MLB Top 5: Cleveland Guardians Middle Infielders

This is the third article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Cleveland Indians/Guardians franchise. In this installment are second basemen and shortstops.

The Cleveland Guardians franchise has had the good fortune of several top-notch middle infielders through the years. The second base list includes three players who have appeared at Jacobs/Progressive Field since 1990, plus a star who was so popular and respected, the team was named after him for more than a decade. Shortstop features two Hall of Famers, one who is still on the ballot, one who is still playing (albeit in New York) and one who was on his way to being a star before a tragic accident.

The Best Second Basemen and Shortstops in Cleveland Guardians History

Second Basemen

Honorable Mentions – Joe Gordon did not stay in Cleveland very long, but he made an impact. He earned three All-Star selections in four years with the Indians (1947-50), including 1948, when he hit .280 with career-best totals of 32 home runs and 124 runs batted in. “Flash” (nicknamed after his favorite comic book character) had 530 hits, 100 homers and 358 RBIs in 566 games overall. He also had four hits, three runs, a home run and two RBIs in the win over Boston in the 1948 World Series. Gordon was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 2009.

Odell Hale played nine seasons in Cleveland (1931 and 33-40), registering back-to-back 101-RBI seasons in 1934-35. His best season was 1936, when he set career highs with 126 runs, 196 hits, 50 doubles and a .316 average. Hale finished his Indians career batting .294 with 533 runs, 1,046 hits, 235 doubles, 72 homers and 563 RBIs in 1,009 games.

In addition to being a likely member of any baseball “all-names team,” Bill Wambsganss was a fixture at the keystone position in Cleveland for a decade (1914-23). “Wamby” totaled 556 runs, 1,083 hits, 429 runs batted in and 122 stolen bases in 1,170 games. He had four hits, three runs scored and an RBI in the win over Brooklyn in the 1920 World Series.

5. Bobby Avila – He had a 10-year stay in Cleveland (1949-58) that included a trip to the World Series. The three-time All-Star led the league with 11 triples in 1952 and finished third in the MVP voting two years later (he was one of four Indians in the top six in 1954), when he set career highs with a .341 average (which also led the league), 112 runs, 189 hits, 15 home runs and 67 runs batted in. Overall, Avila hit .284 with 688 runs, 1,236 hits, 74 homers and 442 RBIs in 1,207 games. The 1953 fielding champion went 2-for-15 with a run scored the following year in the World Series loss to the Giants.

4. Jason Kipnis – During his nine seasons with the Indians (2011-19), he had at least 80 runs scored, 150 hits and 70 RBIs four times apiece. Kipnis also was a two-time All-Star, hit a home run in the 2011 MLB Futures Game and was a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year winner in 2012. Overall, he totaled 594 runs, 1,120 hits, 252 doubles, 123 home runs, 529 RBIs and 135 stolen bases in 1,121 games. In the postseason, Kipnis had 19 hits, nine runs, four homers and nine RBIs in 24 games, and he had nine hits, scored six runs, hit two home runs and drove in four runs during the 2016 World Series loss to the Cubs.

3. Roberto Alomar – He only played three seasons with the Indians (1999-2001), but he certainly made an impact. Alomar made the All-Star team and won a gold glove every year in Cleveland, and he also earned a Silver Slugger award and finished in the top five in MVP voting twice. He was third in 1999, when he hit .323 with 182 hits, set career highs with 24 home runs and 120 runs batted in, and he scored 138 runs, which not only led the league and was a career-best, but it was also the second-highest single-season total in team history.

Alomar is tied for sixth on the all-time franchise list with a .323 average, and he totaled 362 runs, 564 hits, 63 home runs and 309 RBIs in 471 games. In the playoffs, he had 11 hits, seven runs, seven doubles and six RBIs in 10 games. Alomar was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011.

2. Carlos Baerga – His eight-year stay in Cleveland (1990-96 and 99) included three All-Star selections, two silver sluggers and a run to the World Series. Baerga’s best season was 1993, when he had 200 hits and posted career highs with a .324 average, 105 runs, 21 home runs and 114 runs batted in.

In 941 games with The Tribe, Baerga batted .299 with 549 runs, 1,097 hits, 104 homers and 565 RBIs. He appeared in 15 games during the 1995 playoffs, totaling 19 hits, six runs, a home run and nine RBIs. Baerga contributed five hits and four RBIs in the loss to the Braves in the World Series. He played with the Mets and Padres for three seasons before being traded back to the Indians in 1999. Weight issues contributed to Baerga missing the 2000 season due to a torn ACL in his left knee, and Baerga played for three teams before retiring in 2005.

1. Napoleon Lajoie – He was a superstar in baseball’s “Deadball Era” during the first 20 years of the 20th century, and he won the Triple Crown (including a modern record .426 average) as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics in the American League’s first season. However, he was also involved in the power play between the two leagues for player services. Lajoie had played five seasons with the National League’s Phillies before jumping to the junior circuit (with their lack of a salary cap). The Phillies sued and won, but the Athletics put him in their lineup anyway, which led to an injunction. Lawyers pointed out that, since the case was heard in Pennsylvania Supreme Court, it was only enforceable in that state, so A’s owner and manager Connie Mack transferred Lajoie’s contract to Cleveland so he could stay in the American League.

During his 13 seasons with Cleveland (1902-14), Lajoie led the league in hits, doubles and batting average three times apiece. He hit better than .300 in 11 of 13 seasons, had better than 150 hits and 30 doubles nine times each and drove in 70 or more runs six times. Lajoie was so respected as captain and such a hit with the fans that they voted in a poll run by a local newspaper to use his shortened first name as the team’s name. The Cleveland Naps lasted for 12 seasons before Lajoie’s skills started to decline and he went back to the Athletics in 1915 (with no challenge from the Phillies). The Naps would become the Indians, with the name being used for more than 100 years.

“Larry” hit .383 with 227 hits in 1910 (the hits total was the third-most in team history), but his best season was 1904, when he scored 92 runs and led the league with a .376 average, 208 hits, 49 doubles and 102 runs batted in. He was also excellent with the glove, winning four fielding titles during his Cleveland tenure.

Lajoie is the all-time franchise leader with 2,047 hits, and he ranks second in doubles (424) and games played (1,614), third in average (.339), RBIs (919) and total bases (2,726), fourth in stolen bases (240), seventh in runs (865) and eighth in triples (78). In September 1914, he became just the third player to record 3,000 hits (after 19th century star Cap Anson and Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner, who reached the mark in June). Lajoie was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.


Honorable Mentions – Asdrubal Cabrera was a two-time All-Star during his eight seasons with the Indians (2007-14). His best season was 2011, when he set career highs with 87 runs, 165 hits, 35 home runs and 92 runs batted in. Overall, Cabrera batted .270 with 475 runs, 933 hits, 211 doubles, 82 homers and 430 RBIs in 914 games. He added 10 hits, five runs, a homer and six RBIs in 12 postseason contests.

Jhonny Peralta preceded Cabrera and put together his best season in 2008 with a .276 average, 23 home runs and career highs with 104 runs, 167 hits 42 doubles and 89 runs batted in. In eight years with Cleveland (2003-10), he had 477 runs, 906 hits, 201 doubles, 103 home runs and 456 RBIs in 923 games. Peralta had 14 hits, six runs, two homers and 10 RBIs in 11 career postseason games and totaled seven hits and four runs scored in the ALCS loss to the Red Sox.

Julio Franco spent eight seasons with the Indians in two stints (1983-88 and 96-97), posting at least 80 runs and 150 hits five straight years. He was the runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1983 after hitting .273 with 80 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. The versatile Franco also won a silver slugger in 1988 and went 2-for-15 with a run scored and an RBI during the 1996 Division Series. Overall, he batted .297 with 619 runs, 1,272 hits, 62 homers, 530 RBIs and 147 stolen bases in 1,088 games. Franco was the oldest player in the Major Leagues in his final four seasons (he spent 2004-07 with the Mets and Braves at ages 45-48).

Terry Turner spent 15 seasons with the Naps and Indians (1904-18), and while he played seven seasons at third base, he has a 741-604 edge in games played as a shortstop. “Cotton Top” won two fielding titles at each position and had his best season in 1906, when he hit .291 and posted career highs with 85 runs, 170 hits and 62 runs batted in. Turner is the all-time franchise leader with 1,619 games played, and he also ranks third in stolen bases (254), ninth in triples (77) and tenth in hits (1,472). He also has 692 runs, 204 doubles and 521 RBIs.

5. Ray Chapman – He had his best season in 1915, hitting .270 with 154 hits and 36 stolen bases and setting career highs with 101 runs, 17 triples and 67 runs batted in. Chapman stole 52 bases, led the league with 84 runs and 84 walks the following year and finished second in fielding percentage twice. He ranks fifth in franchise history in stolen bases (238) and sixth in triples (81), and he also hit .278 with 671 runs, 1,053 hits and 364 RBIs in 1,051 games.

Chapman’s promising career and life was cut short on August 17, 1920, as the Indians were playing in New York during a pennant race He had a habit of leaning over the plate and was hit in the head by Yankees starter Carl Mays so hard that the ball came back to Mays, who thought it had hit the bat and threw to first. Chapman eventually got up, got some ice from the Yankees team doctor and tried to walk off the field. He got to second base before collapsing and died in the hospital 12 hours later, becoming the first (and thankfully only) on-field Major League casualty.

Afterwards, the blame game began, with Mays, the umpires and the owners as targets. In response, baseballs were taken out of play more often, preventing scuffed and dirty baseballs from creating more of these situations. However, head protection was not mandated in both leagues until 1956, and batting helmets resembling what we see today were not required until the 1971 season.

4. Francisco Lindor – Thanks to the long history of the franchise, he is one of the few active players that will appear on these lists. Lindor spent six seasons in Cleveland (2015-20), earning four All-Star selections, two gold gloves (and a platinum glove in 2016) and two silver sluggers. The three-time MLB Futures Game participant finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after hitting .313 with 12 home runs and 51 runs batted in. He had 92 RBIs in 2018, and he led the league with 192 runs and set career highs in runs, hits (183) and home runs (38).

Lindor scored at least 99 runs, had 170 or more hits and drove in at least 70 runs four times apiece, and he smacked 30 or more homers in three seasons. “Mr. Smile” batted .285 with 508 runs, 896 hits, 138 home runs and 411 RBIs in 777 games. He had 25 hits, 11 runs, five homers and 12 RBIs in 25 playoff games with the Indians, and he had eight hits and two RBIs in the loss to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series. Lindor was traded to the Mets before the 2021 season.

3. Omar Vizquel – He played for 24 seasons and when he retired in 2012, he was the last player in any major North American professional sports league that played during the 1980s. Vizquel spent 11 years with the Indians (1994-2004) and was one of the best fielders of his era, earning eight gold gloves, three All-Star selections and the 1996 Hutch Award (for fighting spirit and competitive desire). His best season was 2000, when he had 66 RBI and 42 stolen bases while setting career highs with 112 runs, 191 hits, 36 doubles and a .333 average.

“Little O” ranks second in franchise history in steals (279), sixth in runs (906), seventh in hits (1,616), ninth in doubles (288) and tenth in games played (1,478), and he also batted .283 with 584 runs batted in. Vizquel played in two World Series with Cleveland and totaled 57 hits, 28 runs, 20 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 57 postseason games. He has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for six years, but his case to get elected took a major hit after allegations of domestic violence and sexual abuse surfaced starting in 2020. Vizquel’s voting totals have dropped from 53 percent in his first year on the ballot to under 20 percent in 2023.

2. Joe Sewell – He was one of three brothers who starred at the University of Alabama and then played in the big leagues (his younger brother, Luke, was on Cleveland’s catcher list). Joe played 11 seasons with the Indians (1920-30), winning three fielding titles and leading the American League with 45 doubles in 1924. He finished fourth in the American League MVP voting after posting 195 hits and setting career highs with a .353 average and 109 runs batted in. Two years later, Sewell finished third, batting .336 with 98 RBIs and a career-best 208 hits.

Sewell topped the .300 mark and had at least 180 hits eight times apiece, and he scored 90 runs and drove in 80 seven times each. He ranks fourth in franchise history in hits (1,800) and doubles (375), sixth in RBIs (868), tied for sixth in games (1,513), eight in runs (857) and total bases (2,391) and ninth in average (.320). Sewell went 4-for-23 in the victory over Brooklyn in the 1920 World Series.

Despite all his accolades, he was known for two things, his durability and his patience. During his tenure with the Indians, Sewell struck out a total of 99 times (an average of nine per YEAR) and he played in 1,103 consecutive games between 1922-30, which was a record at the time. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1977.

1. Lou Boudreau – He spent 13 seasons in Cleveland (1938-50) with the last nine as a player-manager. Boudreau came through the system as a third baseman but with Ken Keltner at the “hot corner,” he moved to shortstop. He took over as manager of the team in 1942 at the ripe old age of 24. Boudreau was in the top ten of MVP voting eight times in a nine-year stretch and won the award in 1948 after setting career highs with a .355 average, 116 runs, 199 hits, 18 home runs and 106 runs batted. Despite the nickname “Ol’ Shufflefoot,” he won eight fielding titles and was selected as an All-Star eight times.

Boudreau led the American League in doubles three times and won the batting title with a .327 mark in 1944. “Handsome Lou” ranks third in team history in games (1,560), fifth in doubles (367), sixth in hits (1,706), seventh in total bases (2,392) and ninth in runs (823) while also batting .296 with 63 homers and 740 RBIs.

Owner Bill Veeck tried to trade Boudreau after the 1947 season, but he ran into a storm of public backlash. Veeck received more than 4,000 letters and a poll in the Cleveland News received more than 100,000 votes, with the response overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the manager and star shortstop on board. In 1948, Boudreau hit two home runs in a one-game playoff win over the Red Sox, then had six hits, four doubles, a run scored and three RBIs in the win over the Braves in the World Series.

Boudreau left the Indians and played his final two seasons with the Red Sox. He was a color commentator for the Cubs for 30 years and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970.

Upcoming Stories

Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders – coming soon
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers – coming soon

Previous Series

A look back at the Cincinnati Reds

A look back at the Chicago White Sox

Chicago Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

A look back at the Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers

A look back at the Atlanta Braves

Catchers and Managers
First and Third Basemen
Second Basemen and Shortstops

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Catchers and Managers
First and Third Basemen
Second Basemen and Shortstops

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