True story: Once upon a time during the 1995 World Series a young sports reporter (the same guy writing this article) wanted to try to get the famously quiet Albert Belle to talk. Belle was a tough customer, but the young, intrepid reporter thought he would give it a shot.

“Can I ask you a couple of questions?” was greeted with a glare from Belle. “No worries. It’ll be cool. Just part of my job,” was the reply.

Belle responded by standing up and walking away.

What made Belle a great baseball player was not his ability to interact with the media. The guy was a machine at the plate and channeled whatever significant anger he had into punishing a baseball. He did this for eight seasons in Cleveland, both at Municipal Stadium and Jacobs Field, earning $509 million along the way. Is he a Top 10 all-time member of the Guardians? Read on …

Cleveland Guardians Roster History

For 123 seasons, players have been putting on a uniform with “Cleveland” on it and representing the city often called “The Mistake by The Lake” -- much to the chagrin of the locals. In 1920 and 1948 those players were good enough to win the World Series, but those two lone championships are the only ones for the baseball team now known as the Guardians, who are slogging through the current season below .500.

A total of 45 of those players have made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., which makes ranking them into a Top 10 list all the more difficult. Yes, these guys were great baseball players. No, they did not achieve all that much team success in Cleveland, where Indians history is now Guardians history.

Whatever the nickname, these players are all revered by the folks in that close-knit Ohio city that cherishes its Browns and Cavs and its local culture. Yes, Cleveland has culture, including a Little Italy section that most visitors to the city miss while touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you ever visit, put it on your to-do list.

Cleveland Guardians Hall of Famers

This is a list that includes Cy Young (yes, the same guy), Bob Feller, Larry Doby, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, and 41 others. Crowds in Cooperstown, N.Y., during the summer often include folks from Ohio who can drive there in 6½ hours to debate the greatest Cleveland Guardians player of all time (if they use that particular nickname.)

Ask 20 Cleveland fans for their all-time best Guardians players and the best Guardians roster, and you are liable to get 20 different answers. It is something that happens when there are 123 years of history on which folks have an opinion.

Famous Cleveland Guardians Players

Satchel Paige, Sandy Alomar Jr. Carlos Baerga, Bob Feller, Gaylord Perry, Frank Robinson, Rocky Colavito, and Early Wynn are among the most famous of the greatest Cleveland Guardians players of all time, but that list is subjective and encompasses multiple historical eras. Cutting that history down to 10 players ain’t all that easy.

Ranking the Top 10 Greatest Cleveland Guardians Players of all time

  1. Joe Sewell

Position: Third base
Years with Cleveland: 1920 to 1933
Career Stats with Cleveland: .312 batting average, 49 home runs, 1,054 RBIs
Honors and Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1977)

Gotta have a 1920 World Series winner on this list, and Sewell (from Titus, Ala.) was a player who batted above. 300 in 11 of his 14 seasons. He was called up in the wake of a momentous baseball tragedy: Joe Chapman dying after being hit by a pitch thrown by Carl Mays of the Yankees. Coolest Sewell stat: He struck out just 114 times in 7,132 career at-bats.

  1. Kenny Lofton Position: Center field
    Years with Cleveland: 1992 to 1996, 1998 to 2001, and 2007
    Career Stats with Cleveland: .300 batting average, 87 home runs, 518 RBIs, 482 stolen bases

They say there is no more exciting play in baseball than the triple, and Lofton (a native of East Chicago, Ind.) had 82 of them over his 12-year career. In 1996, he became the first player to record three multi-triple games. His hustle in the outfield and on defense helped the Indians reach the World Series in 1995.

  1. Satchel Paige

Position: Pitcher
Years with Cleveland: 1948 to 1949
Career Stats with Cleveland: 10-8 record, 2.78 ERA
Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1952, 1953 with St. Louis Browns), Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1971)

Paige, from Mobile, Ala., pitched over five decades (not a typo) and was still on the mound at the ripe old age of 59. His career began in the Negro Leagues and included stints in the American and National Leagues. He was a relief pitcher for Cleveland on the 1948 team that won the World Series but pitched only two-thirds of an inning in the Series.

  1. Bob Lemon Position: Pitcher
    Years with Cleveland: 1946 to 1958
    Career Stats with Cleveland: 207-128 record, 3.23 ERA
    Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954), Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1976)

Lemon had only two seasons where his ERA was above 4.00, and those were the two final years of his career. The native of San Bernadino, Calif., rarely gave up runs (an average of only 86 per year) and was a key piece of Cleveland’s last World Series winner in 1948 when he went 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA against Boston.

  1. Carlos Baerga Position: Second base
    Years with Cleveland: 1990 to 1995 and 1999
    Career Stats with Cleveland: .299 batting average, 104 home runs, 565 RBIs
    Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1992, 1993, 1995)

A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, the slick-fielding Baerga was revered for his work as a two-way player, equally valuable with the bat and the glove. He hit .292 in the 1995 postseason when the then-Indians fell to the Atlanta Braves in a six-game World Series.

  1. Early Wynn

Position: Pitcher
Years with Cleveland: 1949 to 1957
Career Stats with Cleveland: 164-102 record. 3.64 ERA
Honors and Awards: Cy Young Award (1959), All-Star Game (1947, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960), Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1972)

Wynn was a member of the 1954 team that set an American League record with 111 wins and was a part of one of the strongest pitching rotations ever alongside Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia. He added a knuckleball to his repertoire while in Cleveland. In 1950, Wynn (from Hartford, Ala.) recorded 18 wins, led the AL with a 3.20 ERA, and surpassed the 100-strikeout mark for the first time -- finishing the year with 143. It was the first of seven straight seasons in which he would win at least 17 games.

  1. Nap Lajoie

Position: Second base
Years with Cleveland: 1902 to 1914
Career Stats with Cleveland: .339 batting average, 33 home runs, 919 RBIs
Honors and Awards: AL Batting Champion (1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1910), Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1937)

Little-known Cleveland baseball fact. When Lajoie (a native of Woonsocket, R.I.) joined the team as part of an exodus of National League players to the upstart American League, the team was known as the Bronchos. It was later renamed the “Naps” after Lajoie, a prolific hitter who won baseball’s Triple Crown in 1901. His career total of 3,252 hits was the second-most in MLB history at the time of his retirement, trailing only Honus Wagner's total of 3,420. 

  1. Jim Thome Positions: First base, Third base, Designated Hitter
    Years with Cleveland: 1991 to 2002
    Career Stats with Cleveland: .287 batting average. 337 home runs, 937 RBIs
    Honors and Awards: All-Star Game (1997, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2008), Comeback Player of the Year (2006), Baseball Hall of Fam (Inducted on first ballot in 2018)

A prolific power hitter, Thome’s 612 home runs rank sixth all-time. In 12 different seasons, he hit at least 30 home runs, topping 40 home runs in six of those seasons. Thome (from Peoria, Ill.) played in the World Series in 1997 when Cleveland lost to the Florida Marlins in seven games.

  1. Tris Speaker Position: Center field
    Years with Cleveland: 1916 to 1926
    Career Stats with Cleveland: .354 batting average; 73 home runs, 886 RBIs
    Honors and Awards: AL MVP (1912), Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1937)

Yes, you read that correctly: a .357 career batting average, including .386 in his first season in Cleveland, when he struck out only 20 times in 647 plate appearances. It is the third-best lifetime average in baseball history. Like Babe Ruth, he was traded by the Red Sox in a salary dispute. Speaker, from Hubbard, Texas, played so shallow in the outfield that he was able to execute six career unassisted double plays at second base, catching low line drives on the run and then beating baserunners to the bag.

  1. Bob Feller Position: Pitcher
    Years with Cleveland: 1936 to 1941 and 1945 to 1956
    Career Stats with Cleveland: 266-162 record, 3.45 ERA.
    Honors and Awards: Pitchers’ Triple Crown (1940), All-Star Game (1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950), Baseball Hall of Fame (Inducted 1962)

The youngster from Van Meter, Iowa, was signed as a teenager for $1 and an autographed baseball, and that is the best dollar ever spent in the city of Cleveland. He held the AL record for most strikeouts in a game (18) from 1938 to 1974, when Nolan Ryan broke it. Historians believe that the nearly four years he missed while in the U.S. Navy cost him at least 100 career wins. He is believed to be the first player ever to throw a pitch that reached 100 mph. And yes, he was a member of that last World Series championship team in 1948.

Parameters of Ranking

As noted above, there are so many great players in the history of Cleveland baseball that whittling it down to 10 inevitably does someone a disservice. That being said, we put a premium on leading Cleveland to postseason success since, there has been so little of that. The Guardians/Indians have gone 74 years without a title, the longest streak in baseball.

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