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Straight to the Majors: Clete Boyer

Over the extended weekend of the Field of Dream series the Yankees played against Garrett Crotchet, a relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox who throws hard, pitches well, and has yet to ever play a game in the minor leagues. After getting drafted 15th Overall in the 2020 MLB Draft, he signed, and went straight to the majors.

This got me wondering about what other players were who went straight to the MLB, of which there have been 22 since the MLB Draft was implemented in 1965. Over the next few weeks there are 11 players who have played for the Yankees while making their professional debut at the MLB level.

Today’s player is: Clete Boyer.

Road to the Show:

Before the MLB draft was implemented in 1965 there was a system in place to sign amateur free agents to play professional baseball. This system required that if a player was signed to a contract larger than $4,000 then they had to spend 2 years on the MLB roster, and if not the signing team would lose their rights to the player. This system was called the bonus rule and the players who came to the MLB through it were known as “bonus babies”. Clete Boyer is one of these players.

After the New York Yankees had signed two other bonus babies (of whom I will be revealing with the final 2 posts in this series), they still had interest in a high school player by the name of Clete Boyer. But, because they didn’t want to fill their roster with players they couldn’t move without risk of losing, the Yankees did not sign him. Instead- and get this- the Yankees GM George Weiss contacted the Kansas City Athletics and told them that he was going to be a star and that they should sign him! Given the great relationship the two teams had in the mid-1950’s when this was happened, the Athletics obliged and signed Clete Boyer.

Boyer would play in three seasons (1955-1957) with the Kansas City Athletics as a utility player before being included as one of the players to be named later in an 11-player deal. Clete Boyer was going to the New York Yankees.

Road to the Yankees and Afterwards:

Sent to the Yankees as a player to be named later in the Bobby Shantz/Art Ditmar for Irv Noren/Billy Hunter trade of 1958, Clete Boyer (after running through his 2 years of mandatory MLB time with the Athletics) was sent down to the minor leagues for the 1958 and 1959 season. He would be called up to the MLB towards the end of the 1959 season and would win the starting third base role with the Yankees in 1960. A defensive-first player, manager Casey Stengel was not the biggest fan of Boyer and infamously kept him from playing much in the 1960 World Series. This was one of many moves that led to his firing and the hiring of Ralph Houk as the new manager.

Having Houk as his manager was a great thing for Boyer as Houk realized the value that a defensive-first player has at the hot corner. This served to be a great thing for the Yankees of the 1960’s as Boyer, while hitting at a below-average clip, made his value found in his defense. While the Yankees won the World Series in 1961 and 1962, Boyer was the top AL defensive third baseman (including 1963 as well): leading each year in assists, putouts, and double plays, yet he never won a Gold Glove. (Each year they instead went to Brooks Robinson.)

The next few years were shaky for the Yankees after they lost the 1964 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals (in that series Clete Boyer and his brother Ken both hit home runs, becoming the first brothers to do so on opposing teams) as managerial changes came frequently and the team was losing talent. Clete Boyer would be a constant in the field and was becoming an average player with the bat, but he was eventually traded from the Yankees in 1966.

Following his Yankee career, Boyer spent the remaining 5 seasons (1967-1971) of his MLB career with the Atlanta Braves. In 1967 he had his best (traditional) offensive season while hitting 26 Home Runs (the only time he did so in his career) and continued to shine with the glove. However, it took until 1969 for Boyer to finally take home a Gold Glove award for his efforts at third base. In 1971 after a feud with the Braves general manager over mismanagement and a lack of playing time, Boyer was released midway through the season and he left the MLB.

Instead, Boyer went to play with the Taiyo Whales in Japan from 1972 through 1975, rooming with Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh. Boyer would be the Whales’ defensive coach in 1976 and return to the MLB as a third-base coach for the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics.

After his baseball and coaching careers ended, Boyer opened a restaurant “Clete Boyer’s Hamburger Hall of Fame” up in Cooperstown, New York which he frequented until his death in 2007.

Boyer was an underappreciated player in his time- especially in terms of hardware- but his value as a true defensive third baseman was among the greatest in baseball history.


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