Oh, sunny days! After a heated discussion for best #24, there are two candidates who each wore #25 for at least eleven seasons and five more with at least four years to choose from. But there is a clear cut top choice for best #25 …
James Howard Thome. The Peoria, IL native is the youngest of five kids (one minute behind his twin sister Jenny) to his parents Chuck Jr. and Joyce. Growing up, Jim was destined to become a Hall of Famer, but not for baseball, but rather the family forte, softball. Jim’s grandfather Chuck is a Peoria Sports Hall of Fame softball player, as is his grandmother Carolyn, and his uncle Art is there as well. Carolyn was recruited to play softball at 15 by Caterpillar Tractor, getting job in the mailroom so she could play. Jim’s father, although not a Peoria Hall of Famer, is a local legend who played many years in the Outlaw League, and was paid handsomely to be a hitter for many teams throughout the years. His older brothers Chuck III (Caveman) and Randy were also star fast-pitch softball players after graduating from Limestone Community High School.
Jim also attended Limestone Community High School in Bartonville, IL, and was star guard for the basketball team, scoring 36 points in a conference title game. He was also a star shortstop in baseball, but at 6-2 and 175 pounds considered too small and was not drafted in the amateur draft. He moved onto Illinois Central College in East Peoria, IL and the Indians drafted him in the 13th round after one season there. He would sign his first professional contract 13 days after being drafted.
Thome reported to the Indians Gulf Coast League affiliate after signing and put up a meager 237/314/296 line in 213 PA. In 1990, he opened with the Burlington Indians (Rookie) and opened up like gangbusters, 373/503/754 in 149 PA, earning a jump to the Kinston Indians (A+) where he continued his hot start, 308/427/462 in 143 PA. After his stupendous 1990, Baseball America ranked him #93 overall prior to the 1991 season. He would again split time, starting in Canton/Akron (AA - 337/426/469 in 345 PA) and Colorado Springs Sky Sox (AAA - 285/331/411 in 166 PA). This would also get him his first cup of coffee, 255/298/367 in 104 PA.
Baseball America would up his ranking to #51 in 1992. He would have 1322 PA in Canton/Akron and 55 more in Colorado Springs for a cumulative 329/444/510 line. He would also start 37 games at 3B midseason for the Tribe hitting 205/275/299 in 131 PA. This would earn him another trip to AAA to start 1993, this time with the Charlotte Knights, where he regained his stroke, 332/441/585 in 497 PA. He would be called up to the bigs for good on Aug 13, 1993. He would post a 131 OPS+ in 192 PA in 1993 and a 126 OPS+ in 369 PA during the strike shortened 1994 season.
However, his breakout season would be the pennant season of 1995, 314/438/558, 157 OPS+ 25 HR and 73 RBI, mostly from the 6 spot in the lineup. He continued mashing in 1996, 311/450/612 167 OPS+, 38 HR, 116 RBI and finishing 15th in MVP voting and acquiring his one and only Silver Slugger. By 1997, Thome had built up enough of a reputation where his numbers dipped ever so little, 286/423/579 156 OPS+, but yet moved up to 6th in MVP voting while garnering another All-Star appearance. Thome also moved across the diamond to first base in 1997 after the Indians acquired Matt Williams.
In 1998 Thome would miss some time due to injury, but was excellent again, 293/413/584 153 OPS+, another All-Star appearance and 21st in MVP voting. In 1999, he became the true definition of a slugger as his numbers dipped a little bit more, but still very, very good 277/426/540 141 OPS+, but now he led the league in strikeouts. The turn of the century was more of the same, 269/398/531 132 OPS+, his worst season since 1994. Thome was 29 and maybe his best days were behind him.
But in 2001, Thome tapped into his fountain of youth once again, 291/416/624 170 OPS+ with 49 bombs and 124 RBI and 7th in MVP voting. This led to the contentious negotiations of trying to extend him to stay in Cleveland. A deal could not be worked out, and in 2002, he had possibly the best offensive season ever by an Indian, 304/445/677 197 OPS+, 52 HR, 118 RBI. He led the league in slugging, OPS, OPS+ walks and actually cut his strikeouts down to 139. All of this stellar numbers would lead to his first MVP, no? Nope, he somehow finished a distant 7th, behind Tejada, A-Rod, Soriano, Garrett Anserson, Giambi and Torii Hunter. The only one of that group that had a solid argument was A-Rod, the rest paled in comparison numbers wise.
It was during that 2002 season, the infamous "tear the jersey off my back" quote was uttered when he denied Shapiro the chance to trade him for prospects. And when he left for Philly in the offseason, it caused a lot of hatred to be spewed, probably the most up until the LeBron "Decision". Thome would continue his mashing ways, 3 years in Philly until Ryan Howard took his spot, onto the White Sox for 3+ seasons, a late season run with the Dodgers and back to the AL Central with the Twins for almost 2 full seasons. He reached the 600 career HR mark and was traded back to the Indians for a final farewell tour. But alas, he has signed another deal with Philly for 2012.
Thome should be a sure fire Hall of Famer and in my opinion a first ballot one to boot. As it is, in his 13 seasons with the Tribe, 9 as a full time player, he ranks very high on many of the all-time career Indian lists: first in HR (337), BB (1008), K (1400) and IBB (87); second in RBI (937); third in SLG (.566), OPS (980), OBP (.414) and oWAR (51.7); fourth in OPS+ (152), WAR (47.0) and TB (2667); fifth in RS (928); and tenth in 2B (263) and PA (5805).
* The sun rotates around once in 25 days near the poles.
Second with a Solar Flare
Before Thome made his mark, the other player who would have definitely been first on this list would have been Edward Miguel Garcia. Probably the best #4 starter ever for the Tribe (and in history?), The Big Bear was the least well known pitcher of the Big 4 rotation, behind Hall of Famers, Lemon, Feller and Wynn during the 1950s heyday.
Born in San Gabriel, CA, Garcia grew up in Orosi, CA, dreaming of being a jockey as a young teen. He attended Visalia High School and was pitching in a semi-pro league in Tulare when Indians scout Willis Butler signed him as an amateur free agent in 1942. Garcia reported to the Appleton Papermakers, an Indian Class D affiliate in the Wisconsin State League and had an average season, 10-10, 3.94 ERA in 137 IP. After 1942, he reported to Europe, stringing telephone wires for the Army Signal Corps for the next 3 years during World War II.
After being discharged, Cleveland assigned him to the Class C Bakersfield Indians of the California League. He was much better, 22-9, 2.56 ERA in 236 IP and even hit .342 in 111 AB. He was promoted to the Wilkes-Barre Barons (A-Eastern) in 1947 and the Oklahoma City Indians (AA-Texas) in 1948 with a cumulative 36-26, 3.16 ERA. He would receive his call-up in late 1948 and appeared in the season finale as a reliever, pitching 2 scoreless innings.
Garcia broke camp with the Tribe as a reliever and spot starter. He would finish the season with a 14-5 record in 41 games, 20 starts and a league low 2.36 ERA and league best 170 ERA+ in 175.2 IP, earning him 4th in Rookie of the Year voting. He would become a mainstay in the rotation for the next eight seasons, with an average season of 16-11, 32 GS, 3.27 ERA, 117 ERA+ and 235 IP. He did lead the league in ERA (2.64) again in 1954, making three straight All-Star games (1952-54) and finishing 22nd in 1951, 9th in 1952 and 19th in 1954 MVP voting.
In 1958, he only pitched in 6 games, making one start after slipping on a wet mound in spring training. And was released at the end of May (this was because back then, teams were only allowed 2 players on the Disabled List). He returned in 1959, getting into 29 games, 6 GS, and a 4.00 ERA. He was 35 at this point, and the Tribe released him after the season. He pitched briefly for the White Sox in 1959 and the Senators in 1960 before retiring.
As unheralded as Garcia is in Indians lore, he was able to rack up some impressive career pitching numbers with the Tribe: fifth in SHO (27); sixth in G (397); eighth in WAR (34.6), BB (696) and H (2102); ninth in W (142), GS (281), IP (2138) and K (1095).
A Brief History
After a one AB cup of coffee in 1937, Ken Keltner would wear #25 for the next 4 seasons. As the everyday 3B from 1938-1941, he would average 282/338/473 109 OPS+ in 630 PA, with All-Star nods in 1940 and 1941, 14th in MVP voting in 1938 and 12th in 1939. 1939 was his best season wearing #25, 325/379/489 123 OPS+. He would switch to #8 in 1941 and wear that uniform for through 1944. If he had stuck with one single jersey instead of five over his twelve year career (35, 25, 8, 9 and 6), he would have had a better shot at a top spot. As it is, he is fifth in TB, sixth in G, AB, 2B, seventh in RBI, eighth in H, ninth in PA, tenth in singles
After a one year hiatus in 1942, #25 would return on the back of Steve Gromek. In 1944 he would achive 10-9, 2.56 ERA, 129 ERA+, 35 G, 21 GS in 203.2 IP. This would lead to becoming a full time starter in 1945, 19-9, 2.55 ERA, 127 ERA+, 33 G, 30 GS in 251 IP. After slumping badly in 1946 5-15 4.33 EAR 76 ERA+ in 21 GS, he would move to the bullpen in 1947. In 1948 he switched to #27 and pitched another six seasons with the Tribe.
In 1962, future Tribe manager Doc Edwards would wear #25 for one season as the backup C to John Romano. He hit 273/325/378, 91 OPS+ in 154 PA, then switched to #6 in 1963 and then was traded midseason to the KC Athletics for Joe Azcue and Dick Howser, another future manager.
After Doc switched numbers, Vic Davalillo became the next #25. He would wear the jersey for six seasons, mainly as the starting CF from 1964-1967. His best season number wise was probably his rookie season in 1963, 292/321/424 108 OPS+ 394 PA. He did win a Gold Glove in 1964 and was an All-Star in 1965 with a 301/344/372 103 OPS+ line, finishing 21st in MVP voting that year. In 1968, he got off to a real rough start, 239/254/317 73 OPS+ and was dealt to the Angels for Jimmie Hall. He finished with an overall 278/312/364, 93 OPS+, 2498 PA with the Tribe.
Originally picked in the 16th round of the 1969 draft, Buddy Bell would wear the #25 jersey for six seasons as well. In his rookie season in 1972, Bell wore #9 but was mainly an outfielder. He switched to #25 prior to the start of the 1973 season and ended up as the everyday 3B. Always a very solid, but not spectacular offensive performer, he was considered a slick fielding third baseman. He made the All-Star team in 1973, but his best offensive season was probably 1977, 292/351/426 115 OPS+. Over his 6 years wearing #25, he would accumulate a 276/331/384 103 OPS+ line. After the 1978 season, Phil Seghi dealt his straight up to the Rangers for Toby Harrah, where Bell would accumulate 4 All-Star nods, finish in MVP voting 5 times, a Silver Slugger and six Gold Gloves.
In a separate deal that 1978 offseason with the Rangers, Seghi dealt Larvell Blanks and Jim Kern for Len Barker and Bobby Bonds. Bonds would have a very productive year in 1979, 275/367/463 122 OPS+ 25 HR, 85 RBI, 34 SB, but was unhappy in Cleveland. He was traded after the season to the Cardinals for John Denny and Jerry Mumphrey.
The last player with over four seasons in the #25 apparel was Ryan Garko. Although one season was a single AB as his cup of coffee in 2005, Garko would become the regular 1B in late 2006. His numbers in retrospect were not all that bad, 283/355/450 112 OPS+ in 1587 PA. In July of 2009, he was dealt to the Giants for Scott Barnes.
The One Year Wonders
Fay Thomas, Sarge Connally, Hal Trosky, Odell Hale, Denny Galehouse, Bob Moncrief, Carl Thomas, Don Newcombe, Doc Edwards, Bobby Bonds, Pat Kelly, Sandy Wihtol, Will Culmer, George Frazier and Neil Allen all wore uniform #25 for only one season.
The All-Time List
Fay Thomas RP (1931) 2-4, 16 G, 2 GS, 5.18 ERA, 48.2 IP, 89 ERA+
Sarge Connally SP, RP (1931) 5-5, 17 G, 9 GS, 4.20 ERA, 85.2 IP 110 ERA+; switched to #15 in 1932
Odell Hale 2B, 3B (1933) 276/333/462, 104 OPS+, 386 PA; was #7 in 1931; switched to #34 in 1934
Hal Trosky 1B (1933) 295/340/477, 110 OPS+, 47 PA; switched to #7 in 1934
Denny Galehouse RP, SP (1936) 8-7, 36 G, 15 GS, 4.85 ERA, 148.1 IP 106 ERA+; was #15 in 1935, switched to #36 in 1936
Ken Keltner 3B (1938-1941) 282/338/473, 109 OPS+, 2519 PA; All Star in 1940 and 1941, finished 14th in 1938 and 12th in 1939 in MVP voting; was #35 in 1937, switched to #8 in 1941
Steve Gromek SP, RP (1943-1947) 37-38, 129 G, 79 GS, 3.13 ERA, 696.2 IP, 106 ERA+; was #38 in 1942; switched to #27 in 1948
Mike Garcia SP, RP (1949-1959) 142-96, 396 G, 281 GS, 3.24 ERA, 2136 IP 118 ERA+; 4th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1949; All-Star in 1952, 1953, and 1954; 22nd in 1951, 9th in 1952, and 19th in 1954 in MVP voting
Carl Thomas RP (1960) 1-0, 4 G, 0 GS, 7.45 ERA, 9.2 IP, 53 ERA+
Doc Edwards C (1962) 273/325/378, 91 OPS+, 154 PA; switched to #6 in 1963
Vic Davalillo CF, PH, RF (1963-1968) 278/312/364, 93 OPS+, 2498 PA; All-Star in 1965; 21st in MVP in 1965; Gold Glove in 1964; purchased from Reds; traded to Angels for Jimmie Hall
Russ Nagelson PH, RF (1968-1970) 227/346/318, 85 OPS+, 52 PA; traded with Billy Rohr to Tigers for Fred Lasher
Buddy Bradford CF. PH (1970-1971) 189/287/353, 73 OPS+, 230 PA; traded with Tommie Sisk by White Sox for Bob Miller and Barry Moore; traded to Reds for Kurt Bevacqua
Kurt Bevacqua 2B, PH, LF (1971-1972) 186/214/285, 38 OPS+, 183 PA; traded by Reds for Buddy Bradford; traded to Royals for Mike Hedlund
Buddy Bell 3B (1973-1978) 276/331/384, 103 OPS+, 3584 PA; All-Star in 1973; was #9 in 1972; traded to Rangers for Toby Harrah
Bobby Bonds RF, DH (1979) 275/367/463, 122 OPS+, 631 PA; traded with Len Barker by Rangers for Larvell Blanks and Jim Kern; traded to Cardinals for John Denny and Jerry Mumphrey
Pat Kelly PH, DH, RF (1981) 213/333/307, 86 OPS+, 90 PA
Sandy Wihtol RP (1982) 0-0, 6 G, 0 GS, 4.63 ERA, 11.2 IP, 92 ERA+; was #56 in 1980
Will Culmer RF, DH (1983) 105/100/105, -44 OPS+, 20 PA; traded with Jerry Reed and Roy Smith by Phillies for John Denny
George Frazier RP (1984) 3-2, 22 G, 0 GS, 3.65 ERA, 44.1 IP, 114 ERA+; traded with Otis Nixon and Guy Elston (PTNL) by Yankees for Toby Harrah and Rick Browne (PTBNL); traded with Rick Sutcliffe and Ron Hassey to Cubs for Joe Carter, Mel Hall , Don Shulze and Darryl Banks
Dave Clark DH, PH, RF, LF (1988-1989) 247/323/372, 94 OPS+, 459 PA; was also #12 in 1988;traded to Cubs for Mitch Webster
Neil Allen RP (1989) 0-1, 3 G, 0 GS, 15.00 ERA, 3 IP, 30 ERA+;also #15 in 1989 (I doubt validity of #25 as Clark only wore #25 for entire season)
Jim Thome 1B, 3B, DH, PH (1992-2002, 2011) 287/416/570, 153 OPS+, 5701 PA; Silver Slugger in 1996 (3B); All-Star in 1997, 1998, 1999; finished 15th in 1996, 6th in 1997, 21st in 1997, 7th in 2001 and 7th in 2002 in MVP voting; traded by Twins for a PTBNL (2011)
Ryan Garko 1B, DH (2005-2009) 283/355/450, 112 OPS+, 1587 PA; traded to Giants for Scott Barnes
Andy Marte 1B, 3B (2009-2010) 231/296/391, 87 OPS+, 363 PA; also #15 in 2009; traded with Guillermo Mota, Kelly Shoppach and Randy Newsom (PTBNL) by Red Sox as PTBNL for Josh Bard, Coco Crisp and David Riske
Statistics and such
Other fun facts, the uniform #25 has been worn 75 times by 27 different players covering 67 seasons of a possible 83 seasons since 1929. Uniform #25 was shared in a season eight times, 1931, 1933, 1960, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1989 and 2009.