Number Five is Alive!
Again, it is pretty easy to see who deserves the nod as best player to wear #5, Lou Boudreau.
Boudreau, a native of Harvey, IL, attended the University of Illinois. While attending Illinois, the Tribe GM, Cy Slapnicka, paid him a sum of money to sign with the Indians after graduation (sounds a little like the current college football shenanigans to me). When Lou’s father heard of the payment, he complained to the Big Ten, who promptly ruled him ineligible for both collegiate sports he was starring in (baseball and basketball). In 1938 he played minor league ball with the Cardinals B league affiliate in Cedar Rapids, IA. At the end of the 1938 season, the Tribe called him up and he did play one game at 3B against Detroit wearing number 34.
The following spring, Old Shufflefoot was sent to the Buffalo Bisons of the IL (Cleveland’s AA affiliate at the time) to learn how to play SS as Ken Keltner was the established 3B at the time. After batting .331 with a .532 SLG in 115 games, the Tribe called him up to take over the SS position fromSkeeter Webb (I am thinking he might have gotten injured as he and Boudreau both wore #5 that season and Webb was later traded in the off season for the infamous Ollie Bejma and Johnny Gerlach).
After a so-so first half season in 1939 (81 OPS+), Boudreau would play around 92% of the Tribe’s games at SS through 1949. In those 10 years from 1940-1949, Boudreau would play in 7 All-Star games and finish in the MVP voting all 10 seasons with only two of the seasons failing to reach the top ten. He assumed the role of player-manager in 1942 with only 3 sub .500 seasons through 1950.
Obviously, Boudreau’s best season was 1948, his MVP season. With a 355/453/534 line which produced a 165 OPS+ (second in the league to Ted Williams 189), he led the Tribe to their last World Series championship. He had a career high 18 HR that season and drove in 106 runs, eighth in the league. He walked 98 times and yet only struck out 9 times the entire season. His WAR for 1948 was 10.5, the highest in Tribe history for a season.
While he was a prolific shortstop with 1486 games with the Tribe, he could in a pinch fill in around the diamond as needed: 41 games at 3B, 3 at 2B, 14 at 1B and even 3 games as a catcher.
After being released, he signed as free agent with the Boston Red Sox for the 1951 season. In 1952, he assumed the dual role of player manager for that season and was just the manager for 1953-1954. He was the Kansas City Athletics first manager (from 1955-1957) and also had a brief stint with the Cubs in 1960.
He first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1956 and was finally elected in 1970. That same year the Indians retired his jersey. For career Tribe stats, Boudreau is second in PA (6707 – one behind Averill); third in WAR (54.6), GP (1560) and BB (766); fifth in 2B (367); sixth in H (1706) and RC (906); seventh in TB (2392); and ninth in RS (823).
A Brief History
Earl Averill, the inaugural #5 in 1929, put up a 136 OPS+ as the CF before switching to #3 the following season.
Roy Hughes put up a whopping 79 OPS+ as the starting 2B and 3B in 1936 and 1937.
After Skeeter Webb and Boudreau, #5 bounced from player ot player for awhile, the best most likely being Hank Majeski, who had a 96 OPS+ as a backup 2B/3B covering 179 total games over 4 seasons.
Roger Maris assumed #5 for the 1958 season (after wearing 32 the previous year). He had a disappointing 91 OPS+ in 51 games before being dealt with Dick Tomanek and Preston Ward to the KC A’s for Woodie Held and Vic Power.
Bubba Phillips wore #5 for three seasons, accumulating a 77 OPS+ over 1412 PA. Somehow he finished 17th in MVP voting in 1961 with a 92 OPS+ and a 264/305/408 line.
The One Year Wonders
Earl Averill, Bibb Falk, Lew Fonseca, Joe Altobelli, Roger Maris, Ray Webster, Steve Demeter, Jim Lawrence, Cal Neeman, Sammy Taylor and Buddy Booker all wore uniform #5 for only one season.
The All-Time List
Earl Averill CF (1929)
Bibb Falk LF, RF (1930)
Lew Fonseca 1B (1931)
Willie Kamm 3B (1931-1935)
Roy Hughes 2B, 3B (1936-1937)
Skeeter Webb SS (1938-1939)
Lou Boudreau SS (1939-1950)
Snuffy Stirnweiss 2B (1951-1952)
Hank Majeski 2B, 3B (1952-1955)
Bobby Young 2B (1955-1956)
Joe Altobelli 1B (1957)
Roger Maris CF, RF (1958)
Ray Webster 2B (1959)
Steve Demeter 3B (1960)
Bubba Phillips 3B, OF (1960-1962)
Jim Lawrence C (1963)
Cal Neeman C (1963)
Sammy Taylor C (1963)
Buddy Booker C (1966)
Statistics and such
Other #5 fun facts, the uniform #5 has been worn 43 times by 19 different players covering 36 seasons (35 of them consecutive) of a possible 82 seasons since 1929. Uniform #5 was shared in a season six times, 1931, 1939, 1952, 1955, 1960 and 1963. In 1963 it was shared by three different players.
Due to the lack of quality candidates (Earl Averill arguably had the second best tenure as the #5 and he already has #3), I am cancelling the poll for second best on this uniform number.