The center fielder is the general in the outfield. Directing traffic and making sure the outfield works as a unit. In Indians history, the center fielder has also generally been the lead off hitter, setting the standard for the rest of the lineup. The Indians have been lucky over the history of the team by having not just strong defensive center fielders, but great offensive ones as well. The top three players on this list are all in the Hall of Fame and have had their numbers retired (if they wore a number at all). This is the most Hall of Fame players at any single position for the Cleveland Indians. The next four also rank among the top Indians of all time. Because the Indians have had such great defenders in center, those who won such Gold Gloves (beginning in 1957) will be listed next to their years as a starter for the Indians.
10. Vic Davalillo – Years Starting CF – 1963-1967 – Gold Glove 1964
The fact that the top of this list is so great forces the last few spots to be less than mediocre. The top seven players on the list represent 53 years of starting center fielders, leaving 58 years for the many other center fielders to play for the Tribe. Davalillo grabs the tenth spot almost by default after playing in less than 700 games and knocking in 181 runs.
9. Joe Birmingham – 1907-1912
Birmingham is in the same boat as Davalillo as he probably doesn’t deserve consideration with those above him. He was the Indians first long term center fielder and does rank high among the others in RBI and steals. However, he brings up the bottom of the list as far as batting average goes and was just altogether not that impressive.
8. Brett Butler – 1984-1987
Butler has the shortest career of any player on this list, but still impressed, racking up a ton of steals and keeping a high average. He was part of a surprisingly good outfield for some very bad 1980’s Indians team along side Carter and Cory Snyder.
7. Rick Manning – 1975-76, 1978-82 – Gold Glove 1976
The greatest color commentator in Indians history was once a great defensive star. Manning ranks among the best Indians ever in steals (in fact 9 of the the 23 Indians with 100 or more career steals were center fielders) while playing in more than 1,000 games. An injury severely harmed Manning’s career as he missed all of 1977 and was eventually traded to Milwaukee.
6. Grady Sizemore – 2005-2009 – Gold Glove 2007-2008
Sizemore was the most recent Indians center fielder and was something special before injuries derailed his career. His all-out level of play won him two Gold Gloves, and helped him steal 134 bases and leg out 43 triples, but eventually ended his time with the Indians after repeated injuries. Sizemore also had power not usually seen in center, hitting 139 home runs in less than 1,000 games, ranking fourth among Indians center fielders and 13th overall.
5. Joe Carter – 1988-1989
Carter is an out-liar on this list as he only started two seasons in center for the Tribe. He also played left field and first base for the Indians, but no position stands out as his main. However, he was so good he needs to be included on one of these lists. Carter ranks 12th all time in home runs among all Indians and third among center fielders. Carter played at a very high offensive level his whole time with the Tribe, leading the Indians offense from 1986 through 1989.
4. Kenny Lofton -1992-96, 1998-2001 – Gold Glove 1993-1996
The fact that Lofton is fourth on this list shows how deep this group really is. Lofton is among the greatest offensive Indians of all time and also won four straight Gold Gloves. He was unquestionably the best defensive center fielder and offensive lead-off man in all of baseball for the entire decade of the 1990’s. He keeps the record for most steals as an Indian, almost twice as many as the next best stealer. He also ranks among the top ten all time in hits and runs.
3. Larry Doby – 1948-55, 1958
Doby played just before the advent of the Gold Glove, but was famous for a great arm and good glove as well as his power. Doby was the most pure power hitter among those listed and lead the AL in home runs in 1952 and 1954. He probably should have won two MVPs for those seasons, but was beaten by the inherent racism left in baseball. He ranks among the top four center fielders in almost every production stat including runs, hits, home runs and RBI.
2. Tris Speaker – 1916-1926
Speaker was not just the starting center fielder when he was on the team, but was also the manager when the Indians won their first World Series in 1920. Speaker holds the Major League record for doubles in a career and is second among Indians center fielders in steals and triples. His .354 average was the tops among Indians centerfielders and second among all Indians. Not only was he great offensively, but he was famous for playing a very short center because he had the speed to catch anything that was hit to deep center in addition to stealing some would be safeties up the middle.
1. Earl Averill – 1929-1938
Averill should be considered not just the greatest Indians center fielder, but the greatest Indians hitter of all time. He ranks first among all Indians in runs, doubles, RBI and total bases and held the home run title from 1938 through the mid 1990’s when Albert Belle broke it. During his twelve years with the Tribe, Averill made six All-Star teams and received MVP votes seven times. He also played all but eight games in his career with Cleveland, unlike almost every other player on this list who spent time elsewhere. The most disappointing part of Averill’s career was that he never made the playoffs despite being such a great player on a pretty good team. Many of his teammates were around for either the 1920 championship or the 1948, but Averill himself was just incredibly unlucky in his timing.