|Name:||Howard Earl Averill||Position:||Center Field|
|Accolades:||Hall of Fame (1975), Retired #3, 6 Time All-Star (1933-38), 3 Top 5 MVP (1931, 1935-36)|
|Best Season (1931)||155||627||140||209||36||10||32||143||68||38||9||9||50%||.404||.576||.333||.980|
Very possibly the greatest hitter in Indians history, both at a year-by-year level during his peak and for his career numbers, Earl Averill played more than a decade for the Tribe during the 1930’s. Averill began his career with the unaffiliated Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals in 1926 and completed three seasons with the AA level team, winning the league title in 1928 alongside former Indians pitcher and World Series champion, Duster Mails.
Heading into the 1929 season, Averill was signed by Cleveland to aid in a pitiful outfield situation. The 1928 squad was the second worst in franchise history at just 62 wins and no one could possibly have done more to change that than Averill. In his first year with the team, Averill had arguably the greatest rookie season by any Indians hitter ever. At 27 years old, he batted .332 with 18 home runs, 43 doubles and 96 RBI. Along with Lew Fonseca in a more prominent role, Averill helped the Indians score 43 more runs than the previous season and win 19 more games.
Unfortunately for Averill, this third place finish would match the best placement by any team he would play on in Cleveland as he had the poor career timing of joining nine years after the Indians first World Series and leaving nine years before their second. None of the failures of the team can be blamed on Averill or the rest of the offense, however, instead it should fall on the shoulders of a terrible pitching staff that was Wes Ferrell and no one else of merit early in his career and Mel Harder with no one else worth mentioning during the latter half. It wasn’t until Averill’s final season that he was joined by an in-his-prime Bob Feller.
While some players have a sophomore slump of a kind, Averill was just as good in his second season, batting .339 with 19 home runs and 119 in 13 less games. While he would have a short career by Hall of Fame standards, it would be very consistent as he batted above .330 for each of his first three seasons and in five seasons total and above .300 in his first six and eight total. Prior to Averill, the Indians had never had a home run capable power hitter with the single season record being held by another Hall of Fame center fielder, Tris Speaker (17 in 1923). Averill broke that record in his first year, then again in his second, although a more legitimate record was set that year when Ed Morgan crushed 26.
Setting more records for power, Averill broke Morgan’s 1930 single season mark in 1931 with 32, a number he would reach again in 1932. With all these big seasons, it took just four seasons for Averill to surpass Speaker’s career numbers with an Indians record 101 home runs. He would extend this each year until 1939 when he left the team after crushing 226 total, a number that would remain the Tribe record until Albert Belle broke it in 1996. Of course, his single season mark wouldn’t last quite as long as Hal Trosky broke (35 in 1934) and rebroke (42in 1936) it during Averill’s career.
Calling Averill a home run threat was accurate, but trying to define his whole career by that would be a mistake. He was an All-Star every season from 1933 through 1938 and probably should have been in his first four seasons as well. Twice he had 200 hits with six seasons above 180. He regularly hit more than 10 triples per season and never had less than 27 doubles in a full season for Cleveland. In addition to his All-Star appearances, Averill was voted fourth for the MVP in 1931 and 1932, in the top 20 in 1933, 1934, 1937 and 1938 with a top finish of third in 1936. He was beaten that year by Lou Gehrig who had one of the best seasons in baseball history with 49 home runs, 152 RBI and a .354 average.
As a team, the Indians were the definition of mediocrity when Averill was around, averaging 82 wins per season during his tenure and finishing between third and fifth every year in the eight team American League. The 1936 season was a perfect example of this as they scored 921, the second highest total in team history and a number that wouldn’t be surpassed again until 1999, but only won 80 games. That year, Trosky had what was almost certainly the greatest season in Indians history, batting .343 with 162 RBI and 42 home runs. Hitting ahead of him, Averill scored 136 runs and knocked in 126, hitting safely 232 times, leading the league and finishing one behind Shoeless Joe Jackson‘s record of 233.
In addition to that all time single season mark, Averill also holds the team record for runs in a season (140 in 1931) and is in the top ten in runs for his 1936 (136) and 1934 (128) seasons as well. In addition, his 143 RBI in 1931 remain in the top ten as does his .378 average from 1936. His .627 slugging percent that year still ranks fifth best in Indians history.
For his entire career, Averill remains the Indians greatest offensive center fielder and while Belle and Jim Thome surpassed his career home run record, it stands as the top as a center fielder. He played in 1,509 games as an Indians player and while seven played in more games, only four (Napoleon Lajoie, Lou Boudreau, Speaker and Joe Sewell) could be considered better overall players and all of those are also Hall of Famers. Despite playing in less games, Averill owns the team record for career runs (1,154), triples (121), RBI (1,084) and total bases (3,200). He also ranks in the top five for at bats, hits, doubles, home runs and walks and in the top ten in on base percentage, slugging and OPS.
As quickly as his career began, it ended. After a solid 1938 campaign where he batted .330/.429/.535 with double digits in each type of extra base hit, 93 RBI (his only season below 90 was 1935) and 101 runs scored (his only season below 100 was 1933). He never had great speed, but in 1939 he appeared to have lost a step and was batting just .273 with nine extra base hits in 24 games before being traded to Detroit. While the Indians got the better of this deal, retaining the services of Harry Eisenstat who would pitch four good seasons, mostly in relief, they probably should have just held on to Averill out of respect for his incredible career.
He would play only 111 games in 1939 between the two teams, then 64 more for the Tigers in 1940 before being released. He attempted to extend his career the following season in the PCL and was signed by the Boston Braves, but after just eight games, he retired from baseball for good. His son would go on to be signed by the Indians as well, but only played parts of two seasons, playing poorly as a catcher and third baseman.
His accomplishments have been recognized by the Cleveland Indians when he was placed in the Indians Hall of Fame in 1951, then had his number retired in 1975 when he was entered into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown by the Veteran’s Committee. Averill died in 1983 at the age of 81 and was buried in his home town of Snohomish, Washington.