Top 100 Indians: #75 Graig Nettles

Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

And we now come to another odd name on the list, Graig Nettles, the only Graig ever in the majors.

Third Baseman, 1970-1972

Height: 6'0" Weight: 180 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Left

How Acquired: Trade, December 10, 1969: Traded with Dean Chance, Bob Miller and Ted Uhlaender by the Minnesota Twins for Luis Tiant and Stan Williams

Left Via: Trade, November 27, 1972: Traded with Jerry Moses to the New York Yankees for Charlie Spikes, John Ellis, Rusty Torres and Jerry Kenney

And we now come to another odd name on the list, Graig Nettles, the only Graig ever in the majors. Born in San Diego while his father was serving in World War II, his mother disliked both the name Greg and Craig and decided to combine them into a new name, leaving dear old dad no say in the matter. Graig, the middle child between brothers Paul and Jim, excelled at both baseball and basketball at San Diego High School.

His basketball talents earned him a scholarship to San Diego State, but he continued to play baseball with the Aztecs as well. As he matured, he filled out and lost a step on the hardwood, but gained power in his hitting stroke. His last two years there, he played semi-pro ball in the summers for the Alaska Goldspanners in Fairbanks, leading them to consecutive league titles. It was during these summer jaunts, he was noticed by Pete Coscarat, a Twins scout. The Twins took his advice and drafted Graig with their 4th round pick in the inaugural 1965 draft.

His first stop in the minors was in Wisconsin Rapids, the Twins A affiliate in the Midwest League in 1966. His power was evident as he slugged 28 homers and finished with a .547 slugging in 413 at bats. He played mostly third base, but also played some outfield as well. The power potential resulted in a promotion to the Charlotte Hornets, the AA team in the Southern League. This time he was strictly a third baseman and while showing flashes of leather, accumulating 381 assists, a league record, he also committed 24 errors. His power was still evident, but not as strong as the previous year, cranking 19 homers and a 232/309/399 slash. He received a sip of coffee that September, making three pinch hitting appearances, smoking a double off Minnie Rojas for his first hit.

In 1969, Graig reported to the Denver Bears of the Pacific Coast League, and while still mainly a third baseman, he also played 21 games in the outfield as the Twins were still debating as to whether or not Harmon Killebrew would move to the third or not. Denver was also Nettles' first exposure to Billy Martin when he replaced John Goryl early in May. But the thin air of Colorado was what Nettles needed to regain his hitting stroke, he hit 22 home runs, and with a slash of 297/386/534, he earned the PCL Rookie of the Year and was a league All-Star. The Twins also called him up in September for a full cup of coffee. He played mostly RF and connected for his first homer off Denny McClain. After a hot start, he tailed off quickly when the pitchers started throwing him curves consistently.

Billy Martin was named the Twins manager for the 1969 season and Nettles earned a place on the 25 man roster, but was mostly a backup, playing mostly LF, pinch hitting and backing up Killebrew at third. After that season, the Tribe was looking to move Luis Tiant after a 9-20 season and sent him with Stan Williams for veteran starter Dean Chance, reliever Bob Miller, outfielder Ted Uhlaender and Nettles. Although there were rumors that Nettles couldn't handle third adequately enough, Cleveland manager Alvin Dark named him the starter at third shortly after his acquisition as Max Alvis had slumped badly in 1969.

The faith in Nettles paid off as he slugged 26 homers (leading the team) and drove in 62 while bouncing all over the lineup, but mainly hitting second. His slash of 235/336/404 was only good enough for a 101 OPS+, but he walked more than he struck out and his glove was more than adequate. He was first in fielding percentage, second in assists, third in range factor per game and fourth in dWAR.

In 1971, Nettles was even better, homering 28 times, driving in 86 and a 261/350/435 slash, good enough for a 114 OPS+. He walked 82 times and only struck out 56 times in 690 plate appearances. He even topped his fielding prowess by breaking two fielding records of Harlond Clift of the 1937 St. Louis Browns. He led the league in assists with 412 and double plays with 54. He finished first range factor per game, first in putouts and second in fielding percentage. This earned him a few token votes in the MVP race, finishing a distant 28th. Unfortunately, Dark had worn out his welcome after three straight sub .500 seasons and was let go in July. The interim manager, Johnny Lipon, fared no better, with a 18-41 finish.

The Indians hired Ken Aspromonte as manager for the 1972 season and he and Nettles butted heads often. The crux of the argument in Nettles' eyes was his being lifted for a pinch hitter against left handed relievers. But as far as I can tell, this happened just three times that season. Nettles also griped that the cleanup hitter should not be pinch hit for late in the game and that I can agree with. Whatever the argument was, his numbers did dip a little bit in 1972. He led the team again in homers, but with only 17 this time, one of only two players to break double digits that year. His slash of 253/325/395 was still good enough for a 111 OPS+. His fielding didn't suffer much either finishing second in assists and fourth in range factor per game.

During the season, there were rumors that Nettles was headed to the Yankees for Fritz Peterson, but general manager Gabe Paul steadfastly denied he would trade the Tribe's best power hitter. Nettles was happy to leave due to his spat with Aspromonte. But as good as Paul was in getting Nettles from the Twins, he went back on his refusal and let Nettles and catcher Jerry Moses go to the Yankees for catcher John Ellis, outfielder Rusty Torres, infielder Jerry Kenney and prospect Charlie Spikes.

Another interesting coincidence occurred after the Nettles trade. The Yankees were sold by CBS to a group of investors, led by George Steinbrenner. One of Steinbrenner's investors was Gabe Paul, who resigned as GM of the Indians and accepting the Special Projects President position with the Yankees, a mere 5-7 weeks after dealing Nettles, leaving Phil Seghi in charge. The rest they say is history. Nettles would enjoy a long storied career with the Yankees, winning two rings and cranking many a homer into the short porch in right field.

Nettles finished with a 22 year career, playing three years in hometown San Diego, one in Atlanta and one in Montreal after his 11 years in the Bronx. He was an All-Star six times, he finished in the MVP voting four times, with a high of fifth in 1977. He even nabbed two Gold Gloves after Brooks Robinson finally hung them up. He is also the career leader of home runs by an American League third baseman with 319.

After retiring, he did a bit of coaching, some scouting and one unsuccessful season as a minor league manager for the Bakersfield Blaze in 1996. He was inducted into the San Diego Hall of Champions and the Breitbard Hall of Fame for San Diego athletes, both in 1991.

Sources

Wikipedia, SABR Biography Project

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
1970 25 CLE 157 633 549 81 129 13 1 26 62 3 1 81 77 .235 .336 .404 .741 101 222 12 3 0 0 3 *5/7
1971 26 CLE 158 690 598 78 156 18 1 28 86 7 4 82 56 .261 .350 .435 .785 114 260 15 3 1 6 6 *5 MVP-28
1972 27 CLE 150 624 557 65 141 28 0 17 70 2 3 57 50 .253 .325 .395 .720 111 220 9 4 2 3 5 *5
CLE (3 yrs) 465 1947 1704 224 426 59 2 71 218 12 8 220 183 .250 .338 .412 .750 108 702 36 10 3 9 14

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2012.

Selected Awards/Leaders

AL MVP: 28th, 1971

AL WAR: 1st, 1971-7.4

AL dWAR: 1st, 1971-3.9; 4th, 1970-2.6

AL TB: 6th, 1971-260

AL 2B: 6th, 1972-28

AL HR: 5th, 1971-28

AL RBI: 10th, 1971-86

AL BB: 10th, 1970-81; 10th, 1971-82

AL RC: 9th, 1971-93

AL Range Factor/Game 3B: 1st, 1971-3.61; 3rd, 1970-3.19; 4th, 1972-3.01

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 38th WAR Position Players (16.7)
  • 11th dWAR (7.9)
  • 42nd Home Runs (71)
  • t-42nd Offensive Win Pct. (.593)
  • t-42th Intentional Bases On Balls (14)
  • 26th AB/HR (24.0)
  • 38th WPA (4.0)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-16th WAR (7.4, 1971)
  • 2nd dWAR (3.9, 1971)
  • t-9th dWAR (2.6, 1970)
  • t-45th PA (690, 1971)
  • t-35th Outs Made (468, 1971)

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