Saturday, October 1, 2011

#251 - Graig Nettles

We move from a guy headed to San Diego to a guy from San Diego. Graig actually looks a lot more like Milt Pappas than he does himself in this photo which I am dubiously labeling an action shot. But Milt was never a Yankee so I'm sure it's the real deal. I'd love to say I know who that is in the outfield behind Graig but given that it could be pitchers or outfielders, it's a tough call. I'm going with Callison and Swaboda, which would be pretty cool since neither has a card in this set.

Graig Nettles played hoops and baseball in high school and went to San Diego State on a basketball scholarship. He eventually dropped that sport and stuck to baseball where he was an All-American at second base, the position at which he also played summer ball for the Alaska Goldpanners in '64 and '65. Up there he was teammates with Tom Seaver and Rick Monday, among others. He was drafted by the Twins - making him the third guy in the last four posts - the second year. He finished up school and then had a bang-up '66 at Single A, poking 28 homers while splitting time between second and third. In '67 he played third only and hit 19 out with 86 RBIs at Double A and in '68 in Triple A it was more of the same: 22 homers and 83 RBIs for manager Billy Martin. In both of the last two seasons he got some short looks up top and in '69 he made the cut splitting time between the outfield and as Harmon Killebrew's back-up at third. Following the season Graig was sent with Dean Chance, Ted Uhlaender, and Bob Miller (that guy was always moving) to the Indians for Luis Tiant and Stan Williams.

In Cleveland Nettles took over third base from fan favorite Max Alvis, who was sent to Seattle/Milwaukee. That made for a less than optimal welcome but after leading third baseman in fielding and the team in homers, he was embraced. In '71 he had a huge fielding season and again led the team in homers and also RBIs and was named the team's "Man of the Year." In '72 his numbers took a dip as he was pitched around a lot - the team had zero power outside of him - and nobody got on base. After the season ended Graig was sent to the Yankees with Jerry Moses for John Ellis, Rusty Torres, Charlie Spikes, and Jerry Kenney. It was one of those horrible trades for Cleveland that would later draw some serious scrutiny because the guy that engineered it from the Tribe's side, Gabe Paul, would also in a few months be revealed to be part of the group buying the Yankees from CBS.

Nettles, normally a slow starter, hit the ground running for NY as he set a record for home runs hit in April, with 11. He would tail off a bit but it was pretty obvious that the short porch in right field was tailor made for his swing. He also continued his fielding excellence and pretty much played every game there for the next six seasons. In September of his first year in a game against Detroit his bat broke and cork was revealed to be inside which was a big no-no. In '74 and '75 he maintained his power numbers despite the move to Shea and in '75 he became an All-Star for the first time. In '76 the Yankees moved back to the Stadium and Graig responded by leading the AL in homers that season. For the three pennant-winning years he would average 32 homers and 98 RBIs and he won Gold Gloves in '77 and '78. In the latter year he achieved at least local immortality by putting on a defensive show in the Series that placed him alongside Brooks Robinson. In '79 his numbers came in as NY faded from contention mostly due to the death of captain Thurman Munson, a good friend of Graig's. That was followed up by a 1980 season in which he missed nearly half the games due to hepatitis. He returned as the starter in '81 and put up three quite good seasons, though offensively they didn't match his best years. By then the Yankees had a younger version of Graig - or so they thought - in Mike Pagliarulo so they let Nettles walk following the '83 season. He signed as a free agent with the Padres.

In San Diego Nettles teamed with veterans Steve Garvey and Goose Gossage in taking the Padres to their first post-season ever. While he was 39 and only hit .228 he was the best third baseman the team had ever had and he was instrumental in helping the team turn it around in the playoffs against the Cubs. He then put up a .421 OBA against the Tigers in a losing effort. Graig remained the regular third baseman the next two seasons. He then finished things up with Atlanta in '87 and Montreal the following season at age 43. He finished with a .248 average, 390 homers, and 1,314 RBIs. He hit .225 in the post-season with five homers and 27 RBIs in 53 games. He made six All-Star teams and has played the second most games at third base, also finishing high in most lifetime fielding categories. After playing he both coached and scouted for the Yankees and the Padres and gave managing a shot in '96 when he went 39-101 in the California League. Like Sparky he autographed a book, "Balls", about his time with the Yankees but it's not nearly as good as Lyle's.

Graig gets a lot of defense props for his star bullets. In '71 he also set a season record for assists by a third baseman with 421. His brother Jim was also a major leaguer around the time of this set, playing primarily with the Twins and the Tigers.

In an homage to Night Owl - really just a nice way of saying I'm ripping off another one of his ideas - I want to add some cultural reference stuff to these posts. This is partly my way of grieving over the end of his '75 blog so bear with me. Kicking things off with music, on this date the number one song in the US was "We're an American Band" by Grand Funk Railroad, a typical big hair hard-rocking trio (the "Spinal Tap" band was based on these guys) and in the UK it was "Eye Level" by the Simon Park Orchestra (you're on your own for that one). In '74 number one was "Rock Me Gently" by Andy Kim, a one-hit wonder guy who I always thought was Neil Diamond. On the other side of the pond it was "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas.

The best way to handle the hook-up is through yet another Padre:

1. Nettles and Dave Winfield '81 to '83 Yankees;
2. Winfield and Willie McCovey '74 to '76 Padres.

That's an awful lot of homers in that trio.

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