Top 10 Best Cleveland Guardians Players of All Time
Professional baseball in the city of Cleveland has a rich history of Hall-of-Fame talent that led the franchise to two World Series titles and six American League (AL) pennants. After operating as the Cleveland Indians since 1915, the franchise rebranded to become the Cleveland Guardians in June of 2021. Read on to learn about the best players in Guardians’ history.
Who Are the Best Cleveland Guardians Baseball Players of All Time?
- Nap Lajoie
- Tris Speaker
- Bob Feller
- Lou Boudreau
- Jim Thome
- Earl Averill
- Larry Doby
- Bob Lemon
- Kenny Lofton
- Stan Coveleski
1. Nap Lajoie
- 1937 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- 1901 Triple Crown
- Franchise Leader - Hits, WAR, At Bats & Singles
Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie is often considered the first great superstar in baseball history and is the best player in Guardians’ history. After moving from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Cleveland Indians in 1902, Lajoie spent 13 seasons with the franchise. As Cleveland’s star player and the face of the newly formed American League, the team rebranded in Lajoie’s honor and became known as the Cleveland Naps from 1903 to 1914.
While operating as a player-manager from 1905-1909, Lajoie excelled with stellar defensive play at second base and captured the first four American League batting titles. Lajoie’s name consistently appears in Cleveland record books. Currently, he sits at second place in franchise history for games played and doubles recorded. Similarly, he also occupies the third position for batting average, runs batted in (RBIs), and total bases.
2. Tris Speaker
- 1937 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- 1912 Most Valuable Player
- Three-Time World Series Champion
- Franchise Leader - On Base Percentage, Doubles, Runs Created & Times On Base
Tris Speaker, who played in Cleveland from 1916 to 1926, is the franchise’s second-best player of all time. As a previous American League MVP, Speaker came to Cleveland with established success and experience following a contract dispute with the Boston Red Sox. In his first season with the franchise, Speaker captured the batting title, becoming the first to best the legendary Ty Cobb since 1910.
As a player-manager from 1919 to 1926, perhaps Speaker’s greatest act in Cleveland was capturing the 1920 World Series. In a matchup with the Brooklyn Robins, Cleveland emerged victorious with a 5-2 series victory. To this day, Cleveland has only secured one other World Series title.
During his 11 seasons with the franchise, Speaker led the league in doubles on four occasions and ranks first in major league history in career outfield assists as a center-fielder (450). Currently in the Hall-of-Fame, Speaker also ranks second in Cleveland franchise history for wins above replacement (WAR), triples, batting average, total bases, runs scored, and hits.
3. Bob Feller
- 1962 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- Eight-Time All-Star
- 1940 Triple Crown
- 1940 Major League Player of the Year
- 1948 World Series Champion
Bob Feller, who played in Cleveland for 18 seasons, is the franchise’s greatest pitcher of all time and their third-best player. As a right-handed ace known for his fastball, Feller quickly became known as “Rapid Robert” and joined the franchise as a high-school student at the age of 17. In only his fifth professional start, Feller broke an American League rookie record by recording 17 strikeouts against the Philadelphia Athletics.
During the prime of his career, Feller made the noble decision to enlist in the US Navy following the Pearl Harbor bombing. While enlisted, Feller missed nearly four full seasons of baseball but returned to the sport during the 1945 season.
As a member of the most successful team in franchise history, Feller helped lead Cleveland to a 4-2 series victory over the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. During his career, Feller pitched 12 one-hit games and became the first pitcher in the 20th century to record three no-hit pitching appearances.
4. Lou Boudreau
- 1970 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- Eight-Time All-Star
- 1944 Batting Title
- 1948 World Series Champion & AL MVP
Lou Boudreau, a stellar shortstop who played in Cleveland from 1938 to 1950, is the franchise’s fourth-best player of all time. As the franchise’s player-manager starting in 1942, Boudreau led the team through a tumultuous period during World War II. Statistically, Boudreau sits at second place in franchise history for plate appearances, third for games played and fourth for at bats and walks.
When he made the decision to implement the “Williams Shift,” which placed three infielders on the right side of second base to counter Ted Williams’ ability to pull the ball in 1946, Boudreau brought national attention to a modern-day managing strategy.
In 1948, Boudreau led Cleveland to a World Series title over the Boston Braves and became the only individual to win the Most Valuable Player award and capture a World Series title as a manager in the same season. During this stellar campaign, Boudreau hit 18 home runs, recorded 106 RBIs, and only struck out nine times.
5. Jim Thome
- 2018 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- Five-Time All-Star
- 1996 Silver Slugger
Jim Thome, who currently sits eighth in Major League Baseball (MLB) history for home runs and played in Cleveland from 1991 to 2002 and 2011, is the franchise’s fifth-best player of all time. As a third baseman early in his career, Thome became the Indians’ first baseman in 1997 and helped lead the franchise back to the World Series in 1995, their first appearance since 1948.
With his power-hitting style, Thome recorded the most walk-off home runs in MLB history (13), sits second in Cleveland history for RBIs and third overall for on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs created.
6. Earl Averill
- 1975 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- Six-Time All-Star
- Franchise Leader - Plate Appearances, Runs Scored, Total Bases, Triples, RBIs & Extra Base Hits
Earl Averill, a center fielder who played in Cleveland from 1929 to 1939, is the franchise’s sixth-best player of all time. After joining the team as a 26-year-old rookie, Averill burst onto the professional scene and was selected to the first six All-Star games in professional baseball history.
Despite his small stature at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Averill was a very successful hitter who ranks second in franchise history for at bats and runs created and third in Cleveland history for hits and doubles.
After consistently being overlooked for the Hall-of-Fame, Averill was inducted to Cooperstown in 1975 after a special committee tasked with considering overlooked players from early in the 20th century unanimously voted on his inclusion. With this induction, Averill became the first player from the state of Washington to be included in the Hall-of-Fame.
7. Larry Doby
- 1998 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- Nine-Time All-Star
- Two-Time World Series Champion
Larry Doby, a center fielder who played in Cleveland from 1947 to 1955 and returned to the team in 1958, is the Guardians’ seventh-best player of all time. Doby made professional baseball history by becoming both the second African-American player to play in the MLB and the second African-American to become a manager in MLB history.
When Doby signed with Cleveland in 1947, he became the first African-American player to play in the American League. By 1948, he also became the first African-American to hit a home run in the World Series during Cleveland’s championship victory over the Boston Braves.
As a leader who experienced tremendous scrutiny and hardship in a segregated country and league, Doby had a tremendous impact on the game of baseball and the Guardians franchise.
8. Bob Lemon
- 1976 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- Seven-Time All-Star
- 1948 World Series Champion
Bob Lemon, who played in Cleveland from 1941 to 1942 and 1946 to 1958, is the franchise’s eighth-best player of all time. Currently, Lemon sits at third place for wins, innings pitched, games started, shutouts, and batters faced in Cleveland history.
Although Lemon started his career as a struggling center fielder and utility player, his service in World War II changed the trajectory of his career. While stationed at war bases in California and Hawaii, Lemon impressed as a pitcher during service games and gained the praise and respect of fellow professionals.
Upon returning for spring training in 1946, Cleveland’s player-manager Lou Boudreau gave Lemon an opportunity to take the mound after hearing reports on his performance in the Navy. By 1948, Lemon was named the American League’s Outstanding Pitcher after recording 10 shutouts and 20 wins on Cleveland’s road to a World Series title. Interestingly, Lemon’s 27 career home runs rank second all-time for pitchers in MLB history.
9. Kenny Lofton
- Six-Time All-Star
- Four-Time Gold Glove Winner
- Franchise Leader - Stolen Bases
Kenny Lofton, a center fielder who completed three stints as a player in Cleveland (1992-1996, 1998-2001, and 2007), is the franchise’s ninth-best player of all time. During his career, Lofton led the MLB in stolen bases on three occasions and the American League on five occasions. In 2010, Lofton was also inducted into the Guardians’ Hall-of-Fame.
After leading the American League in triples in 1995, Lofton became the first player since the American League expanded in 1961 to record three multi-triple games. During Cleveland’s run to the World Series the same season, Lofton’s high-energy and defensive prowess were pivotal to the team’s success.
10. Stan Coveleski
- 1969 Hall-of-Fame Inductee
- 1920 World Series Champion
- Two ERA Titles
Stan Coveleski is Cleveland’s tenth-best player of all time. As a right-handed pitcher for Cleveland from 1916 to 1924, Coveleski won 20 or more games in four consecutive seasons (1918-1921) and sits at second place in team history for WAR and third place for complete games and shutouts.
During the 1920 World Series, Coveleski also pitched in three games against the Brooklyn Robins to Cleveland to the franchise’s first-ever title. On May 24, 1918, Coveleski pitched a 19-inning complete game against the New York Yankees, setting a franchise record for longest complete game that stands to this day.
- José Ramírez
- Albert Belle
- Mel Harder
- “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
- Addie Joss
- Sam McDowell
- Manny Ramírez
- Al Rosen
- Joe Sewell
- Omar Vizquel
- Early Wynn
Who is the best Cleveland Indians player of all time?
Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie is the best player in Guardians’ history. As the first great superstar in baseball history and the face of the newly formed American League, the franchise rebranded in Lajoie’s honor and became known as the Cleveland Naps from 1903 to 1914. Currently, he sits at second place in franchise history for games played and doubles recorded.
Which Cleveland Guardians player holds the record for most home runs?
Currently, Jim Thome holds the record for the most home runs in Cleveland Guardians’ history. After being drafted by the franchise in 1989, Thome made his debut in 1991 and went on to hit 337 home runs for the club. During his illustrious career, the 2018 Hall-of-Fame inductee hit a total of 612 home runs and made five All-Star appearances.