The Indians have had many players play Hall of Fame careers in Cleveland including some of the greatest players in baseball history like Bob Feller, Napoleon LaJoie and Tris Speaker. Most Tribe fans should know all about these players and if they don’t you can go back and read the first set of All-Time Indians articles from 2011. This top ten list is not about those players.
It is instead about the Hall of Famers who had the worst experiences in Cleveland when compared to their career numbers. These are players who began, ended or stopped by somewhere in the middle of their impressive careers in the city by the lake. All players to play or manage for any form of Cleveland baseball team are eligible and included are three of the top 15 pitchers in baseball history (according to Baseball Reference). This only goes to show that even the greatest of all time are not great all the time.
10. Ralph Kiner – HOF Class of 1975 – With Tribe: 1955
Kiner had a short ten year career that ended with the Indians. Kiner is most famous for his years with the Pirates (1946-1953) where he lead the NL in home runs in each of his first seven years. He was a six time All-Star during that time, but was traded to the Cubs in 1953. Two years later, the Indians traded Sam Jones to the Cubs for Kiner to bring him to Cleveland. While Kiner had a decent season, it would be he last while Jones would go on to become a 20 game winner and two time All-Star. In Kiner’s 113 games with the Tribe he hit just 18 home runs, 54 RBI and batted just .243, all career lows.
9. Hoyt Wilhelm – HOF Class of 1985 – With Tribe: 1957-1958
Wilhelm was five time All-Star who was famous for being a knuckle-baller and was one of the first full-time relievers to get into the Hall of Fame. While he didn’t stick with any team for more than six seasons, his time in Cleveland was particularly forgettable. While he accrued 227 saves during his great career, just six of those came with the Indians and he pitched in just 94 innings overall with the team. He did hold an impressive 2.49 ERA during that period, but that was par for the course for Wilhelm, who held a career 2.52 ERA when he retired in 1972 after 21 years in baseball.
8. Hal Newhouser – HOF Class of 1992 – With Tribe: 1954-1955
Newhouser won 200 games in 15 seasons with the Tigers, becoming a two time MVP and six time All-Star. After winning 20 games in four different seasons, Newhouser was able to win just seven games in two seasons with the Tribe. He signed as a free agent in 1954 and had a decent year as a reliever, posting a 2.51 ERA in 26 appearances, but this was nothing compared to his greatness while in Detroit. He pitched to two batters in the 1954 World Series and allowed a run without recording an out, then finished his career after throwing just 2.1 scoreless innings in 1955.
7. Dick Williams – HOF Class of 2008 – With Tribe: 1957
Before he became a Hall of Fame manager, largely with the Athletics where he won two World Series titles (1972-73), Expos and Padres, Dick Williams had a 13 year playing career where he had a quick stop over in Cleveland. Right in the middle of his playing career, the Indians brought Williams in at the 1957 trade deadline in exchange for Jim Busby from the Orioles. Williams played just 67 games with the Tribe that year while hitting just six home runs and knocking in just 17. Before the next season started, he was sent back to Baltimore to in order to bring back a former Indian, Larry Doby. After retiring in 1963, Williams began a 21 year managing career where he won 1,571 games and went to four World Series.
6. Sam Rice – HOF Class of 1963 – With Tribe: 1934
Rice was an incredible outfielder who spent 19 seasons with the Washington Senators where he went to the World Series three times. During his time in Washington, Rice accrued 1,044 RBI, and 184 triples including at least ten each year between 1921 through 1930. In 1933, the Senators decided that Rice’s career was over and released him, but he disagreed. He came back for one more year with the Indians and his speed was almost completely gone. In his final season, Rice batted .293, but only stole five bases and hit a single triple, both career lows for a full season.
5. Walter Johnson – HOF Class of 1936 – With Tribe: 1933-1935
Johnson is widely considered the greatest pitcher of all time with 417 career wins and an MLB record 110 shut outs. He played his entire playing career with the Washington Senators and won two MVP’s, but that is not why he is on this list. With how amazing his playing career was, Johnson wasn’t the greatest manager and that is how he made this list. Johnson managed the Indians from the end of 1933 through the 96 games of 1935. Despite having a roster full of stars, including Indians greats Earl Averil, Hal Trosky, Joe Vosmik and Mel Harder at their prime, Johnson never finished higher than third place although he did finish with a record above .500 (.517). After being replaced in 1935, Johnson retired for good from his baseball career.
4. Billy Southworth – HOF Class of 2008 – With Tribe: 1913, 1915
Southworth is in the Hall of Fame as a manager, but spent his time in Cleveland as a rookie outfielder. He got into one game defensively in 1913, but had his real rookie year in 1915 when he got into 60 games as a utility outfielder. In that year, he batted just .220 with eight RBI and was ultimately released. He ended up having a solid playing career, batting .297 overall with 52 HR and 561 RBI before retiring in 1929. As a manager, Southworth won over 1,000 games and went to four World Series, including the 1948 series with the Boston Braves where he lost to the Indians.
3. Phil Niekro – HOF Class of 1997 – With Tribe: 1986-1987
Niekro was a five time All-Star, a 300 game winner most famous for winning 287 games and striking out 2,999 batters after turning 30. Despite his success late in life, by the time he got to Cleveland, he may have been just a little too old. In 1986 Niekro went to Spring Training with the Yankees, but failed to make the team and joined the Tribe right before the season started. He proceeded to post a career worst 4.32 ERA in 210.1 innings. Since the Indians rotation was in a poor state, they brought him back for the next season where he threw 123.2 innings and raised his ERA to 5.89. He was traded before the end of the season to the Blue Jays for Darryl Landrum and Don Gordon, but didn’t stay there long as he was sent packing again, this time to Atlanta, where he had spent most of his career prior to going to Cleveland. He pitched just three innings in one start for the Braves (allowing 5 runs) before retiring as a pitcher.
2. Dave Winfield – HOF Class of 2001- With Tribe: 1995
Winfield played a stellar 21 year career that spanned from 1973 through 1994, mostly with the Padres and Yankees, before coming to the Tribe in the summer of 1994 after being purchased from the Twins. In those first 21 years, Winfield was a 12 time All-Star, seven time Gold Glover and six time Silver Slugger. After all that, 463 home runs and 1,829 RBI, Winfield put together the worst season in his career for his final season. Despite spending the end of 1994 and all of 1995 with the team, he played in just 46 games and batted .191. He managed to add just two more home runs and four more RBI to his prodigious totals. This was not just one of the worst seasons by a Hall of Famer with the Indians, but one of the worst seasons by any player.
1. Steve Carlton – HOF Class of 1994 – With Tribe: 1987
Carlton is one of the greatest pitchers in history (ranked 14th ever by Baseball Reference’s Fan EloRater), a four time Cy Young award winner, 10 time All-Star and a 300 game winner, but was terrible in his one year in Cleveland. He had already played 22 seasons, mostly with the Cardinals and Phillies and already cemented his Hall of Fame career, but he signed with the Tribe in the off-season prior to 1987 as a free agent. After 14 starts and 109 innings, Carlton had a 5.37 ERA, more than three runs higher than that of his first 21 seasons (3.04 ERA). After a not very impressing first partial season with the Tribe, he the Hall of Famer was traded to the Twins, where he was even worse in nine more games. He played just one more season in his career, pitching just 9.2 innings and allowing 18 runs, a sad end to such a great career.