Retired Numbers: Cleveland Indians

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

The Cleveland Indians have retired either six or seven numbers, depending on how you look at it. They have not retired the number of a single player who played for the team after 1958.

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Earl Averill, 3

Averill spent eleven seasons in Cleveland, hitting .322/.399/.542 as the Indians center fielder from 1929-39. Having not made his big-league debut until a month before his 27th birthday, his career was relatively short. He retired in 1941 just before his 39th birthday after struggling the first month of the season with the Boston Braves.

Between the time that Averill was traded to the Tigers in mid-1939 and when his number 3 was retired in 1975 after his election to the Hall of Fame, his number was worn by Rusty Peters, Bob Rothel, Dutch Meyer, Lyman Linde, Eddie Robinson, Mickey Vernon, Dale Mitchell, George Strickland, and Woodie Held.

Lou Boudreau, 5

Boudreau played shortstop in Cleveland for 13 years and also managed the team for nine of those. He was a great fielder at shortstop and also an excellent hitter, winning the 1948 American League MVP Award after hitting .355/.453/.534.

Boudreau is also credited with inventing the infield shift that everyone complains about these days as if it were a new thing. Knowing that Ted Williams was a pull hitter who did not believe in altering his swing to place the ball, Boudreau shifted most of his fielders to the right side of the field whenever Williams came to the plate. He said in his autobiography that he considered it more of a psychological ploy than a tactical one.

Although Boudreau left the Indians after the 1950 season, his number was not retired until he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970. In the interim, number 5 was worn by Snuffy Stirnweiss, Hank Majeski, Bobby Young, Joe Altobelli, Roger Maris, Ray Webster, Steve Demeter, Bubba Phillips, Sammy Taylor, Cal Neeman, Jim Lawrence, and Buddy Booker.

Larry Doby, 14

Doby broke the color barrier in the American League just months after Jackie Robinson did the same in the National League. He played 13 seasons with the Indians, White Sox, and Tigers, hitting .283/.386/.490 with 253 home runs.

Doby was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, but the Indians had retired his number four years previous. Players to wear Doby’s number 14 since him are Bill Glynn, Ted Gray, Gene Woodling, Tito Francona, Jerry Kindall, Tony Martinez, George Banks, Gordy Lund, Dave Nelson, Chris Chambliss, Dwain Anderson, Tommy McCraw, Larvell Blanks, Dave Freisleben, Julio Franco, Jerry Browne, and Jesse Levis.

Mel Harder, 18

Harder spent his entire 20-year career with the Indians, winning 223 games and topping out at 25.4 percent in the Hall of Fame voting in 1964. After his playing career ended in 1947, he spent 1948-63 as the team’s pitching coach.

Harder wore number 18 as a player, but 43 and 2 as a coach. The Indians retired his 18 in 1990. Between 1948 and 1990, it was worn by Russ Christopher, Minnie Minoso, Marino Pieretti, Bubba Harris, Joe Tipton, Hal Naragon, Billy Moran, Barry Latman, Dick Howser, Gus Gil, Jack Heidemann, Mike Kekich, Ossie Blanco, Duane Kuiper, Kevin Rhomberg, Ken Schrom, Ron Tingley, and Chris James.

Bob Feller, 19

Feller spent his entire 18-year career with the Indians, retiring after the 1956 season. He went 266-162 despite missing nearly four full seasons to World War II. He won 76 games in the three seasons leading up to the War, and 46 in the two seasons after he got back, so you can run some Ted Williams-like projections to see that World War II cost him well over 80 wins.

After Feller retired, the Indians immediately retired his number, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1962.

Here’s a fun video that uses fancy and completely accurate technology to demonstrate that Feller threw over 100 mph in a shirt and tie:

Bob Lemon, 21

Lemon retired in 1958 after a 13-year career spent entirely with the Indians. Lemon also missed several years during World War II, so his win total (207) was lower than some other Hall of Famers. He averaged 21 wins per year from 1948-56, but he did not do much outside of that nine-year peak.

Lemon was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976, and the Indians retired his number 21 in 1998. In the 40 years between his retirement and his number’s retirement, it was worn by Bob Chance, Rocky Colavito, Jim King, Tommy Harper, Frank Baker, George Hendrick, Johnny Grubb, Tom Veryzer, Mike Hargrove, and Greg Swindell.

The Fans, 455

The number 455 is retired in honor of the 455 consecutive sellouts at Jacobs Field between 1995 and 2001. No player has ever worn number 455 for any team. The Indians fans retired soon after their number.

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