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The best manager in franchise history

We are celebrating the 118-year history of the Cleveland Indians by building their all-time roster. In this installment we select our choice for manager.

With the Winter Meetings still five weeks away and most of baseball talking roster moves, I thought it would be a good time to have some fun and take a look back at the history of this great Cleveland Indians franchise.

In order to celebrate some of Cleveland’s best players I compiled a 25-man roster made up of the all-time greats at every position.

Before I get into my selections, let me first set up the criteria I used to establish this list. I didn’t just include men that played for the Indians, but men that played for any of the Cleveland names under the current Indians franchise. The Spiders, the Blues, the Broncos and the Naps were all former names of this organization and players from all of those teams were considered.

Second, I only considered hitters with at least 1,000 PA with the club, starting pitchers with at least 300 innings and relievers with a minimum of 80 innings pitched. This narrowed to field to 197 hitters, 119 starters and 128 relievers. It also eliminated hitters like Matt Williams and pitchers like Jack Morris and Kerry Wood.

To me, one is not an all-time great if one only played a season or two with a given club. Time spent with the franchise factors into these decisions; not as much as quality of play, but it is a factor.

I also considered contributions relative to era. For that reason a guy that hit .300 in the live-ball era isn’t given as much credit as a guy that hit .300 in the dead-ball era. Conversely, a guy that hit 20 home runs in the 1930s gets more credit for those home runs than a guy that hit 20 home runs in the 1990s.

That is how I chose my list. You will see players from every era represented on this roster. The eras with pennants are most heavily represented for a reason, they won those pennants because they had great players.

I think I’ve rambled long enough, so I’ll kick this off with my Cleveland Indians all-time manager.

Lou Boudreau has more wins (728) than any other Indians manager in history. He also has the distinction of being the last manager to win a World Series in Cleveland.

Boudreau took over as player-manager after the 1941 season after the previous season’s manager, Roger Peckinpaugh, was promoted to general manager. Boudreau managed the team from 1942-1950, compiling a record of 728-659, winning the AL Pennant and World Series in 1948.

His 1948 season was clearly his best year as he not only won the World Series defeating the Boston Braves in 6 games, but he also hit .355/.453/.532 as the Indians starting shortstop and led the Majors with 10.9 fWAR.

This list, however, isn’t about his playing, it’s about his managing. In that regard, Boudreau was quite the innovator.

In 2018, MLB players amassed a collective 185,139 PA throughout the season. 40,730 of those were against some sort of infield shift. The shift culture that we experience today is thanks in large part to Lou Boudreau.

Boudreau is credited with the invention of the infield shift. Through most of baseball history the shift was known as the Boudreau shift or Williams shift. Boudreau utilized the defensive alignment in an attempt to neutralize arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history, Ted Williams. For that purpose it can be considered a success. Williams’ .323 batting average against the Indians is his lowest average against any MLB team for his career.

Boudreau can’t rightfully take credit for the shift as it was first used by Cy Williams in the 1920’s, but he was the first to use it on a regular basis and against such a superstar hitter.

For his record 728 wins, his World Series victory and his innovation, Boudreau was my choice for the Indians all-time greatest manager. It was by no means a clear choice, however. Several Tribe managers deserved serious consideration for this list.

Mike Hargrove managed one of the greatest eras in Indians history. From 1991-1999, Grover compiled a 721-591 record for a .550 winning percentage. He has the second-most wins in team history and is the only manager to win two pennants. He is one of only three managers to win 100 games in a season, accomplishing the feat in a strike-shortened 1995 campaign.

Al Lopez has the highest winning percentage in team history at .617 with his 570-354 record.

He managed the team to a club record 111 wins and an AL pennant in 1954. He took over the spot after Boudreau was released from the team in 1951 and held the position until 1956. He never finished below second place in the AL.

Tris Speaker is the only other Indians manager to win a World Series when his team defeated the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) 5-2 in the best of nine series. From 1920-1926, his teams went a combined 617-520.

Napoleon Lajoie was player-manager for the Indians from 1905-1909. While he finished above third place in the AL only once, and never won a pennant, he did lead his teams to a record of 377-309. The team was also known then as the Cleveland Naps, so that has to account for something right?

Terry Francona is right with these guys, and had he won a World Series he may have been my choice ahead of Boudreau. He holds a career 545-425 record in his six seasons in Cleveland and in 2016 he piloted the team to its sixth AL Pennant. His 102 wins in 2017 is the second-most in franchise history.

There were many worthy managers in the 118-year history of this storied franchise, but Lou Boudreau stood out among them as an innovator and a champion. That is why he was my choice for the Cleveland Indians all-time team.

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Be sure to check out the next installment of my list where I will select my starting rotation.

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