Clete was always in the shadow of two great third basemen: his brother Ken and the Orioles’ Brooks Robinson. Since he shared the same last name as one of the top hot corner custodians in the game, Clete was often compared to brother Ken. And since he played in the same league with Robinson, they were often judged against one another as well. The outcome was that Clete wasn’t the hitter brother Ken was and wasn’t quite the fielder that Brooks was, but he was, nevertheless, a steady, dependable third baseman.
Clete followed brothers Cloyd and Ken to the Major Leagues in 1955 when the Kansas City A’s called upon the young prospect. He played in 47 games as an 18-year-old and had 129 at-bats as a 19-year-old but he spent the next two seasons in the bushes to get the minor league seasoning time he needed. Clete was a “bonus baby” who had to remain on the Major League roster for two years after he signed in an odd bit of amateur manipulation. While he was in the minors he was sent to the Yankees as the player to be named later in the Bobby Shantz trade. Clete would return to the Majors in 1959 and became the Yankees everyday third baseman in 1960.
Although Boyer never set the world afire with his batting, he had modest power and was an exceptional defender. As New York’s regular third baseman in 1960, he swatted 14 homeruns while teammates Mantle and Maris did the heavier hitting. At third, Clete’s fielding percentage was 16 points above league average. When he ended his playing days, Boyer had a fielding percentage of .965–fifteen points above league average–but since he played in the era of Brooks Robinson, he only led third basemen in fielding percentage once and nabbed just one Gold Glove–in the National League where Brooks was absent.
The Yankees were a powerhouse at this time and they went to five straight World Series with Clete as their everyday man at third base. In 1961, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season homerun record, Boyer helped New York make the Fall Classic and Clete hit .267 in the series. His best Fall Classic showing came the following year when he hit .318 against the Giants. But hitting was never Clete’s specialty. In ’62 he paced third basemen in both putouts and assists on a .964 fielding percentage.
After his worst offensive season to date in 1964, Boyer rebounded with one of his best seasons in ’65. That year Clete hit 18 homeruns and his on-base percentage was back up above .300. But the Yankees failed to capture the AL flag and their worst seasons were fast approaching. Maris and Mantle couldn’t stay healthy and the dynasty was broken up. Clete played one final year with the Yankees before he was traded to the Braves for Chi-Chi Olivo. In Atlanta Boyer was asked to produce runs and he responded with his single best offensive season his first year in Georgia with a 26 homerun, 96 RBI season. Clete’s previous highs had been 18 HR/68 RBI. Defensively, he presented an impregnable wall with a .970 fielding percentage–21 points above league average.
Boyer missed some action in 1968 but was back to everyday duty in ’69. That year he won his only Gold Glove Award as he posted a fielding percentage 20 points above league average. Boyer had one final good year left in 1970 when he hit 16 homeruns with 62 RBI but the next year he and the Braves brass butted heads and his career was seemingly over. Clete left the Braves and signed on to play in Japan where he was fan favorite despite his age. He played sharp baseball–the same brand he played in the Majors–for a few years overseas before he called it a career.
G 1,725/R 645/H 1,396/2B 200/3B 33/HR 162/RBI 654/SB 41/BB 470/SO 931/BA .242/OBP .299/SA .372