|Name:||George Bevan Strickland||Position:||Short Stop/Manager|
|Tribe Time:||1952-57, 1959-60/1964, 1966||Number:||2|
|Best Season (1953)||123||419||43||119||17||4||5||47||159||51||52||0||0||.362||.379||.284||.741|
|Best Season (1964)||33||39||.458||6th|
When the Indians won the World Series in 1948, it was largely on the back of player/manager Lou Boudreau, but even then he was splitting time at short stop with Ray Boone and by 1950, it was Boone who had nearly entirely taken over the role. It didn’t take long, however, for the Indians to discover that Boone was no Boudreau defensively and he wasn’t good enough offensively to make up for these lapses. Because of that, the Indians traded Johnny Berardino to the Pirates for defensive specialist George Strickland in August of 1952.
Strickland began his professional career with the Southern Association New Orleans Pelicans in 1943 after signing as an amateur free agent with the Dodgers, but was drafted shortly after, joining the Navy from 1944 through 1946. The Red Sox took on Strickland after his time in the service, but they too placed him in the minors and it wasn’t until Pittsburgh drafted him (baseball, not military this time), that he reached the Major Leagues. While Strickland did hit nine home runs in 1951, he wasn’t too proficient with the stick and that was likely a large part of the reasoning that lead to the 1952 trade.
After joining the Indians, Strickland played just 31 games, but hit a career best .216/.324/.295. He continued that in 1953 after joining the team about a month into the season, batting .290/.388/.391 through June 14th and, seeing their future at short stop now in place, GM Hank Greenberg traded Boone to Chicago along with Bob Shaw for Tito Francona and Bill Fischer. Francona would go on to be a star for the Indians late in the decade making the initial Strickland trade great in that it both gained a starting short stop and allowed the Indians to move their former short stop for another great asset.
While he didn’t stay quite as hot all season, this would be the best season of Strickland’s career as he batted .284 with career highs in hits (119) and RBI (47) in addition to the three rate stats. It is possible his numbers were bolstered by an offense that was one of the best in Indians history lead by AL MVP Al Rosen and fellow All-Star and future Hall of Famer, Larry Doby. It wasn’t a complete surprise then, when the 1954 team was the best in Indians history in the regular season, winning 111 games with a roster that included five Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame manager in Al Lopez.
In the Indians AL pennant winning season, Strickland played more along the lines of his career averages. He batted .213 with six home runs and three triples, but again played excellent short stop, saving five runs more than average according to Rtot. Since we don’t have advanced defensive stats going this far back, we can only look at what is available and that confirms the story that Strickland was a great defensive short stop. For his career, his .969 fielding percent no longer sits atop the Indians career list, but when he finished his career, he was the second best in team history behind Boudreau. The fact that he has since been passed by the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Tom Veryzer and four others has more to do with advancements in stadium lighting, field maintenance and glove technology than an actual improvement of players at the position.
As all Indians fans know, the greatest regular season in history ended in disappointment as Willie Mays and the Giants swept the Tribe in four games. Since no player hit well, it’s hard to place blame on any one hitter, but Strickland certainly was no help, going hitless over nine at bats, never reaching base in three games.
Over his next three seasons, Strickland cemented his legacy as a light hitting defensive specialist. Over that span, he batted .216 with six home runs, nine triples and 70 RBI in 304 games. While he didn’t have much power, Strickland did hit a surprising amount of triples (18 in his career) compared to his home runs and doubles. Despite this, he wasn’t otherwise a proficient base runner, stealing only four bases over eight years, two of which came in 1954.
After a fairly decent season in 1957 by Strickland’s standards, he left baseball for a year before returning to Cleveland in 1959. In 1956 and 1957, Strickland had been superseded by Chico Carrasquel, but in mid-1958, GM Frank Lane made the terrible move of trading Carrasquel to Kansas City for Billy Hunter. While Hunter finished the rest of the 1958 season at short, the Indians were happy to accept the return from retirement of Strickland for the 1959 campaign. He would end up having a solid season, playing 132 games between short and third base, splitting time with Woodie Held. He scored 55 and knocked in 48, batting .238 in his final full season in baseball. The next year, he played just 32 games, batting .167, before retiring as a player for good.
It didn’t take long for others to recognize that Strickland had talents beyond his glove and he coached for the Indians, Twins and Royals into the 1970’s. The Indians opened the 1963 season with Birdie Tebbetts at the helm, but after a 79-83 finish, he was replaced as manager by Strickland to start 1964. He didn’t fare much better, however, and after a 33-39 start, Gabe Paul brought Tebbetts back to finish the year and for the second time in a row, the Indians finished 79-83. After going 87-75 in 1965, Tebbetts started 1966 with an equivalent .537 winning percent (66-57), yet this wasn’t considered good enough and he was replaced for the second time with Strickland. While the former short stop finished the year out (going 15-24), this would be his last season as Indians manager and the last for Tebbetts as well. The Indians would then go with Joe Adcock for 1967 before finding a more long term solution in Al Dark.
While his playing time was short lived, Strickland was still a solid short stop for the Tribe while he was around and even with his poor offensive performance (as hard as it is to believe), remains one of the best short stops in Indians history. After his time in Major League Baseball, Strickland moved back to his home town of New Orleans where he died in 2010.