Graig Nettles Belongs in the Hall of Fame
Updated: Feb 11
by Paul Semendinger
February 6, 2023
NOTE - I made some of these points on the Dr. Sem's Saturday Yankees Show, but I also wanted to get this in print.
It is time for baseball to recognize that Graig Nettles is a worthy Hall of Famer.
What follows is the case for Graig Nettles to be admitted to the Hall of Fame the next time a committee that looks at players from the 1970s meets.
The preponderance of evidence shared here makes it abundantly clear that Graig Nettles was a Hall of Fame baseball player/
(All stats from baseball-reference.)
The general Hall of Fame standard is 60 WAR. If a player reaches 60 WAR, that player is considered Hall of Fame worthy.
A lifetime WAR of 68.0 is clearly and comfortably above that Hall of Fame threshold.
Graig Nettles' lifetime WAR is 68.0.
There have been over 20,000 players in the history of Major League baseball. I would think that even people in favor of a small Hall of Fame would agree that if a player is among the top 200 players of all time (the top 1% of all who ever played the game, an exclusive company indeed) he is deserving of the Hall of Fame.
Graig Nettles ranks well above that threshold. He is the 122nd best player in history (as measured by WAR). Nettles is in the top 0.6% of all players in the history of the game. In other words, he ranks above 99.4% of all players in the history of the game.
Absenting pitchers from the all-time WAR list, Graig Nettles ranks 83rd all-time among position players. For his career he was a Top 100 position player all-time.
That has to be considered Hall of Fame worthy.
Some people say a Hall of Famer should be a winner.
Graig Nettles reached 5 World Series, with his team winning two of them. It was Graig Nettles' exceptional defense, in fact, that turned the 1978 World Series in the Yankees' favor. In addition, Nettles was the MVP of the ALCS in 1981.
After he left the Yankees, Nettles was a key contributor to the NL Champion San Diego Padres in 1984.
Nettles was clearly a winner.
An argument can be made that a Hall of Famer should be the best player in the league at least once.
Graig Nettles led all position players in the American league in WAR on two separate occasions: 1971 and 1976. He was a top-10 player six times in his career.
A Hall of Famer should be at or near the top of leader boards.
When Graig Nettles retired, he was the all-time leader in home runs among third baseman in American League history.
Nettles led the league in home runs in 1976.
Also, only Reggie Jackson hit more homers in the 1970s than Graig Nettles in the entire American League.
Nettles also won two Gold Glove awards (As I demonstrated here, it should have been more).
Graig Nettles led the American League in assists at third base in 1971, 1973, 1975, and 1976.
Graig Nettles led the league in double plays at third base in 1971, 1976, and 1978.
Graig Nettles led the league in putouts at third base in 1971 and 1974.
Only two players in the history of Major League Baseball played more games at third base than Graig Nettles: Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre. (When he retired, Nettles was in second place all-time.)
No active player is even within 600 games of reaching Nettles' total. Evan Longoria is closest. He is 627 games behind. Nolan Arenado is 1,057 games behind Nettles. Nettles will be third all-time for decades more.
A Hall of Famer should be considered a star in his era.
Graig Nettles was an All-Star on six occasions.
A Hall of Famer should be a leader.
Graig Nettles was the captain of the Yankees - in fact, he was the first player to be named captain after Thurman Munson.
Graig Nettles is the 10th greatest third baseman in history.* (More on this below.)
I would think that a top 10 player at a position has to be considered Hall of Fame worthy. How much more exclusive can the Hall of Fame be?
A Hall of Famer should rank on par with other Hall of Famers. Nettles' 68.0 WAR ranks very similarly to Al Simmons (68.2), Pee Wee Reese (68.4), Edgar Martinez (68.4), Eddie Murray (68.7), and many others. Most noteably, his 68.0 WAR is tied with Ryne Sandberg.
For third base, Scott Rolen (70.1) and Ron Santo (70.5) have lifetime WARs very similar to Nettles'
But Nettles doesn't just rank among the greatest players, his career was appreciable better than many players already in the Hall of Fame, a host of who are considered among the legends of the sport.
The following is a list of many Hall of Famers all of whom have a lifetime WAR below that of Graig Nettles.
Note - because their positions are so different, I did not include pitchers or catchers on this list. I also excluded players from the 1800s and players whose MLB careers were shortened due to the color line broken by Jackie Robinson in 1947. As such, this is an incomplete lists, but it still roves the point clearly. Graig Nettles' career ranks among the greatest players in baseball history:
Home Run Baker
Graig Nettles has a lifetime WAR better than each of those players.
CONCLUSION: Graig Nettles has a lifetime WAR of 68.0. He was the best player in the American League in 1971 and 1976. He was a Word Champion two times who played in five total World Series.
Nettles was the captain of the Yankees. Nettles is the 10th greatest third baseman in history*, and is ranked #122 all-time by WAR (83rd among position players). This all, and so much more, speaks very clearly to the fact that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
*NOTE - On the all-time position rankings for third base, Graig Nettles ranks 12th, not 10th. But I take issue with that list.
Ranked above Graig Nettles at third base are Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez. Neither should be considered a third baseman.
Graig Nettles played 2,412 games at third base.
Paul Molitor played 791 games at third base. Molitor was a designated hitter for 1,174 games. He should be listed as a designated hitter, not a third baseman.
Edgar Martinez played only 564 games at third base. Martinez was a designated hitter for 1,403 games. He, too, should be listed as a designated hitter, not as a third baseman.
Neither Molitor or Martinez rank in the top 100 players in games played at third base in their careers. They played third base for a time, but for the purposes of determining the greatest at that position, they do not deserve to be on the list.
Also, the following graphic was posted on Twitter after the article was published. It's pretty difficult to argue that a Top-5 player from an entire decade doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame: