When the Yankees acquired Graig Nettles in a trade with the Cleveland Indians, they had no idea of how good a player they were getting.
Coming in at 6’0″ 180 lbs, Nettles was hardly a player you would expect to have nearly 400 career home runs. Nevertheless, by the time he retired he held the record for most home runs by a American League third baseman.
He hit the majority of those home runs while in Yankee pinstripes, slugging 250 of them during his 10-year tenure in the Bronx.
You could say that he revolutionized the hot corner into the power position that it is today with such power hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, David Wright, and Evan Longoria following in his foot steps.
Not only did he set the standard for offense at third base, but also in defense.
A career .961 fielding percentage doesn’t look that great, but for the hot corner it’s pretty good. He earned two gold gloves for his slick fielding and holds the single season record for most assists by a third baseman with 412 in 1971. He is tied with Brooks Robinson in assists for second most all time at third base.
One of the most clutch performances of his career occurred in game three of the 1978 World Series. It wasn’t his bat, but his glove that turned that World Series around for the Yanks.
With the Dodgers up two games to none in the series, game three was practically a must win for the Bronx Bombers. With Ron Guidry on the mound, Nettles made sure the Yankees came out on top with several clutch plays to stop potential run scoring hits.
The Yankees would in fact go on to win that World Series, giving them back to back championships for the first time since the 1961-62 Yankees
Nettles would help the Yankees to another World Series in 1981, but this time the Dodgers beat them in what would be the Yankees last World Series appearance until 1996.
In January of 1982, Nettles was named Captain of the Yankees. He was the first Captain since the passing of catcher Thurman Manson in 1979.
He remained Captain until his trade to the Padres in 1984, ending a decade in pinstripes for him.
Number nine, which he had worn all ten years while in the Bronx, was retired by the Yankees to honor Roger Maris soon after Nettles trade. This could have been George Steinbrenner’s way of getting back at Nettles for negative remarks towards The Boss.
After his retirement at age 43 in 1988 he was not voted into the Hall of Fame, despite his 390 home runs, 1,314 RBI, 1,189 runs scored, and his relatively close walk to strikeout ratio.
But with his combination of hitting and fielding, Graig Nettles is and always will be the greatest third baseman in the epic history of the New York Yankees to me.