Earl Averill 1902

The Veterans Committee named outfielder Averill to the Hall of Fame 34 years after his final season. He is still the Indians’ all-time home run leader with 226 (thanks in part to the short fence in old League Park) and holds Cleveland career records in six offensive categories. His number 3 is one of only three retired by the Indians.

“The Earl of Snohomish” (his hometown) grew up in the state of Washington and played semi-pro ball before signing with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in 1926. After three .300 seasons in the PCL, including .354 with 36 home runs and 173 RBI in 1928, the 5’9″ 172-lb lefthanded hitter was purchased for a reported $50,000 by Cleveland. On Opening Day, 1929, he became the first AL player to homer in his initial big league at-bat. His 18 HRs (then a team record) and .331 BA in his rookie season helped establish him as one of the Indian’s most popular players. A graceful but unspectacular centerfielder, he led all AL outfielders that year with 388 putouts, but his arm, injured in high school, was not strong.

In 1930, Averill hit .339, and on September 17 walloped three home runs in the first game of a doubleheader and another in the second game to become the first ML player to hit four homers in a twin bill. His 11 RBI that day set an AL record. A dead pull hitter, he slammed 32 homers in both 1931 and ’32. He became one of the most feared hitters in the league; on August 29, 1932, Red Sox pitchers walked him five consecutive times. He had an off-year (.288) in 1935, largely because he burned his hand testing Fourth of July fireworks, but he bounced back in 1936 to lead the AL with 232 hits, and hit .378, second only to Luke Appling‘s .388.

His line drive in the 1937 All-Star Game broke Dizzy Dean‘s toe, an injury that indirectly ended Dean’s career. That same year, just before a June game, Averill suffered temporary paralysis in his legs. X-rays revealed a congenital spinal malformation which forced him to change his batting style. His BA and home run output slipped.

He was showered with gifts, including a new Cadillac, on “Earl Averill Day” in Cleveland in 1938. Cleveland fans were outraged the following June when he was traded to Detroit for marginal pitcher Harry Eisenstat and cash. Averill hit .280 in a part-time role for the 1940 pennant-winning Tigers. His son, Earl Douglas, played seven years in the majors.