Best known for his leather and power, Nettles, a low average hitter who belted his share of homeruns, was the Yankees third baseman during their glory days of the late 1970s. Graig rests second all-time in career assists at third base and is in the Top 15 in career putouts at the hot corner. A six-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, Nettles posted 390 career homeruns.
Drafted by the Twins in the 1965 draft. Nettles joined the parent club two years later. When he first came up, the Twins had the versatile Cesar Tovar playing a lot of third base. When Billy Martin was brought in to manage the club in ’69, he gave Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew most of the action at third while using Graig in the outfield. With limited opportunities to crack the Twins lineup, Graig was involved in a blockbuster deal that sent him, Dean Chance and Ted Uhlaender to the Indians for Luis Tiant and Stan Williams. It was in Cleveland where Nettles was given a chance to play everyday.
As a regular with the Indians in 1970, Graig blasted 26 homeruns for the Tribe. Defensively he was remarkable as well–posting a fielding percentage 19 points above league average. His power numbers reached new heights in ’71 when he clubbed 28 homeruns but when his power waned and his defense became more average in 1972, the Indians dealt him to the Yankees. His greatest success would come in the Big Apple.
His first year with the Yankees, 1973, Graig finished second to Sal Bando in homeruns among American League third basemen. He raised his batting average twelve points in 1974 from the previous year but it was in 1975 when Nettles really broke out. That year Graig was named to his first All-Star team when he led AL hot corner custodians in homeruns and RBI. But his power bat was just getting warmed up. At the same time Nettles was figuring things out, so were the Yankees.
After years of struggling during the latter days of Mantle, the Yankees finally turned the page and returned to postseason play in 1976. That year Graig led the American League with 32 homeruns. He was the only AL third baseman to reach 90 RBI and he added another two homeruns to his yearly total against Kansas City in the ALCS. But New York hit a brick wall in the World Series when the Reds swept them.
At the top of his game in 1977, Graig kicked off a four-year string of All-Star appearances as he finished second in the AL with 37 long balls. He had his only 100 RBI season that year and although his bat was kept silent in October, he helped the Yankees win the World Series. The Yankees made the postseason again in 1978 when Graig led Major League third basemen in RBI. Always a Kansas City nemesis, Nettles hit .333 against the boys in blue during the ALCS as he led the Yankees to back-to-back World Series championships when they knocked off the Dodgers for the second year in a row.
1979 marked a seven-year run of 20 or more homeruns for Graig. An injury in 1980 kept him from making it eight years in a row and the Player’s Strike in ’81 limited him to 15. But it was during the 1981 postseason where Graig may have been at his best. In the ’81 ALCS, Graig hit .500 with nine RBI and he carried his blistering bat into the World Series where he hit .400 in a losing cause. That year would be his last postseason action with the Yankees as the team entered another dry spell.
Nettles reached 20 homeruns again in 1983 but the Yankees failed to make the postseason and their third baseman was aging, so they traded him to the Padres for southpaw Dennis Rasmussen in a rare veteran-for-youngster deal. All Graig did his first year in San Diego was lead the Padres to their first World Series appearance. During the season he posted his eleventh 20 or more homerun season and hit .250 in a World Series loss to Detroit. The next year Graig was named to his final All-Star appearance at the age of 40. He spent his last three years with three different teams.
2,700/R 1,193/H 2,225/2B 328/3B 28/HR 390/RBI 1,314/SB 32/BB 1,088/SO 1,209/BA .248/SA .421/OBP .329