4. Manny Ramirez, 2000
439 AB, .351/.457/.697, 186 OPS+, 34 2B, 3 3B, 38 HR
All-Star, Silver Slugger (OF), 6th AL MVP, 3rd Average, 3rd OBP, 1st SLG, 1st OPS, 9th HR, 8th RBI, 2nd Adj OPS+, 6th RC, 3rd Adj Batting Runs, 10th Extra Base Hits, 1st AB/HR
A much-publicized hamstring injury kept Manny out of the lineup for six weeks; he then proceeded to have probably the best half-season in franchise history. Ramirez hit .371/.483/.750 in the second half of the season, hitting 25 HR and 22 2B in 256 at-bats. He slugged .912 in July and .765 in September, hitting 5 home runs in the final week of the season; the Indians were in playoff contention through the last Sunday of the season. Ramirez's last at-bat as an Indian was a home run to deep center; that winter, he would parlay his dominant finish into a $200M contract with the Boston Red Sox. Among the trio of lost free agents, Ramirez is probably the only one the Indians would truly miss.
3. Joe Jackson, 1911
Ty Cobb (left) and Shoeless Joe
571 AB, .408/.468/.590, 193 OPS+, 45 2B, 19 3B, 7 HR, 41 SB
4th AL MVP, 2nd Average, 1st OBP, 2nd SLG, 2nd OPS, 7th At Bats, 2nd Runs, 2nd Hits, 2nd Total Bases, 2nd 2B, 3rd 3B, 4th HR, 9th RBI, 6th SB, 2nd 1B, 2nd Adjusted OPS+, 2nd Extra Base Hits, 2nd Times on Base, 4th Power/Speed Number, 5th AB/HR
Joe Jackson spent most of his childhood in a South Carolina textile mill, and had little formal schooling. When Jackson's baseball talent brought him to the majors with the Philadelphia A's, his illiteracy made getting along in a big city difficult. Connie Mack tired of his off-the-field troubles and traded him to Cleveland in 1910:
(Henry P. Edwards, The Sporting News, 8-4-1910)
As he started to produce on the field, those foibles seemed a small price to pay for an incredible talent.
In his first full season, at 21 years of age, Jackson hit .408/.468/.590, numbers only Ty Cobb could match. He was the first and only Cleveland player to hit .400 over the course of a season, and his 193 OPS+ ranks fourth in franchise history. Jackson finished fourth in AL MVP voting, proving that questionable voting is not just a feature of modern panels.
2. Manny Ramirez, 1999
522 AB, .333/.442/.663, 173 OPS+, 34 2B, 3 3B, 44 HR
All-Star, AL Hank Aaron Award, Silver Slugger (OF), 3rd AL MVP, 5th Average, 2nd OBP, 1st SLG, 1st OPS, 4th Runs, 4th Total Bases, 3rd Home Runs, 1st RBI, 9th BB, 8th SO, 1st Adjusted OPS+, 1st RC, 1st Adjusted Batting Runs, 3rd Extra Base Hits, 6th Times on Base, 1st AB/HR
In 1999 Ramirez played a full season, so he racked up more counting stats and placed third in AL MVP voting. He and teammate Roberto Alomar tied for third place, but by most measures he was the best hitter in the American League. Pedro Martinez, who had a transcendent 1999 campaign, deserved to finish ahead of Ramirez, but the award went to Ivan Rodriguez, who mesmerized voters with batting average and defense.
1. Joe Jackson, 1912
572 AB, .395/.458/.579, 192 OPS+, 44 2B, 26 3B, 3 HR, 35 SB
9th AL MVP, 2nd Average, 2nd OBP, 2nd SLG, 2nd OPS, 2nd Games, 3rd Runs, 1st Hits, 1st Total Bases, 2nd 2B, 1st Triples, 5th RBI, 9th SB, 2nd 1B, 2nd Adj OPS+, 2nd RC, 2nd Adj RC, 2nd Extra Base Hits, 2nd Times on Base
Jackson's sophomore season was a bit better than his rookie year, quite an accomplishment. Jackson, Ty Cobb, and Boston's Tris Speaker were the only three AL players to post a 1.000+ OPS; only one other player (Home Run Baker) had an OPS over .900. Jackson was moved from center to right field in June to improve the defensive alignment. During his time with the White Sox, he became the regular left fielder.
In the aftermath of Jackson's sale/trade to the White Sox, allegations surfaced that Jackson had agreed to jump to the Federal League:
[Cleveland owner] Charley Somers is one magnate who takes the present war between Organized Baseball and the Federal League seriously. He did not intend to sell his star, but when he learned that Jackson had agreed to jump to the Feds, he knew that there was only one way to settle the matter, and that was to promise to send Joe to team to his liking.
George S. Robbins, The Sporting News, 9-2-1915
So Jackson ended up with the White Sox, and seven years later participated in, or was suckered into, the throwing of the 1919 World Series. His career has faded into myth, his fall from grace into tragedy, but there was a great player behind those stories, one who burst into prominence in Cleveland.