This post is a continuation of my countdown of the 30 best Indians of the last 30 years, a list I'm doing because that's how long I've been a fan of baseball in general, and the Tribe in particular. Basically, this series is a way for me to gaze at my navel for a bit, while also giving you all something to weigh in on. This series is a companion to a more involved countdown I'm doing at Ground Ball With Eyes, counting down the 30 best MLB players of the last 30 years. What I've done so far for that project can be found here.
Other entries in this series:
Alright, on to this week's entry, with the next five players in the countdown... (I've also included a link to each applicable player's post in LGT's fantastic Top 100 Indians series, which was created prior to the 2012 season.)
15) Carlos Baerga (#53 in LGT top 100)
One thing I'm often struck by is how much what is remembered as the "core" of the 90s teams really just amounts to who was on the team in 1995. Carlos Baerga was only on the team when they clinched a division title once, but it was 1995, so he's remembered by many as an instrumental part of that era. Baerga did have some great seasons with the team, but they came before the rest of the roster peaked. His best years were 1992 and 1993, and he was fantastic those season, with a .300+ average, 20+ HR, and 100+ RBI in each of those seasons, making him the first second baseman in American League history to reach those benchmarks in multiple seasons. By 1995, despite being only 26, he was in decline, and by midseason in 1996, he was traded away.
14) Roberto Alomar (#36 in LGT top 100)
Alomar played only three seasons with the Tribe; his jumping into the top half of these rankings is a testament to just how impressive those three seasons were. He was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner in each of those three years, and he finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting in 1999 and 2001. Alomar is remembered by many as a Blue Jay, because that's where he spent the most time, and where he won two World Series rings. Others remember him as an Oriole, because that's where he was for the most infamous moment of his career. His best baseball came when he was with the Tribe though, turning beautiful double plays with Omar Vizquel and batting .323/.405/.515.
13) Shin-Soo Choo (#48 in LGT top 100)
Choo had just turned 24 and was only a year removed from being considered one of the 100 best prospects in baseball when the Indians acquired him for Ben Broussard. Broussard had been a helpful member of the Indians in my MVP Baseball dynasty on the Game Cube, but wasn't an especially notable member of the actual Indians, and I remember that trade being one of the first times I felt like the Tribe had swindled someone. Choo immediately hit well for the Indians in 2006, but an elbow injury knocked him out for almost all of 2007. As the stars of Tribe's last AL Central-winning team moved on or suffered through injuries, Choo became the team's best player, batting .302/.397/.500 from 2008 to 2010.
12) Victor Martinez (#35 in LGT top 100)
After a small taste of the Show in 2002 and a slightly larger taste in 2003, Martinez was given his first opportunity to spend a full season with the Indians in 2004. He was awesome. He hit for a good average, drew some walks, had good power, and did well behind the plate too. The best Indians team of the last decade was the 2007 squad, and Victor was both the team's best hitter and it's heart and soul. He had a unique special handshake for each of his teammates, and an adorable young son who was sometimes in the dugout. Tribe fans come to accept that many of the team's best players will be traded away, but watching Victor go hurt, and watching him post great seasons for the Red Sox and Tigers has hurt too.
11) Tom Candiotti (#47 in LGT top 100)
My first year as a baseball fan was also Candiotti's first year with the Indians, and he was the team's best or second-best pitcher in each of my first six seasons as a fan. In five and a half seasons with the team (plus 14.2 innings in 1999, when he was 41 and wanted to retire as a member of the Tribe) he posted a 3.62 ERA in over 1,200 innings. I didn't have any way of watching the Indians play during Candiotti's time, so my fandom came only through baseball cards and newspaper box scores, but Candiotti was my first Tribe ace, and some days he's still the first player who comes to mind when I think about Indians pitchers.