Naming the all-time greatest players in the 113-year history of professional baseball in Spokane -- the city's first pro team took the field in 1890, 13 years before the Indians nickname stuck -- is tricky at best, and, at worst, impossible.
We're talking about thousands of players in various leagues at different levels -- the minor leagues did not always have official classifications -- traveling by train, bus or plane to play on fields ranging from first class to no class for salaries ranging from fair and reasonable to pathetic and cruel. There were not always night games; there were not always designated hitters; there were not always black players.
The present Indians franchise has been part of the Northwest League since 1983. The NWL is a short-season Class A league. The last 20 Indians teams have produced such major leaguers as Carlos Beltran, Joey Cora, Ken Harvey, Dave Staton and Sandy Alomar Jr.
Nonetheless, most of the greatest names in Spokane baseball history performed in the Pacific Coast League. The PCL, a Class AAA league, is one step below the major leagues and easily rates as the top level of professional sport ever offered in Spokane on a full-time basis (along with the original, minor league pro Western Hockey League from 1958-63).
The Indians played in the PCL from 1958-71 and 1973-82. Baseball America magazine once ranked the 1970 Indians (shortstop Bobby Valentine, first baseman Tommy Hutton, third baseman Steve Garvey, outfielder-first baseman Bill Buckner, pitcher Jerry Stephenson, etc.) as the greatest minor league team in history. However, some baseball die-hards insist the 1960 Indians (center fielder Willie Davis, third baseman Ramon Conde, shortstop Charley Smith, left fielder Ron Fairly, pitcher Mel Nelson, etc.) were even better.
ALL-TIME INDIANS [Based on Major League Careers]
Catcher -- Sandy Alomar Jr. (Six-time all-star; 1990 American League Rookie of the Year with Cleveland; '90 AL Gold Glove winner as top defensive catcher; '97 All-Star Game MVP; 30-game hitting streak in '97 ranks second in history for catchers)
First base -- George "Highpockets" Kelly (Hall of Famer; batted over .300 every year from 1921-25; led National League with 23 home runs in '21; helped New York Giants win World Series in '21 and '22)
Second base -- Davey Lopes (Four-time all-star; hit 155 home runs and stole 557 bases in 16-year career, primarily with Los Angeles; led National League in steals with 77 in 1975 and 63 in '76)
Third base -- Ron Cey (Six-time all-star; recorded 316 home runs and 1,139 RBIs in 17-year career; co-World Series MVP on 1981 world champion Los Angeles Dodgers)
Shortstop -- Maury Wills (Five-time all-star; led National League in stolen bases every year from 1960-65, including a then-record 104 in '62; league MVP in '62; won two Gold Gloves as top NL defensive shortstop)
Left field -- Frank Howard (Four-time all-star; hit 382 homers, drove in 1,119 runs; from 1968-70, had at least 44 homers and 106 RBIs each season for Washington Senators)
Center field -- Willie Davis (Two-time all-star; one of the fastest players in baseball history, stole 398 bases in 18 seasons; twice led National League in triples; 31-game hitting streak with Los Angeles in 1969)
Right field -- Bob Meusel (Usually played left field for powerhouse Yankees of 1920s, but occasionally replaced Babe Ruth in right; terrific defensive player, blessed with speed and a powerful arm, Meusel was a career .309 hitter; led American League with 33 homers and 138 RBIs in 1925)
Designated hitter -- Steve Garvey (10-time all-star; hit .294 with 272 homers and 1,308 RBIs in 19 years; 200 or more hits six times; '74 World Series MVP with Los Angeles; four Gold Gloves as top defensive first baseman in National League; holds NL record of 1,207 consecutive games played)
Utility -- Bill Madlock (Versatile infielder hit .305 over 15 years; two-time all-star; won two National League batting titles with Pittsburgh in the 1980s)
Starting pitcher -- Stan Coveleski (Hall of Famer; won 20 or more games five times; career record of 215-142 (.602) with a 2.88 earned run average; completed half (225) of his 450 career starts; 3-0 in 1920 World Series for champion Cleveland Indians)
Relief pitcher -- Hoyt Wilhelm (First relief pitcher enshrined in Hall of Fame; won record 124 games as reliever; second in history with 1,069 games pitched; ERA 2.70 or lower in 14 of 21 seasons; threw no-hitter in rare start in 1958)
Manager -- Tommy Lasorda (Won two world championships, eight division titles and 1,599 games in 20 full seasons as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers; also guided U.S. to Olympic gold medal in 2000)
[Based on best Spokane season]
Catcher -- Art Kusnyer, 1982 (Hit .265 with 25 home runs and 76 RBIs; led league in fielding at .992)
First base -- Tommy Hutton, 1971 (League MVP; led PCL with .352 average, 190 hits, 117 runs and .998 fielding average; had 19 homers and 103 RBIs)
Second base -- Bill Madlock, 1973 (Hit .338 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs)
Third base -- Ron Cey, 1971 (Hit .338 with 32 homers; led league with 123 RBIs)
Shortstop -- Charlie Smith, 1960 (Batted .322 with 20 HRs and 106 RBIs)
Left field -- Tommy Davis, 1959 (Led league with .345 average and 211 hits; had 18 homers and 78 RBIs)
Center field -- Willie Davis, 1960 (Minor League Player of the Year; led PCL with .346 average, 216 hits, 126 runs)
Right field -- Tom Paciorek, 1970 (Hit .326 with 17 homers and 101 RBIs)
Designated hitter -- Tom Robson, 1974 (League MVP hit .322 with 41 homers and 131 RBIs)
Utility -- Bobby Valentine, 1970 (Player of the Year; led PCL with .340 average, 211 hits, 122 runs, 16 triples, and, unfortunately, 54 errors at shortstop)
Starting pitcher -- Howie Reed, 1963 (Crafty right-hander led PCL with 19-7 record and had a 2.75 ERA)
Relief pitcher -- Ken Rowe, 1964 (Tied for league lead in victories -- virtually unheard of for relievers -- and posted a 16-11 record and 1.77 ERA in record 88 games. Saves were not recorded in the PCL at that time)
Manager -- Preston Gomez, 1960 (Cuba native masterfully mixed young prospects like Willie Davis and Charley Smith with former major leaguers like Tony Roig and Curt Roberts and minor league "lifers" like Ramon Conde and Chuck Churn)
This season, Indians fans will be able to vote on who they think the best Indians players were, based on performance in an Indians uniform. Results will be compiled, and the fans' choices will be announced late in the season.
Publication date: 06/19/03