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From Minors to Majors

by Mary C. Hill

The Indianapolis Indians have a long and rich baseball history that dates back to their first season in 1902 when they won their first American Association title. Over the years, many talented ball players have started their careers with the Indians and went on to play in the major leagues. Here are a few of those players.

In 1956, Roger Maris played 131 games for the Indians before being called up by the American League team Cleveland Indians. During his time with the Indianapolis Indians, Maris hit 17 home runs and recorded 75 RBI.

After Cleveland, he played for the Kansas City Athletics from 1958 to 1959 and then with the New York Yankees from 1960 through 1966.

He was named American League MVP twice, in 1960 and 1961. Maris is famously known for hitting 61 home runs in 1961, breaking Babe Ruth’s one-season record of 60.

Maris was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after his 12-year major league career.

The original Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians. Began life as Perry Stadium in 1931, later renamed Bush Stadium after Donie Bush

In 1958, Harmon Killebrew, a Hall of Famer, played a part of the season with the Indianapolis Indians before joining the American League team Minnesota Twins. During his time with the Indians, he had an impressive .847 batting average.

1969, Killebrew was named the National League’s MVP after hitting 49 home runs and recording 140 RBIs. He helped the Twins win the American League West pennant the same year.

Killebrew hit 573 home runs in his career, securing the 11th spot on the all-time list. In 1975, the Twins retired his No. 3 jersey.

In 1973, the Indianapolis Indians were a Triple-A affiliate of the National League team Cincinnati Reds. George Foster played an important role for the Indians that season before becoming a member of the “Big Red Machine.” 

After leaving the Reds, Foster played with the San Francisco Giants, the New York Mets, and the Chicago White Sox. He led the National League in home runs in 1977 and 1978 and was named the National League’s MVP in 1977. In 2002, he was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. He accumulated 348 career major league home runs, 92 of which came in a two-year period.

In 1973, Ken Griffey, Sr. made his debut as an Indianapolis Indian. As the father of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr., he was a great ball player in his own right. His batting average of .327 soon earned him a call-up by the Cincinnati Reds, where he became a three-time All-Star in the National League.

On August 29, 1990, Griffey signed with the Seattle Mariners, of which his son, Ken Griffey, Jr., was already a member.

The two made baseball history when they became the first and only father-son duo to homer in the same inning. This feat was accomplished against the Los Angeles Angels on September 14, 1990. They were second and third in the line-up, hitting back-to-back homers to nearly the same spot in left-center field.

n 1985, Andres Galarraga, also known as “The Big Cat,” began his career with the Indianapolis Indians, a Montreal Expos farm team. During that season, he hit 25 home runs and recorded 87 runs batted in.

n 1988, Galarraga was named the Montreal Expos Player of the Year, batting .302, homering 29 times, and accumulating 92 RBIs. He went on to become a five-time National League All-Star, winning two NL Gold Glove Awards and two NL Silver Slugger Awards. He won two MLB Comeback Player of the Year Awards after successfully returning to baseball following cancer treatment.

In 1993, as a player with the Colorado Rockies, he had the highest batting average by a right-handed hitter (.370) since 1939 when Joe Dimaggio batted .381

1988 and ’89 saw southpaw Randy Johnson dominating opposing batters for the Indianapolis Indians. During that time, Johnson averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, ending with an ERA of 3.08.

Johnson went on to a 22-year major league career, most notably with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. He controlled his powerful fastball and slider with devastating on-spot accuracy as a Hall of Famer. This combination enabled him to lead the league nine times in strikeouts and earned run average, winning percentage and complete games four times each.

In 2001, Johnson led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series Victory over the New York Yankees. For his efforts (winning three games), Johnson, along with teammate Curt Schilling, was one of two World Series Most Valuable Players.

From 2007-09, Andrew McCutchen played with the Indianapolis Indians, becoming an International League All-Star Futures Game selection and the Triple-A All-Star Game Top Star.

Johnson ended his career winning 303 games, earning an ERA of 3.29, and striking out 4,875 batters. This was only second to Nolan Ryan on the all-time strikeout list.

McCutchen went on to play with the Pittsburg Pirates, where he became the National League Most Valuable Player in 2013, a five-timeAll Star (2011–15), a four-timeSilver Slugger Award winner (2012–15), a Gold Glove Award winner in 2012, and the Roberto Clemente Award winner in 2015. The 2024 season is McCutchen’s eleventh with the Pirates. He is considered one of their best all-around players.

Sources: Bush Stadium photo: https://ballparkdigest.com/

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