Yankees Oddity: No Third Baseman In The HOF – What About Nettles

The Yankees do not have a third baseman in the Hall Of Fame. It’s an oddity that stretches the imagination in trying to figure out how this could be, but it’s a fact. They’ve had some good ones, but never a great one. One of the names that surfaced though in comments to a piece on Yanks Go Yard titled Yankees Most Underrated Players Ever, is Craig Nettles, who arguably may or may not have the numbers to be elected.

Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles first came to my attention when Jason submitted the following comment, suggesting that Nettles should be considered one of the most underrated Yankees of all time. Following is the text of what he wrote (unedited):

“of all the great yanks over the years who it could be argued should be in the hall (Mattingly/Munsun/Gator/E.Howard) the one whos never mentioned who should be “surefire” on his fielding alone (everbit as good as Brooks who is in for just that) is Nettles! look up the numbers as well stack up VERY well. overshadowed by Brett he was the better defender the heart n soul of that late 70s dynasty (not to mention the 84 padres) was tuff as nails(knocked Brett on his ass!) plus the peripherals are all there! one of the greatest defensive 3bmen ever even Lasorda said he won the yanks that ws w his glove! n when he went down to injury yanks couldnt win wo him. hands down greatest yank whos not though should be in the hall.”

Jason raises a good point, because if Nettles doesn’t qualify as a Hall of Fame third baseman (and we’ll take a look at that in minute), then surely he qualifies as one of the most underrated Yankees of all time.

Craig Nettles played 11 years for the Yankees from 1973-1983. He was a stalwart at third base averaging well over 150 games per season for the team. He played during bad times and good times for the franchise, but most notably, he was a vital cog in their Championship teams of 1977 and 1978. He was a flawless fielder, who as Jason mentions was overshadowed by an even better third baseman, Brooks Robinson, who is a member of the Hall of Fame, and presumably there’s no argument about that.

But as for Nettles, let’s take a look at his career to see how he measures up. And when you talk about “measuring up” for the Hall, you invariably end up talking about numbers. So, let’s make sure we are separating the value of these numbers to the Yankees from the ones that apply to election to the Hall.

From 1976 through 1978, Nettles compiled the following numbers:
1976: 32 Home Runs (League Leader), 93 RBI, .802 OPS
1977: 37 Home Runs, 107 RBI, .829 OPS
1978: 27 Home Runs, 93 RBI, .803 OPS

Obviously, that is what’s called run production. And those numbers alone would make him a candidate for nomination as the greatest Yankees third baseman to don the pinstripes. The trouble occurs, though, when you look at Nettles overall numbers as a candidate for the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

To begin with, he played for 22 seasons in the majors and that immediately waters down his career stats when you start looking at averages year to year. Plus, his career batting average of .248 doesn’t help either.

390 career home runs is also not 400 home runs, much less 500 home runs over a career. And that’s probably why his vote totals when eligible for the HOF look like this:

1994 BBWAA ( 8.3%)
1995 BBWAA ( 6.1%)
1996 BBWAA ( 7.9%)
1997 BBWAA ( 4.7%)

1997 being the year he fell off the ballot because he failed to get the minimum required vote of 5%.

So in the end, I have to differ with Jason, as well as others who make a pitch for Nettles as a worthy candidate for the HOF. But at the same time, he deserves a special place in Yankees history as one of the best, if not the best third baseman to wear the Pinstripes.

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