unfortunately, late-career injuries quashed any chance that he had of making the Hall of Fame, but he’s still one of the best pitchers—and possibly the best Indians pitcher—of the 21st century.
2 Roberto Alomar
Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar was named to 12 All-Star teams in his career, including in each of his three years in Cleveland, where he put up his best numbers offensively, batting .323/.405/.515 while averaging more than 20 home runs per season (6 higher than his career average). He also won three of his 10 career Gold Gloves with the Indians, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest defensive second basemen of all time.
The only thing missing from his time with the team was a World Series championship, although he did lead them to two AL Central pennants and a combined record of 278-208.
His time in Cleveland would prove to be his last great years in the bigs, as he would fail to hit higher than .266 in a full season after hitting a career-high .336 in 2003.
1 Jim Thome
Who better to throw out the first pitch at Game 7 of the World Series than Jim Thome, who, with several club records, including most home runs in a season (52), most walks in a season (127), and most home runs in franchise history (337), is arguably the greatest power-hitter to ever put on an Indians uniform.
The bulk of his time in Cleveland took place before the turn of the century, but he put up some of the best numbers of his career in his three seasons after Y2K, when he averaged more than 50 home runs per 162 games with an on-base percentage of .414.
Thome’s success carried over to Philadelphia and Chicago, where he would continue to put up Herculean numbers at the plate well into his 30s, eventually retiring at the age of 41 with 612 home runs and 1,699 RBI for his career.
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