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Ten Best Seasons: Left Field

This position, at least compared to others in the series, is lacking in depth. But there are some interesting yet obscure players to talk about, and I'm a big fan of obscurity.

10. Moose Solters, 1937

589 AB, .323/.372/.533, 124 OPS+, 42 2B, 11 3B, 20 HR

Highlights: 8th Total Bases, 6th Doubles, 8th Triples, 6th Extra-Base Hits

Moose was acquired in January of 1937 from the Browns as part of a six-player trade. St. Louis received 2B/SS Bill Knickerbocker, OF Joe Vosmik, and RHP Oral Hildebrand, while the Indians received Solters, RHP Ivy Andrews, and IF Lyn Lary. The trade was apparently made because Browns manager Rogers Hornsby tired of the off-the-field exploits of the three. Solters responded by having his best season, setting career marks in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Moose, as you might guess by his name, was a big guy who was also a terrible base-stealer: he stole 6 bases in 1937, but was caught 9 times. Moose regressed badly in 1938, hitting .201/.250/.291 in 199 at-bats, a horrible line in any era. He had a productive season for the White Sox in 1940, and retired after the 1943 season.

9. Joe Vosmik, 1932

621 AB, .312/.376/.462, 110 OPS+, 39 2B, 14 3B, 7 HR

Highlights: 5th Games, 4th At-Bats, 6th Hits, 8th Total Bases, 9th Doubles, 8th Triples, 7th Singles, 10th Runs Created, 8th Times on Base, 3rd Hit by Pitch

Joe's Baseball-Reference sponsor says it all about the outfielder: "Obscure player who had some great seasons." 1932 was one of those seasons, though I wouldn't necessarily call it great. Joe had a lot of plate appearances that season, and he played in all but one game. The fact that Joe was all of 22 years old when he put together this season is quite impressive. He was native Clevelander, and tore up the minors at an extremely young age, hitting over .400 in his age 18 and 19 seasons. He became a regular with the Indians in 1931, and quickly became a key cog for some outstanding Indians offenses.

8. Minnie Minoso, 1959

570 AB, .302/.377/.468, 136 OPS+, 32 2B, 21 HR

Highlights: All-Star, Gold Glove (LF), 12th MVP, 5th Average, 8th On-Base Percentage, 9th OPS, 9th Games, 6th At-Bats, 9th Runs, 4th Hits, 8th Total Bases, 6th Doubles, 8th RBI, 6th Singles, 7th Adjusted OPS+, 8th Runs Created, 9th Extra-Base Hits, 1st Hit by Pitch, 6th Power/Speed, 9th At-Bat/Strikeout

Signed from the Negro Leagues in 1948, Minoso had all of 30 at-bats before being shipped off to Chicago in one of the more idiotic trades in Indians history. The Indians received Lou Brissie from the White Sox, a left-handed pitcher who pitched mainly in relief for the Indians (there was no room in the rotation). Meanwhile, Minoso became a star with the White Sox, finishing 4th in MVP balloting in 1951, 1953, and 1954. The Indians re-acquired him in December of 1957. In 1959 Minoso helped lead the Indians to 89 wins and a second place finish. Minoso was traded back to the White Sox after the season in a series of trades (Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, etc.) that effectively ended the 1940s/1950s run of success.

7. Jeff Heath, 1938

502 AB, .343/.383/.602, 145 OPS+, 31 2B, 18 3B, 21 HR

Highlights: 11th MVP, 2nd Average, 3rd Slugging, 4th OPS, 5th Total Bases, 1st Triples, 3rd OPS+, 9th Runs Created, 5th Extra Base Hits

One of the more overlooked Indians, Jeff Heath supplanted Moose Solters in 1938, and was a regular in the outfield until 1945. He was a key cog in some excellent Indians teams in the late 1930s and the early 1940s, and was one of the AL's best power hitters during his 14-year career. His 83 triples (helped by League Park's odd dimension) rank 5th in franchise history.

6. Charlie Jamieson, 1923

644 AB, .345/.442/.447, 129 OPS+, 36 2B, 12 3B, 2 HR

Highlights: 6th MVP, 7th Average, 7th On-Base Percentage, 7th Games, 1st At Bats, 3rd Runs, 1st Hits, 6th Total Bases, 10th Doubles, 7th Triples, 6th Walks, 5th Stolen Bases, 1st Singles, 5th Runs Created, 3rd Times on Base

Jamieson was a key part of the Indians' 1920 World Series team, hitting .319/.388/.411 in a part-time role. Throughout the rest of the decade, he was a fixture in the lineup, hitting over .290 for eleven straight seasons as the leadoff hitter. What's amazing is that Jamieson didn't really start hitting until he was 27 and in his third organization. The Athletics included him in the Larry Gardner deal, which was a very nice deal even without Jamieson; Gardner became the team's starting third baseman, while Jamieson settled in left field, transforming a very good Cleveland offense into the top-scoring team in the AL.

5. Joe Vosmik, 1935

620 AB, .348/.408/.537, 141 OPS+, 47 2B, 20 3B, 10 HR

Highlights: All-Star, 3rd MVP, 2nd Average, 8th On-Base Percentage, 4th Slugging, 4th OPS, 3rd Games, 7th At-Bats, 7th Plate Appearances, 1st Hits, 3rd Total Bases, 1st Doubles, 1st Triples, 6th RBI, 5th Singles, 4th Adjusted OPS+, 4th Runs Created, 2nd Extra Base Hits, 7th Times on Base, 7th Hit by Pitch

Vosmik's best power season, and he just missed winning the batting title. Earl Averill had a down year (by his standards), so Joe was the team's best hitter. He was later dealt to Boston, where he became the offensive sidekick to Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams. To show how far compensation has come for professional athletes, Joe became an appliance salesman after his career ended. He died in 1962.

4. Albert Belle, 1993

594 AB, .290/.370/.552, 145 OPS+, 36 2B, 3 3B, 38 HR, 23 SB

Highlights: All-Star, Silver Slugger, 7th MVP, 7th Slugging, 7th OPS, 4th Games, 5th Plate Appearances, 6th Total Bases, 4th Home Runs, 1st RBI, 8th Adjusted OPS+, 6th Runs Created, 5th Extra-Base Hits, 10th Times on Base, 1st Sacrifice Flies, 2nd Power/Speed Number, 5th AB/HR

For those who don't that much about Albert's background, here's a quick primer: Belle was a force of nature at LSU, both at the plate and off the field, so much so that many clubs simply would not draft him while acknowledging his talent. The Indians took a chance on him, mostly because at that point, they needed to take chances. And for a while, it appeared that the gamble wouldn't pan out; Belle continued to have outbursts, and needed to check into alcohol rehab. He returned from rehab with a new first name (he had been known as Joey), and hit his way to the majors by 1991.

1993 was the first of a tremendous four-year run for Albert, and the first of four straight top-ten finishes in MVP voting. But 1993 paled in comparison with his next three campaigns.

3. Albert Belle, 1994

412 AB, .357/.438/.714, 192 OPS+, 35 2B, 36 HR

Highlights: All-Star, Silver Slugger, 3rd MVP, 2nd Average, 3rd On-Base Percentage, 2nd Slugging, 2nd OPS, 5th Runs, 3rd Hits, 1st Total Bases, 2nd Doubles, 3rd Home Runs, 3rd RBI, 2nd Adjusted OPS+, 2nd Runs Created, 1st Extra-Base Hits, 5th Times on Base, 5th Times on Base, 9th Power/Speed Number

Belle, like a lot of players, was really hurt by the Strike of 1994-95, which took place during his prime. The offensive explosion was just starting to take hold, but even by inflated standards Belle was having a great season. What's even more amazing is that Belle was only the third or maybe even the fourth best hitter in baseball that season. Jeff Bagwell put up a 1.200 OPS despite playing half his games in the Astrodome, Frank Thomas posted an amzaing OPS+ of 212, and Tony Gwynn was hitting .394. There were 3-4 legitimately great seasons going on when baseball called in quits.    

2. Albert Belle, 1996

602 AB, .311/.410/.623, 157 OPS+, 38 2B, 48 HR

Highlights: All-Star, Silver Slugger, 3rd MVP, 7th Slugging, 7th OPS, 8th Games, 6th Plate Appearances, 6th Runs, 8th Hits, 2nd Total Bases, 4th Home Runs, 1st RBI, 7th Walks, 7th Adjusted OPS+, 2nd Runs Created, 3rd Extra-Base Hits, 5th Times on Base, 9th Power/Speed Number, 5th AB/HR

Albert's first full season since 1993 seemed rather pedestrian compared to his previous two efforts, but he still hit 48 home runs, which still ranks 4th in team history. Belle hardly ever missed a game, and even if manager Mike Hargrove wanted to give him a day off, he'd decline. Before the hip problem, Belle was one of the most durable players in baseball.  

1. Albert Belle, 1995

546 AB, .317/.401/.690, 178 OPS+, 52 2B, 50 HR

Highlights: All-Star, MLB Player of the Year, Silver Slugger, 2nd MVP, 8th Average, 1st Slugging, 2nd OPS, 8th Games, 1st Runs, 7th Hits, 1st Total Bases, 1st Doubles, 1st Home Runs, 1st RBI, 2nd Adjusted OPS+, 2nd Runs Created, 1st Extra Base Hits, 7th Times on Base, 2nd AB/HR

If Albert Belle had gotten beat out by Edgar Martinez or even Frank Thomas for the 1995 AL MVP, I'd still look back on it as a snub, but at least there would have been some logical basis for giving the award to Martinez or Thomas. But the writers didn't vote based on statistics. They voted for Mo Vaughn in essence to get back at Albert. Right or wrong, I've no doubt in mind that that's what happened. The explanation usually given is that Belle padded his stats after the Indians were all but assured of winning the division, which is of course absurd. Did anyone criticize Tiger Woods for padding his stats when he lapped the field in the 2000 US Open?  

Even though 1995 was a strike-shortened season, Belle was the first (and still only) in baseball history to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season. He did it in 144 games, 10 games less than the original schedule length. It was a dominant season by any measure, and ranks as one of the best seasons in franchise history.