I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.
Who Are the Greatest Shortstops in Indians History?
With 120 years of history, it's no surprise the Cleveland Indians have had an abundance of superstars line up at the shortstop position. Having followed the team for nearly 30 years myself, I've been fortunate to see some of the best Cleveland has had to offer. Heritage Park at Progressive Field, meanwhile, had been a sufficient teacher when it comes to learning about the legends from team history.
In this article, I'll combine the best of both worlds and determine who is the greatest shortstop in Indians history.
Ranking shortstops is a tricky process, given how the position has evolved throughout history. In order to help bridge those differences, I've compared the shortstops below to the peers of their era while also considering their impact on Indians history. Qualifying players must have played at least half of their games with the Indians at shortstop.
For each individual player, the years shown represent only the seasons that the player was primarily a shortstop for the Indians.
10. Larry Brown (1963–71)
Larry Brown’s tenure with the Indians came to an abrupt end on April 24, 1971, when he was sold to the Athletics after a nine-year run in Cleveland. Brown was never a superstar, but he was a dependable middle infielder who played 680 of his 941 games with the Indians as a shortstop. He was only a .233 hitter, but he was steady defensively with a .964 fielding percentage for teams that reached the .500 mark just three times during his tenure. Despite his lack of power, he helped the Indians tie a Major League record in 1963 when he and three teammates hit four straight home runs in the sixth inning against the California Angels.
9. Julio Franco (1983–87)
By the end of Julio Franco's career, his time as a shortstop had all but been forgotten. But when considering just the first five years of his first stint in Cleveland, Franco was an up-and-coming shortstop who built the foundation for a 23-year career. He was the runner-up in 1983 Rookie of the Year voting, and the next season, he was involved in a record five double plays in one game on June 9, 1984. In his seasons as a shortstop, Franco hit .293 with 25 triples and posted a fielding percentage of .959 (704 of 746 games came at shortstop). After playing sparingly at second base for his first five seasons, Franco was moved to second base in 1988 and won a Silver Slugger before getting traded to the Rangers in December 1988. He later rejoined the Indians as a first baseman for 1996 and part of ‘97.
8. Jhonny Peralta (2003–08)
When Jhonny Peralta rose to prominence with the Indians in 2003 as an injury replacement for the legendary Omar Vizquel (more on him later), there was more fascination with his unusual name than his play on the field. But by the time he became a regular in 2005, his play was all anyone cared about. Peralta belted a career-high 24 home runs that season (then an Indians record for a shortstop) and added a .292 average, 35 doubles, and a solid .970 fielding percentage. Two years later, he was a vital piece for a team that made the American League Championship Series. In his eight seasons with Cleveland (his last two years came at third base), Peralta hit .267 with 103 home runs, and he played 706 of his 923 games at shortstop (.975 fielding percentage).
7. Asdrubal Cabrera (2009–14)
Asdrubal Cabrera came to the Indians in a lopsided trade with the Mariners and became a popular fixture in the middle of Cleveland’s infield. Cabrera opened his career in 2007 as a second baseman but moved to shortstop in 2009. In 2011, he became a star after hitting .273 and slamming 25 home runs (then a team record for a shortstop) on the way to his first of two straight All-Star appearances. Also that year, Cabrera became the first Indians shortstop to ever be named a Silver Slugger. During his eight years with Cleveland, Cabrera hit .270 with 82 home runs and 69 steals while playing 635 of 914 games at shortstop (.974 fielding percentage).
6. Ray Chapman (1912–20)
Ray Chapman's story is one of tragedy. Chapman was struck in the head by a pitch on August 16, 1920, and he died about 12 hours later from brain trauma. Chapman had indicated before the 1920 season that it would be his last, and even without the tragic circumstances of his death, he would have been remembered as one of the top players in early Cleveland history. His 81 triples remain a franchise record among shortstops, though he also holds a dubious team record after recording four errors in an inning on June 20, 1914. Throughout his nine-year career, Chapman hit .278 with 671 runs and 238 stolen bases, and he recorded a .939 fielding percentage in 957 games at shortstop.
5. Woodie Held (1959–62)
The first shortstop in the history of the Indians with a penchant for power was Woodie Held, and he was among the best sluggers at the position in all of the Major Leagues at the time. He averaged 23 home runs per season from 1959 to ‘62 (the four years he primarily played shortstop)—that included a career-high 29 homers in ‘59, but he also played 40 games at third base that season. The only shortstop during that same span to hit more home runs than Held (92) was Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (152). In third was Roy McMillan with just 38 homers. But despite Held's successes as a shortstop, he became a utility player in 1963 and only appeared in five games as a shortstop during his final two seasons with the Indians. As a shortstop, Held posted a .960 fielding percentage (508 of his 855 games in Cleveland). He appeared as an Opening Day starter as shortstop, second base, and third base for the Indians.
4. Francisco Lindor (2015–20)
The most prolific power-hitting shortstop in Indians history is Francisco Lindor, who belted a position record 138 home runs from 2015 to '20. He also holds the top three single-season marks among Indians shortstops (including a career-high 38 in 2018) and added a .285 average, 191 doubles, and 99 steals. He hit more home runs than any other shortstop in the Majors during his career in Cleveland. Lindor was runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, and he made four straight All-Star teams from 2016 to ‘19. He picked up Gold Gloves in 2016 and ‘19, and he won Silver Sluggers in 2017 and ‘18. Lindor posted a .982 fielding percentage with Cleveland and never played defensively at a different position for the Indians. Due to Cleveland's inability to sign him to a long-term contract at his open market value, Lindor was traded to the Mets before the 2021 season.
3. Joe Sewell (1920–28)
Joe Sewell is the most durable player ever to play for the Indians, and he added in some of the best plate discipline in baseball history. Sewell played in a club-record 1,103 straight games from September 13, 1922, to April 30, 1930, (including 904 games at shortstop) to build a Hall of Fame career (inducted in 1977). Among Cleveland shortstops, Sewell ranks first in hits (1,516), doubles (320), RBI (747), and average (.323). He posted those numbers between 1920 and ‘28 when he played 1,216 of his 1,252 games as a shortstop (.951 fielding percentage). In 1929, Sewell went 115 straight games without striking out, and in 1925 and ‘29, he only struck out four times in each season (in a combined 1,371 plate appearances). His career strikeout percentage with the Indians was a miniscule 1.5%.
2. Lou Boudreau (1939–50)
Lou Boudreau is the longest-tenured shortstop in Indians history; he patrolled the position the last time Cleveland won the World Series. Boudreau briefly debuted in 1938, and as a rookie in '39, he established the Indians record with 12 assists in a single game on September 14. He appeared in five straight All-Star games from 1940 to '44, and in that same period, he led all Major League shortstops in hits (822), runs (409), doubles (186), and triples (40). His seven total All-Star selections are tied for the most ever by an Indians position player.
In 1942, he became a player-manager for the Indians at age 24 and remained in that role until 1950. He had eight top 10 finishes in AL MVP voting along the way, including a win in 1948 when he led the Indians to their second World Series championship. That year, he posted career-highs with a .355 average, 18 home runs, 106 RBI, and 116 runs. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970 and had a .973 fielding percentage at shortstop with the Indians.
1. Omar Vizquel (1994–2004)
Omar Vizquel is one of the greatest defensive shortstops in baseball history. His play up the middle, combined with solid production from near the top of the lineup, helped the Indians make two World Series appearances during his 11-year stay in Cleveland. He won eight Gold Gloves with the Indians (he won 11 total in his career, which is second-most among shortstops in baseball history), and his fielding percentage with the Indians was .985. During a stretch between 1999 and 2000, Vizquel set a franchise record by going 95 straight games without committing an error.
Vizquel added 1,616 hits and a .272 average with the Indians. Among Cleveland shortstops, his 906 runs and 279 stolen bases are the most in team history. Vizquel was named an All-Star three times (1998, '99, and 2002) despite the American League featuring the likes of Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., and Alex Rodriguez at the time. He enjoyed his best season in 1999, when he set career-highs with a .333 average, 191 hits, and 112 runs. Vizquel has received a fair amount of votes in all four years he has been on the Hall of Fame ballot, but he's yet to reach the 75% threshold needed for induction.
Who Is the Best Indians Shortstop of All Time?
The Indians have had several prominent shortstops over their 120-year history, so it wasn’t an easy choice to pick the top spot. Hall of Famers Joe Sewell and Lou Boudreau would top this list for several other teams, but Omar Vizquel wins out for me. When you consider that his offensive and defensive contributions to the Indians came during arguably the greatest run of success in franchise history, Vizquel positioned himself to be the best Indians shortstop of all time.
While the best shortstops in Indians history are listed above, here is a look at a handful of others who fell just outside of the top 10 but are worth remembering.
Frank Duffy (1972–77)
Frank Duffy was not the centerpiece of the deal when he was traded to the Indians, but his production at shortstop helped push the trade farther into Cleveland's favor. Duffy and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry came to the Indians in exchange for Sam McDowell in a lopsided deal. Duffy hit just .233 over six seasons, but he was excellent on defense, as he finished in the top 10 for fielding percentage among Major League shortstops each year in Cleveland (including a league-best .9863 mark in 1973).
Bill Knickerbocker (1933–36)
Bill Knickerbocker came up with the Indians and became a steady hitter in the lineup. He played half of a season as a rookie, but he hit .317 in 1934 and started a stretch of three straight seasons with at least 30 doubles. His .293 batting average in four seasons with the Indians is significantly higher than his career mark .276. Knickerbocker added a .955 fielding percentage.
Terry Turner (1904–18)
Terry Turner is technically not eligible for this list under my parameters (with the Indians, he only played 722 of his 1,619 games at shortstop, accounting for 44.6%), but his contributions are worth mentioning. Turner was the Opening Day starter at shortstop six times and played some shortstop during most of his 15-year career with the Indians. Overall, he played at least 100 games in 10 seasons in Cleveland.
With a rich history at the position, here are some additional tidbits and trivia about Indians shortstops.
How Many Shortstops Has Cleveland Had?
The Indians have used 41 shortstops on Opening Day throughout their 120-year history. Omar Vizquel and Lou Boudreau each made 11 starts on Opening Day, while seven others made at least five such appearances.
- Lou Boudreau (11)
- Omar Vizquel (11)
- Joe Sewell (8)
- Ray Chapman (7)
- Asdrubal Cabrera (6)
- Terry Turner (6)
- Larry Brown (5)
- Julio Franco (5)
- Jhonny Peralta (5)
Do the Indians Have Any Shortstops in the Hall of Fame?
The Indians have two shortstops inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame while another remains on the ballot. Lou Boudreau (1970) and Joe Sewell (1977) have been enshrined, while Omar Vizquel has appeared on the ballot for four years. His highest vote percentage came in 2020 at 52.6%, which is well short of the 75% needed for induction. Overall, there are 26 shortstops in the Hall of Fame.
Who is the Current Shortstop for the Indians?
Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario—both acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade—have split time as the Indians' starting shortstop in 2021.
How Many Years Has Cleveland Made the Postseason?
The Indians have made the postseason 15 times and won two World Series championships (1920 and ‘48). Primary shortstops for each postseason are:
- Omar Vizquel (1995–99, 2001)
- Francisco Lindor (2016–18, ‘20)
- Joe Sewell (1920)
- Lou Boudreau (1948)
- George Strickland (1954)
- Jhonny Peralta (2007)
- Asdrubal Cabrera (2013)
Who Is the Best Defensive Shortstop of All Time?
Among shortstops, Omar Vizquel has the top career fielding percentage (.9847) and also holds three of the top 10 single-season marks, but he’s not the best defensive shortstop of all time. That title belongs to Ozzie Smith, who played for the Padres and Cardinals from 1978 to ‘96. Smith’s 13 Gold Gloves are the most ever for a shortstop, and his range is the stuff of legends. Smith is the all-time leader in defensive wins above replacement (44.2) among fielders at any position, while Vizquel comes in at No. 7 (29.5) among shortstops.
© 2021 Andrew Harner