It’s time to get to know your Cleveland Spiders, Blues and Forest City’s, despite the fact that most have been dead for more than fifty years at this point. Burning River Baseball’s All-Time Indians is now branching out to include the teams that played in Cleveland before 1901. These are the top ten hitters from all the teams from 1871 through 1899. Included in the top 15 are four Hall of Famers and a player who would still hold records for single season runs scored and hits if they were included in Indians history. You may have never heard of any of these players before, but you will know them now.
10. Cub Stricker – 2B – 1887-1890 Blues, Spiders & Infants
Stricker stuck around through the transition years of the early Cleveland teams, going from the Blues in the American Association, to the Spiders in the National League and ending his time in Cleveland with the only season of the Cleveland Infants. In 1887 Stricker stole a very impressive 86 bases, a record that stands today as the most ever by a Cleveland player. That season lead to his 202 career steals that rank fourth among the pre-Indians teams, despite playing in about half as many games as all those ahead of him.
9. Pete Hotaling – OF – 1880, 1883-84, 1887-88 Blues
Hotaling is the earliest player on the top ten as he just couldn’t get enough of Cleveland, coming back twice after leaving for Worcester in 1881 and second time when the Blues were reinstated in 1887. Most of the players from the Forest Citys (1871-72) and early Blues (1879-84) didn’t get enough at bats to be considered among the rest of the pre-1901 Cleveland players, many of whom played for the majority of the duration of the Spiders. During his three stints, he hit 135 extra base hits in 504 games.
8. Jack O’Connor – OF – 1892-1898 Spiders
O’Connor was a super utility player for the Spiders, playing over 100 games at catcher, outfield and first base. While he wasn’t good enough to crack the starting line-up behind Chief Zimmer or Jesse Burkett most years, the Spiders used him any place possible. O’Connor definitely earned those at bats, hitting 131 doubles in just over 700 games.
7. Jimmy McAleer - OF – 1889-1898, 1901 Spiders, Infants & Blues
McAleer is one of the two players to play for both the NL and AL Cleveland teams (the other being Cy Young), although he only played three games for the Blues in 1901. He had little power and didn’t hit for a high average, but was able to accumulate impressive stats by playing for the same team for a decade. He played in over 1,000 games for the Spiders, allowing him to rank in the top five in career hits, runs and walks. His best attribute was his speed and he came in second all time with 262 including five seasons of at least 30 steals.
6. Jake Virtue – 1B – 1890-1894 Spiders
Virtue had a short, but productive career for the early Spiders teams, playing less than 500 games, but still knocking in 256 runs and scoring 321 times. He is one of very few players to play his entire career for the short lived Spiders as most of the stars that stuck around were traded in 1898 to the St. Louis Perfectos, who were owned by the same person.
5. Chief Zimmer – C – 1887-1899 Blues & Spiders
When the Blues came back after a three year hiatus in 1887, they picked up a 26 year old back-up catcher named Chief. Zimmer became the starting catcher the next season, jumped from the Blues to the Spiders and stayed around until the final year of Cleveland’s National League existence. As a light hitting catcher, Zimmer played in almost 1,000 games and ranked in the top five doubles, triples, home runs and RBI.
4. Patsy Tebeau – 3B - 1889-1898 Infants & Spiders
Long before there was Tim, brothers Patsy and George Tebeau starred for the Spiders. Patsy didn’t have the single season averages of the players listed ahead, but had one of the longest careers in pre-American League Cleveland baseball. In 1890 he played for the only season of the Cleveland Infants, in between playing seasons for the Spiders. He ended up playing in 1,069 games and knocking in 699, both the second most in Spiders history.
3. Cupid Childs – 2B – 1891-1898 Spiders
Childs lead all Spiders in walks and came in second in OBP by .001 points. In a time where most players didn’t get to 50 walks a year, Childs averaged over 100 walks a year for his first six seasons in Cleveland. He lead the Spiders in walks every year from his start in 1891 through 1896. He wasn’t just a patient hitter either, as he hit above .330 three times and over .315 two more times in his eight seasons.
2. Ed McKean – SS – 1887-1898 Blues & Spiders
McKean holds almost every single career record in Cleveland batting history, including what would be the modern records for at bats, runs, triples and runs batted in. Only two players ever for the Indians (Napoleon LaJoie and Terry Turner) have played more games than McKean did for the Blues and Spiders, and he was good all through that stretch. He holds the pre-modern single season records for triples, home runs and RBI as well, showing he wasn’t just some long term accumulator.
1. Jesse Burkett – OF 1891-1898 Spiders
Burkett holds single season Cleveland records with 160 runs scored and 240 safeties in 1896. That year he batted .410 and slugged .541 en route to pre Indians career records of a .355 AVG and a .901 OPS. He ranks in the top five in every single stat, largely due to playing almost 1,000 games, making him one of just six players to play more than 750 games for pre-modern Cleveland teams. Burkett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946, making him the only Cleveland player to be elected as a Spider.
Borderline: Buck Ewing (HOF), Bobby Wallace (HOF), Fred Dunlap, George Davis (HOF), Bill Phillips