The 8 greatest to play for the Indianapolis Indians
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Spring is here and another season of Indianapolis Indians baseball is right around the corner. In more than 100 seasons of professional baseball in Indianapolis, numerous Hall of Fame players have come through town.
But going by the numbers, who is the best player to suit up with the Indianapolis Indians?
Since the rise of sabermetrics, one of the most popular ways to measure a player’s productivity is wins above replacement (WAR).
This list ranks the eight greatest Indianapolis Indians players by their major league WAR, as provided by Baseball Reference.
Narrowly missing the list are baseball greats Dave Concepión, Moises Alou and Hall of Fame member Rube Marquand.
Current Pittsburgh Pirate Andrew McCutchen begins the 2016 season with a WAR of 38.2 and could soon see his name added to this list.
Also not on this list is Grover Cleveland Alexander. Sold to Indianapolis in 1910, there is no record of Alexander ever suiting up for the team. With a career WAR of 117, Alexander would have topped the list if he ever played a game with club.
8. George Foster, career WAR of 43.9
George Foster had 130 hits in 134 games for the Indians in 1973. As a 24-year-old, Foster hit .262 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI.
Debuting as a 20-year-old outfielder with the San Francisco Giants in 1969, Foster already had some major league experience prior to his stint in Indianapolis.
Foster’s breakout year would occur in 1975. In 1976, he was named to his first of five All-Star teams and finished second in MVP voting.
The following year, Foster would win the National League MVP.
A key member of the Cincinnati Reds during the “Big Red Machine” era, Foster helped the team to back-to-back World Series victories in 1975 and 1976.
Foster spent a good portion of the 1980s with the New York Mets. Foster’s career ended after being released by both the Mets and the Chicago White Sox in 1986.
7. Gabby Hartnett, career WAR of 53.4
Gabby Hartnett didn’t come to Indianapolis until almost the end of his Hall of Fame career. The Chicago Cubs great spent the 1942 season as a player/manager, leading the team to a 76-78 record.
Although Hartnett’s best days were behind him, the team’s 1942 mark was 11 wins better than the previous season.
Hartnett played 20 seasons in the big leagues, winning the 1935 NL MVP and making six consecutive All-Star games.
Harnett put up a career 53.4 WAR and entered the Hall of Fame in 1955.
6. Mordecai Brown, career WAR of 55.1
Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was born in Nyesville, Indiana in 1876. Like Hartnett, Brown also came to Indianapolis in the twilight of his career. Brown pitched in six games in 1919, going 0-3 with a 3.48.
Brown’s hand was mangled in farming accident when he was young, leading to an exceptional curveball and his nickname.
Brown’s first professional experience was with the Terre Haute Hottentots in 1901 and his final games were also in Terre Haute, spending 1920 as a player/manager with the Terre Haute Browns.
Brown spent 14 seasons between the National League and the Federal League, putting up 55.1 WAR.
Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949.
Brown was buried in Roselawn Memorial Park in Terre Haute when he died in 1948.
5. Eddie Cicotte, career WAR of 56.9 WAR
Eddie Cicotte pitched in 10 games as a 22-year-old with the Indians in 1906, going 1-4 with a 3.50 ERA. Two years later, he’d be pitching alongside Cy Young with the Boston Red Sox.
Cicotte’s best years would come with the Chicago White Sox, winning 21 or more games three times in his final four seasons.
Cicotte may best be remembered for tarnishing his legacy, admitting his involvement in fixing the 1919 World Series. A member of the infamous “Black Sox,” Cicotte was banned from baseball by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Cicotte’s final professional game in a baseball was a complete game win over Detroit, the 249th complete game of his career.
4. Harmon Killebrew, career WAR of 60.3
Harmon Killebrew’s Hall of Fame career brought him to Indianapolis in 1958 as a 22-year-old third baseman.
Killebrew played in 38 games that year, only hitting a .215 average with a pair of homers and 10 RBI.
Killebrew would breakout out the next season. In 1959, he exploded for 42 home runs and made the All-Star game as a member of the Washington Senators. It would be the first of 11 All-Star appearances.
The Senators would move to Minnesota for the 1961 season and Killebrew would spend the decade as one of baseball’s best hitters.
Killebrew ended the decade as the 1969 AL MVP.
He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1984 and currently has the 11th-most home runs in history.
3. Larry Walker, career WAR of 72.6
The 1989 Indianapolis Indians were loaded with talent. The 22-year-old Walker joined Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom and Randy Johnson to an 87-59 record, the best record in the American Association.
Walker would show a combination of speed and power in 114 games that year, stealing 36 bases and hitting 12 home runs. His performance would earn him a late-season call to join the parent club, Montreal Expos.
Walker would be a leader on the 1994 Expos team that had the league’s best records before the strike ended the season.
Joining the still-new Colorado Rockies for the 1995 season, Walker’s best seasons would occur in the Mile High City, winning the 1997 NL MVP.
A five-time All-Star and seven-time Golden Glove winner, Walker has fallen short of the Hall of Fame, never receiving more than 22.9% of the vote.
2. Randy Johnson, career WAR of 104.3
“The Big Unit” came to Indianapolis in 1988. The lanky lefty started 19 games that year for the Indians, going 8-7 with a 3.26 ERA. That Indians team was easily the class of the American Association, compiling a 89-53 record.
Johnson made three appearances with the 1989 club before being called up to the majors with Montreal.
Johnson would rack up five Cy Young awards in his career, including a streak of four in a row beginning when he was 35.
When he finally retired in 2009 at age 45, he finished with 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts and 37 shutouts.
Johnson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
1. Nap Lajoie, career WAR of 107.4
Napoleon Lajoie played in 2,480 major league ball games over the course of 21 seasons. In 1901, Lajoie had the fourth-best batting season of all time, hitting .426 for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.
Nap’s final major league game was in 1916, but he continued to play ball. He spent 1917 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and came to Indianapolis in 1918 at age 43.
Records at Baseball Reference have him hitting .282 in 78 games that season as a player/manager.
Lajoie spent most of the early 1900s starring in Cleveland, with the team changing their nickname to the Naps in 1902.
A three-time batting champion and winner of the Triple Crown in 1901, Lajoie went into the Hall of Fame in 1937.