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Ten Best Seasons: Right Field (Part 2)

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Part 1 (10-8) can be viewed here. Part 3 (4-1) will appear tomorrow.

7. Manny Ramirez, 1997

561 AB, .328/.415/.538, 144 OPS+, 40 2B, 26 HR

Highlights:

5th Average, 6th OBP, 7th OPS, 8th Total Bases, 9th 2B, 8th Adj OPS+, 8th RC, 7th Adj Batting Runs

The Indians drafted Ramirez in the middle of the 1st round of the 1991 draft (Brien Taylor was picked 1st overall by the Yankees), and sent him to the Appalachian League to get his feet wet. He hit .326/.426/.679 in 215 at-bats there. The Indians then tried him in the Carolina League in 1992, a rather large jump, but he didn't have that much trouble, posting a .881 OPS there. In 1993, at age 21, he hit .333/.419/.613 between Canton-Akron and Charlotte, so the Indians gave him a cup of coffee at the end of the season and brought him up to stay in 1994, though he had to share playing time with Wayne Kirby at first.

The Indians' pitching staff was much worse than in '95 or '96 thanks to injuries and bad signings, and the lineup wasn't as deep. But Manny Ramirez, with help from Jim Thome, David Justice, and others, produced enough runs to help the Indians win a very weak AL Central. His season stats may not dazzle the eye as those of other early campaigns, but Ramirez was just as effective an offensive weapon as in 1996 or 1998. Manny was more of an on-base machine than run producer in 1997, signifying that he wasn't just looking to crush a fastball, and setting the stage for his mid-career power surge.

6. Manny Ramirez, 1998

571 AB, .294/.377/.599, 146 OPS+, 35 2B, 2 3B, 45 HR

Highlights:

All-Star, 6th AL MVP, 4th SLG, 9th OPS, 8th Total Bases, 4th HR, 4th RBI, 10th Adj OPS+, 8th RC, 9th Adj Batting Runs, 4th Extra Base Hits, 4th AB/HR

Manny's 1995-1998 campaigns are virtually indistinguishable (147,146,144,146 OPS+, respecively), each having their particular strengths. 1998 represented the first full season in which he was the focal point of the offense; Albert Belle left after 1996, and Matt Williams held the cleanup spot for the first half of 1997 for reasons unknown. Ramirez and Jim Thome, once relegated to the bottom of the order, now traded turns as the cleanup hitter throughout the season. Manny socked 45 home runs, 12 more than his previous career high, and finished 6th in MVP balloting.  

5. Rocky Colavito, 1958

489 AB, .303/.405/.620, 180 OPS+, 26 2B, 41 HR

Highlights:

3rd MVP, 8th Average, 4th OBP, 1st SLG, 3rd OPS, 3rd Total Bases, 9th 2B, 2nd HR, 2nd RBI, 5th BB, 4th SO, 2nd Adj OPS+, 2nd RC, 2nd Adj Batting Runs, 1st Extra Base Hits, 7th Times on Base, 1st AB/HR

Rocky Colavito signed with the Indians at the age of 17 (he had dropped out of high school to play professionally), and he cracked the big leagues four years later. He joined a club still full of talent - Al Rosen was still in his prime, and the pitching staff was as good as any in the game. But the Indians needed a power hitter; only one hitter on their 1955 squad slugged more than .500 (Larry Doby), and Doby was traded to Chicago after the season. So Colavito got a chance to play in 1956, and hit .276/.372/.531, finishing second behind Luis Aparicio in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. He regressed a bit in '57, but then broke out in 1958, hitting 41 home runs, slugging .620, and posting a 180 OPS+.

The season started slowly for Rocky; he hit .225/.351/.363 in May, something Rocky attributed to irregular play:

He shook off his slump after announcing to [manager] Bragan "I can hit 35 homers a year if I play regularly. But I have to play regularly."

Bragan, who likes a talk-up player, accepted Rocky's challenge and now the cry around the club is "Don't knock the Rock," for as soon as he returned to action he hit three homers within a week

(Hal Lebovitz, Sporting News, 6-11-58)

Joe Gordon, who took over as manager later in the season, tried using Rocky as a reliever, and for good reason: he had an extremely strong arm.

The inspiration to test Rocky as a pitcher came after [Gordon] watched him warm up on the sidelines, as he does before each game. Usually outfielders warm up with each other but in Rocky's case it took a catcher, with sponge in mitt.

(Hal Lebovitz, Sporting News, 8-6-58)

Less than two years later, Colavito was dealt to the Tigers in the most infamous trade in franchise history.