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Misc General General Archive Top Cleveland Sports Figures, By the Numbers - #41
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

Nagy1The contest for top honors at #41 in our series was really a two-man race between a pair of modern era Indians players, as both the Browns and Cavs had nothing but lesser-lights to offer as nominees...with all due respect to Ray Ventrone and Mark West, of course.

Victor Martinez and Charles Nagy were both fan favorites while they wore the Wahoo, and it could be said of both that they were one game away from even greater popularity...even Cleveland baseball lore. Martinez was a victory in Game 7 of the ALCS away from making it to the World Series with the Tribe in 2007. And Nagy was one game...make that one half-inning away from a World Series championship a decade earlier in 1997.

In my mind, it’s Nagy by a nose for the top spot...someone’s picture has to go at the top...but your mileage may vary. We’ll give some love to both guys and let you make up your own mind.



Victor Martinez was a Cleveland Indian from the start, after signing as a 17 year-old free agent out of Venezuela. He came up through the Tribe farm system, and became a productive hitter with the big league club almost as soon as he arrived in the 2002 season at the age of 23.  On his way to becoming the face of the Indians of the ‘00’s, Victor consistently hit in the neighborhood of .300 from 2002 till 2009, and was their top run producer in most of those seasons as well.

Martinez evolved from a catcher to a first baseman/DH over the years as a way to keep his bat in the lineup by avoiding the wear and tear of the catching profession. He was a three-time All-Star as an Indian, and won the AL Silver Slugger Award for catchers  in 2004, when he put up a batting line of .283/.359/.492, with 23 homers and 108 RBI.

VMart4When the cruel realities of modern major league baseball dictated to the Tribe front office that the time had come to trade Martinez before the end of the 2009 season, he was disconsolate, and the fans reacted with a mix of sadness and anger. Victor wanted to stay in Cleveland, he said...without a trace of the insincerity that often accompanies public statements by departing ballplayers. The Red Sox were willing to part with promising pitchers Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone, and the Indians, in the midst of a major sell-off, and as ever in need of young arms, pulled the trigger on the deal.

Victor spent a season and a half in Boston, and played in the 2009 postseason with the Bosox. He signed as a free agent with the Tigers after the 2010 campaign, and had a big year with Detroit in 2011, hitting .330/.380/.470, with 12 HR and 103 RBI. Again his team was on the brink of a World Series, but they fell to the Rangers in a 6-game ALCS. Martinez hit .318 in the 2007 postseason with the Indians, but didn’t match those numbers in his playoff appearances with Boston and Detroit.

Martinez had to sit out the entire 2012 season after having knee surgery, but he’s back with the Tigers for 2013 at age 34. His career batting line in 11 big league seasons is .302/.370/.466, with 143 homers and 745 RBI. A big part of his legacy in Cleveland will be as the star player who was brought to tears the day the Indians traded him, because he didn’t want to leave. This town could use more guys with that kind of disposition.


Nagy3One of the reasons Charles Nagy edges out Martinez in my book is that he spent 13 seasons as an Indian, virtually his entire career, (he made five relief appearances with the Padres in 2003 before he was released). He finished with 129 career victories to rank 10th on the all-time list for the Tribe.

Nagy was a three-sport star in high school in Fairfield, Connecticut, and he went on to be named the Big East Pitcher of the Year at UConn before becoming the Indians’ first round pick in 1988. He joined the Tribe after pitching on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team that same year.

Nagy’s career was interrupted twice by arm surgeries, and persistent elbow problems eventually ended it, but for the bulk of his time in Cleveland, he was as durable and reliable as any pitcher in baseball. From October of 1993 until May of 2000, Nagy never missed a start, making 192 consecutively. And while Nagy never won more than 17 games in a season, he won 15 or more five years in a row, from 1995-99, one of just two pitchers (Greg Maddux) in baseball to do so during that stretch. He came close to a no-hitter against the Orioles in August of 1992, when Glenn Davis’ infield single was the only Baltimore hit in a 6-0 shutout victory.


Nagy2Throughout his tenure as an Indian, Nagy was about as low-key as Nick Swisher is not. He was anything but excitable, but that quiet confidence and self-effacing demeanor just served to mask a bulldog’s intensity on the mound. His intelligence and calm are no doubt also attributes that help him in his second career in baseball. Nagy serves today as the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Nagy is also the answer to more than his share of trivia questions. For example...

- In 1992, Nagy became the first pitcher in 30 years to get a hit in an All-Star Game, when he chopped an infield single off John Smoltz in the second inning. (Nagy was a three-time All-Star...’92, ‘96, ‘99)

- On October 3, 1993, Nagy was given the start in the last baseball game ever played at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He pitched three innings and took the loss in a 4-0 defeat to the White Sox.

- And while much of Cleveland’s bitterness about World Series Game 7 in ’97 is reserved for Jose Mesa, who blew the save situation in the 9th, most Tribe fans also remember that it was Charles Nagy on the mound when the game ended in the bottom of the 11th. Nagy took the loss on that dark October evening, giving up Edgar Renteria’s walk-off hit for the Marlins.

If I may speak in Mr. Nagy’s defense, however, I will remind the reader that the Marlins’ winning run off him was unearned, owing to a booted ground ball by second baseman Tony Fernandez earlier in the inning. But you knew that.

And so Nagy joins an illustrious group of players who performed admirably for years in Cleveland (Sipe, Mesa, Byner among them), and yet have come to be remembered for, if not defined by, one game that ended badly for them.  

Coulda...woulda...shoulda....the Cleveland fan’s lament.


In what is more hope than prediction, let me add that 10 years from now, when some ambitious group of writers attempts a project like this again, Carlos Santana may have a shot at #41. But for the moment, it’s too soon to include him with Victor and Charlie.


on Twitter at @dwismar





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