Good But, Not Great- Part Eight
The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part Eight
By Tim Kabel
February 28, 2022
So far, I have written seven articles about Yankees’ players who were good but, not great. These players were not Hall of Famers. However, they were key components of their teams. In many cases, they were the backbone of World Series Championship teams. My last article in the series was about Sparky Lyle, I have stated that the Yankees’ Championship teams of the late ’70s, had more good but, not great players than teams from any other era. Today, I will stay in the ’70s for the subject of this article.
Graig Nettles was born and raised in San Diego, CA. His mother did not like the traditional names of Craig or Greg, so she combined them to create his unusual name. As Nettles stated, his father was away at the war, so he didn’t have much say in the matter. Nettles attended San Diego State College on a basketball scholarship. He played both basketball and baseball for the school. In 1964 and 1965, he played collegiate summer baseball for the Alaska Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League, helping to lead the team to two league championships.
The Minnesota Twins drafted Nettles in the fourth round of the 1965 Major League draft. He made his Major League debut with the Twins on September 6th, 1967.
Still early in his career, two season later, on December 10th, 1969, the Twins traded Nettles and three other players to the Indians for Luis Tiant and Stan Williams. Nettles played for the Indians for three seasons before being traded to the Yankees in November of 1972. Nettles was traded due to a feud with the Indians’ manager, Ken Aspromonte who didn’t have as much faith in Nettles as a batter. He would often pinch hit for him when a left-handed pitcher came into the game; a move that upset Graig Nettles to no end.
Nettles’s career took off with the Yankees. Five of the six times he was an All-Star came while he was wearing pinstripes. He was a two-time World Series champion in 1977 and 1978. He was the ALCS MVP in 1981. He won the Gold Glove award in 1977 and 1978 and he was the American League home run leader in 1976. He was also the Yankees’ team captain from 1982 until he was traded in 1984. His best season was 1977, when he won a Gold Glove award and had career highs in home runs (37) and RBI (107).
Nettles was known for his outstanding glove work. He wrote E5 on his glove to remind him of the importance of good defense. He had a career fielding percentage of .964, which is exceptional for a third baseman. His defense came to national attention during Game 3 of the 1978 World Series against the Dodgers. The game was at Yankee Stadium, and the Dodgers were leading the series two games to none. Ron Guidry was pitching for the Yankees. Nettles made several plays to stop potential run scoring hits and help the Yankees gain a crucial win in the series. The Yankees went on to win the next three games and clinched the World Championship.
Nettles was an outstanding standing contributor for the Yankees from 1973 through 1983. In his 11 years with the Yankees, he hit 250 home runs and drove in 834 runs. During his Yankees’ career, the team made the postseason five times. He was a vocal team leader, clutch hitter, and key contributor. He is quite possibly the best third baseman in Yankees’ history. That is a subjective statement. Many fans may feel that Alex Rodriguez was better. I don’t due to the PED issues. However, that is an argument for another day.
Greg Nettles hit 390 home runs in his career and at one time, held the American League record for career home runs by a third baseman. His WAR of 68.0 is the highest among all players with a batting average of .250 or lower. (His career batting average Is .248.) That is what is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.
Nettles was an outstanding player and a tremendous Yankee. His uniform number 9 was retired but, not for him. It was retired for Roger Maris. Greg Nettles is not in Monument Park. He definitely should be. I don’t believe Nettles will ever make the Hall of Fame due to his low batting average but, he is a key part of Yankees’ history and should be recognized more than he has been. Nettles was also known for his sense of humor and quick wit. He characterized his Yankees career by saying, “When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees, I have accomplished both.”
Previous Articles in This Series: