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2000s a 'decade of extremes' for Indians

2000s a 'decade of extremes' for Indians

CLEVELAND -- The 2000s were a drastic decade for the Indians.

The Tribe entered the decade riding the last wave of its 1990s renaissance period, when division titles became par for the course and record numbers of fans came through the turnstiles at Jacobs Field.

By the end of the decade, it was Progressive Field, and the selling of the naming rights was just one of many changes. The team had undergone an overhaul, on the field and off. The Dolan family bought the organization from Dick Jacobs, Mark Shapiro took the general manager's reins from John Hart, and a total rebuild reinvented the way business was done at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

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When all was said and done, the Tribe teams of the 2000s won 90 games or more four times and captured the American League Central crown in 2001 and '07. But they also fell below .500 five times.

"It was," team radio voice Tom Hamilton said, "a decade of extremes."

The decade was the topic of discussion during a bus trip to Columbus on the Tribe's winter Press Tour in January. Aboard the bus were Hamilton, vice president of public relations Bob DiBiasio and director of media relations Bart Swain, and MLB.com asked the three men to pore over a list of players at each position from 2000-09 and select the Indians' All-Decade Team.

Two other men who watched this club, night in and night out, for the duration of the decade -- Shapiro and Plain Dealer beat reporter Paul Hoynes -- weren't on the bus but were surveyed separately.

The goal was to come to a consensus. Which players' contributions within that 10-season period ranked above the rest at their position? We wanted to pick five starters, one setup man, one closer, three outfielders and one player at every other position, including DH.

While the answers were fairly obvious at most spots, there were a few head-scratchers in the mix. Here's a full rundown, and keep in mind that only the 2000-09 seasons were taken into consideration:

Indians All-Decade team
POS Player
C Victor Martinez
1B Jim Thome
2B Roberto Alomar
SS Omar Vizquel
3B Casey Blake
OF Grady Sizemore
OF Kenny Lofton
OF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Travis Hafner
SP CC Sabathia
SP Cliff Lee
SP Bartolo Colon
SP Jake Westbrook
SP Fausto Carmona
SU Rafael Betancourt
CL Bob Wickman
MGR Eric Wedge

Rotation

We began with the starting pitching, where left-handers CC Sabathia (106-71 with a 3.83 ERA in 237 starts) and Cliff Lee (83-48, 4.01 ERA in 178 starts) -- the Tribe's first Cy Young Award winners since Gaylord Perry in 1972 -- were no-brainers.

But the panel was asked to select a full, five-man rotation, and it wasn't easy.

Hamilton looked at the list of candidates -- including Paul Byrd, Fausto Carmona, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley, Kevin Millwood and Jake Westbrook -- and asked, "Can we maybe go with a four-man rotation?"

In the end, Colon (39-24, 3.67 ERA in 80 starts) and Westbrook (63-62, 4.25 ERA in 158 starts) received votes from all five panel members. But there was dissension about that fifth spot. The majority went with Carmona (33-37, 4.69 ERA in 85 starts), by virtue of his 19-win season in 2007.

"You can make the argument that he should have been the Cy Young winner [over Sabathia] that year," Hamilton said.

Swain added: "His start against the Yankees [in Game 2 of the '07 AL Division Series] was as good as you'll see."

Hoynes, however, went with Byrd (32-27, 4.68 ERA in 84 starts).

"I just think he was an underrated guy," Hoynes said. "I looked at his stats, and I liked the way he pitched in the '07 postseason. He was a gritty guy, and he was exactly what they needed -- a veteran guy in the middle of the rotation to pull it together."

Shapiro, meanwhile, went with Millwood, by virtue of his 2005 season in which he went 9-11 with a league-leading 2.86 ERA in 30 starts, and the way he became a mentor to a young pitching staff.

"He had a dominant year," Shapiro said, "and he made a lasting impact on CC at a pivotal point for our team."

Setup man

The panel had no problem coming to a consensus on this one. Right-hander Rafael Betancourt (23-22, 3.25 ERA in 371 games) was a unanimous choice over the likes of Danys Baez, Bob Howry, Steve Karsay, David Riske and Paul Shuey.

"People didn't appreciate how good he was," Hamilton said of Betancourt.

Closer

This was another easy call. The group unanimously chose Bob Wickman (8-16, 3.23 ERA, 139 saves in 255 games) over Joe Borowski (5-8, 5.57 ERA, 51 saves in 87 games). Borowski led the league in saves and helped guide the Tribe to the division title in '07, but Wickman established himself as the club's all-time saves leader.

"It wasn't always pretty," Hoynes said, "but he always seemed to get the job done."

Catcher

Absolute no-brainer here. Victor Martinez first came up to the big leagues in 2002, became a regular in '03 and eventually grew to become the face of the franchise before he was traded to the Red Sox last season. V-Mart hit .297 with an .832 OPS, 103 homers and 518 RBIs in 821 games with the Tribe.

First base

Jim Thome didn't get much competition in this department. While his great seasons in the 1990s were tossed out of the running, his 2000-02 campaigns (combined .287 average, 1.026 OPS, 138 homers, 348 RBIs in 461 games) were more than enough to make him a unanimous choice over Ben Broussard and Ryan Garko.

Second base

Roberto Alomar was a unanimous choice here, though the group did have to acknowledge the accomplishments of Ronnie Belliard, who filled the position from 2004-06 and compiled a .285 average and .770 OPS.

"I really liked Belliard," Hoynes said. "He came in with a bad reputation, but he played his butt off. Those were the best three years of his career."

Still, nobody was going to top Alomar, who was arguably the greatest free-agent acquisition the organization has ever had. Alomar's transcendent 1999 season wasn't considered, but he batted a combined .322 with a .903 OPS in 2000-01, earning two All-Star invitations, two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger Award.

"And I know it's not in the decade," DiBiasio said, "but his '99 season still counts for something."

Shortstop

Omar Vizquel, who won two Gold Gloves in the 2000s with the Tribe, was a unanimous choice over Jhonny Peralta, who took over the position when Vizquel left as a free agent after the '04 season.

"He was a blast to watch," Hoynes said of "Little O."

Third base

The most interesting position battle might have been at third base, where Travis Fryman and Casey Blake both embodied the "high character" qualities the Indians value.

Fryman batted a combined .274 with a .765 OPS, 36 homers and 199 RBIs in 371 games from 2000-02, earning All-Star and Gold Glove honors in '00.

But he was beaten out, through a unanimous vote, by Blake, who batted .266 with a .787 OPS, 116 homers and 417 RBIs in 810 games from 2003-08. Blake played any position the Indians asked him to play, but his most consistent home was third.

"Casey has to be on our all-clubhouse team, too," Swain said.

The group agreed that Fryman in his prime would have taken this honor, but he was at the end of his career in the early 2000s.

Outfield

Asked to select three outfielders, regardless of their spot, the group had some dissension here. Grady Sizemore, a three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award and one-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and Kenny Lofton were unanimous choices.

Lofton's 2000-01 seasons and his brief stint with the Tribe at the end of '07 were taken into consideration.

"Nobody wanted to win more than Kenny Lofton," Hamilton said.

The dissension came with the third spot. Hamilton, DiBiasio and Swain gave the nod to Shin-Soo Choo, who has batted a combined .302 with an .893 OPS since the Indians acquired him in 2006.

"He's improved every year to become one of the better right fielders in the league," DiBiasio said of Choo.

But the group also had to take into account Manny Ramirez's 2000 season, in which he batted .351 with a 1.154 OPS, 38 homers and 122 RBIs in just 118 games. And don't forget Juan Gonzalez's '01 season, in which he batted .325 with a .960 OPS. Ramirez and Gonzalez each won a Silver Slugger Award in those respective seasons.

Hoynes and Shapiro went with Ramirez for the third outfield spot.

"Look at what he did in 118 games," Shapiro said. "It's ridiculous."

Said Hoynes: "He homered in his last at-bat, like Ted Williams. That sticks with me. That was his free-agent year, and he was unconscious. He was showing you what you were gonna miss. Everybody knew he was going to be gone, and he rubbed salt in the wound."

Designated hitter

Travis Hafner (.282 average, .917 OPS, 162 homers, 547 RBIs in 800 games) was a unanimous choice over Ellis Burks (.287 average, .885 OPS, 66 homers, 193 RBIs in 317 games).

"But Ellis was another underrated guy," Hoynes said. "I would have liked to see him play with good knees."

Pronk's numbers have taken a nosedive the last three years, but there was no discounting what he did from 2004-06.

"He was arguably one of the best hitters in the game at that time," Swain said.

Manager

The only candidates here were Charlie Manuel (2000-02) and Eric Wedge (2003-09). Wedge oversaw the Indians' rebuild and won AL Manager of the Year honors in '07, when the Indians won the Central and finished a win shy of the World Series. He was the unanimous call.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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