2014 brings about the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Indians, considered by many to be the best team ever that didn't win the World Series. Throughout his year, I'll be looking back at that incredible team and their fantastic season, in which they posted a regular season record of 111-43, for a winning percentage 0f .721, which no team since then has been able to match.
Today, I kick off the series by looking at how that team was built, how and when each member of that team was acquired, including one move the day before the season and began, and two that took place during the season. Future installments in the series will take you through spring training and the season itself.
The 1954 Cleveland squad was built like many of the teams in that era, mostly by signing high school talent, with a few key signings from the Negro Leagues as well. The primary architect of the 1954 team was future Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. After retiring as a player at the end of 1947, owner Bill Veeck hired Greenberg to be his assistant, and then to take over as general manager in 1950.
Though only five and a half years had passed, come Opening Day of 1954, only five hitters and three pitchers were still around from the 1948 World Champions (with one dismissed one week into the season). Those eight were Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Mike Garcia, Larry Doby, Al Rosen, Jim Hegan, Dale Mitchell and Bob Kennedy.
Here's the blueprint for that great team:
Prior to 1936 season - SP Bob Feller signed as an amateur free agent from Van Meter High School (Van Meter, IA)
Prior to 1938 season - C Jim Hegan signed as an amateur free agent from Lynn English High School (Lynn, MA)
Prior to 1938 season - SP Bob Lemon signed as an amateur free agent from Woodrow Wilson High School (Long Beach, CA)
Prior to 1942 season - 3B/1B Al Rosen signed as an amateur free agent from the University of Florida
Prior to 1942 season - RP Mike Garcia signed as an amateur free agent from the Visalia High School (Visalia, CA)
Prior to 1942 season - LF Dale Mitchell signed as an amateur free agent from the University of Oklahoma
Prior to 1947 season - C Hal Naragon signed as an amateur free agent from Barbeton High School (Barbeton, OH)
July 2, 1947 - RF Larry Doby signed as a free agent from the Newark Eagles (Negro League)
Prior to 1948 season - 2B Bobby Avila signed as a free agent from the Puebla Angeles (Mexican League)
Prior to 1948 season - RP Jose Santiago signed as a free agent from the New York Cubans (Negro League)
Prior to 1948 season - RP Ray Narleski signed as an amateur free agent from Collingswood High School (Collingswood, NJ)
June 2, 1948 - RP Al Gettel and OF Pat Seerey traded to Chicago White Sox for LF Bob Kennedy
July 11, 1948 - LF/3B Al (Fuzzy) Smith signed as a free agent from the Cleveland Buckeyes (Negro League)
November 15, 1948 - RP Bob Chakales drafted from Philadelphia Phillies in 1948 minor league draft
December 14, 1948 - SP Joe Haynes, RP Ed Klieman and 1B Eddie Robinson traded to Washington Senators for SP Early Wynn
February 19, 1949 - PH Luke Easter signed as a free agent from the Homestead Grays (Negro League)
Prior to 1949 season - RP Don Mossi signed as an amateur free agent from Jefferson High School (Daly City, CA)
Prior to 1950 season - LF Dave Pope signed as a free agent from the Homestead Grays (Negro League)
Prior to 1950 season - RP Dick Tomanaek signed as an amateur free agent from Avon Lake High School (Avon Lake, OH)
Prior to 1950 season - RP Dave Hoskins acquired from the Grand Rapids Jets (Central League) in an unknown transaction
June 10, 1952 - PH/2B Hank Majeski purchased from Philadelphia Athletics
July 15, 1952 - OF Dino Restelli and $25k traded to Sacramento Solons (Pacific Coast League) for 1B Bill Glynn
August 7, 1952 - C Dick Kinaman (minors) and cash traded to Cincinnati Reds for LF Wally Westlake
August 18, 1952 - IF Johnny Berardino, SP Charles Sipple (minors) and $50k traded to Pittsburgh Pirates for SS George Strickland and RP Ted Wilks
December 19, 1952 - RP Dick Rozek and 2B Bobby Wilson (minors) traded to Philadelphia Athletics for RP Bob Hooper
Prior to 1953 season - 3B Rudy Regalado signed as an amateur free agent from the University of Southern California
May 5, 1952 - SS Sam Dente purchased from Chicago White Sox
June 15, 1953 - RP Al Aber, SS Ray Boone, RP Steve Gromek and RP Dick Weik traded to Detroit Tigers for SP Art Houtteman, C Joe Ginsberg, IF Owen Friend and RP Bill Wight
October 1, 1953 - RP Bill Abernathie and cash traded to Brooklyn Dodgers for PH/1B Rocky Nelson
January 20, 1954 - C Joe Tipton traded to Washington Senators for C Mickey Grasso
February 19, 1954 - RP Bill Upton, RP Lee Wheat and $15k traded to Philadelphia Athletics for RF Dave Philley
April 12, 1954 - RP Hal Newhouser signed as a free agent from the Detroit Tigers
April 17, 1954 - LF Bob Kennedy traded to Baltimore Orioles for PH Jim Dyck
June 1, 1954 - RP Bob Chakales traded to Baltimore Orioles for 1B Vic Wertz
As noted above, Kennedy was gone after the first week while Nelson and Easter were gone by early May with Dyck and Grasso only making September call-ups. Tomanek and Santiago each appeared in one game. In fact it was the same game on April 17. Chakales was little used and dealt at the deadline for Vic Wertz as Glynn was ineffective at first and Rosen was needed back at third because of Westlake's benching.
There you have it, the construction of one of the finest rosters in baseball history.