MLB.com is holding voting to determine the "Franchise Four" for each team. The voting is open through May 8, and the four winners for each team will be honored in some way at the All-Star Game this July in Cincinnati. The Tribe ballot can be found here.
The nominees for the Indians are Earl Averill, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel.
If you're only going to list one pitcher, Feller is obviously the right choice. Addie Joss has a claim to deserving one of the eight spots, and one could construct a case for Bob Lemon, Mel Harder, or Stan Coveleski too. I don't think of of those four belong among the four winners though, and I can't bring myself to think any of them represent a major oversight. If I were to nitpick anything on the list, it'd be Omar Vizquel's inclusion, because I don't think he's in the top twenty Tribe players, or even the top four from his era. I've long since accepted that a lot of fans hold him higher historial esteem than I do though, so I'm not surprised he made this first cut. I'd have put Kenny Lofton in there instead of Vizquel, but I don't think whoever chose those eight players did a bad job.
The instructions read, "VOTE FOR THE TOP FOUR PLAYERS IN CLEVELAND INDIANS FRANCHISE HISTORY." I think that sort of misses the point of what MLB is actually going for in wanting four players for each team, rather than a number like five, which is a more common number for grouping (probably on account of most humans having five digits per hand), and which would still provide some pleasant-to-the-ears alliteration with the word franchise in the title.
LGT's TOP 100 INDIANS
LGT's TOP 100 INDIANS
I think what MLB is really getting after is the Mount Rushmore idea, which still has a large element of "best players" to it, but also includes something probably even more subjective. I think any "franchise four" should consider the history of the team in question, and the significance of various players, which can go beyond just their on-the-field numbers. For example, I don't believe Derek Jeter is one of the four best Yankees ever, but I think he merits a spot on their Mount Rushmore, even though it means losing someone like Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio, each of whom was better than Jeter.
I think the first choice for the Indians' Franchise Four ought to be Bob Feller, who in addition to being awesome, also spent his entire career with the Tribe, and was a war hero as well.
My next choice would be Nap Lajoie, who I think still has the best career numbers for the franchise among position players, and whom the team was named after for a number of years.
This is where it gets a bit more complicated, I think, in terms of having to wade into the muddier waters of significance and meaning. Feller and Lajoie would be my choices as the two "best" players in franchise history, but my final two selections aren't necessarily third and fourth on that particular list.
Larry Doby is one of the more under-recognized players in baseball, relative to the level of recognition he deserves. He made his MLB debut only two and a half months after Jackie Robinson, at which point he went through much of the same harsh treatment by many opposing players and fans. Because the two played in different leagues, Doby was the first African-American player in a number of cities, and even in the cities Robinson had already appeared in, it's not as though a few extra weeks to consider things changed the minds of thousands of bigots. If Doby's only significance were as a pioneer, it probably wouldn't be enough to put my support behind him for this particular honor, but in addition to being a pioneer, he was a legitimately great ballplayer.
That leaves me with one spot to fill on Mount Rushmore, and with the last nearly sixty years of Tribe baseball unrepresented. The Indians of the mid 90s to early 00s were a powerhouse, even if they didn't manage to win a World Series. I think someone from that era absolutely ought to be included, and for me, Jim Thome is that player. When you consider both rate stats and counting totals, he had the best numbers for the team, including a franchise record 337 home runs with Cleveland.
Feller, Lajoie, Doby, and Thome... those are my Franchise Four.