No. 164 Graig Nettles (Number 11 Third Base)

I written a few times how the Twins screwed up by not playing Graig Nettles at third in 1969 and keeping Killebrew there for Rich Reese. In 1968 Killebrew hurt himself playing first base in the all-star game. He was out a couple of months. When he came back Reese was playing first base, but third base was open and Killebrew went there to finish the season. Billy Martin kept Reese and Killebrew at those two positions in 1969. However, Nettles came up as a rookie was just assigned as a backup. This to me was rather strange.  Reese had a decent year at first base hitting .322 n 1969.  but wasn’t that much of a prospect. Maybe Billy Martin showed him something with the bat as this season was way above his normal. It is a classic fluke season. Also, his .322 isn’t that great considering he only walked 23 times making his on base average .362.

Nettles didn’t have a great 1969. However, he played at his regular position only 5 games. He wasn’t even Killebrew’s backup. That job went to Caesar Tovar. Didn’t anybody on the Twins see Nettles play 3rd base before? Well, the manager Billy Martin managed him at AAA the year before.  The sad thing was not only was Nettles the better fielder at third, but Tovar was faster than Nettles in the outfield.

That was the problem with the Twin’s those days. They had a lot of talent but didn’t make plans for it as a team. For example:

  • Harmon Killebrew was signed as a 17-year-old bonus baby. They just shoved him down without a plan. I least I hope it wasn’t their plan to sit there and watch a last place team for two years. All right in 1954 they finished 6th. I am sure that did him a lot of good. It was five years later when Killebrew finally became a major league player.
  • They traded for Vic Power in 1962 when they had a log jam at first with Killebrew and Don Mincher. The slow Killebrew was forced to left field. Mincher was a backup but had the second highest OPS+ on the team behind Killebrew. Meanwhile a young player named Tony Oliva came up and smacked the ball around. He did earn a promotion from A ball, which he dominated to AAA ball. In 1963 the Twins starting outfield of Killebrew, Bob Allison and Jimmy Hall hit 111 homeruns. Mincher as a backup first baseman hit 17 in 82 games. However, Powers at first base negated some of this with a 10 homeruns and a on base percentage of .297. Meanwhile, Oliva did well in AAA, came up and smacked the ball again.
  • The Twins bought up Oliva in 1964 and got rid of Powers. I like Powers but at this time on the Twins he was just blocking young talent on the team. So, Bob Allison being faster and having a better arm than Killebrew went to left, no first base. What? I don’t understand that move at all. I thought I read once that Allison was hurt, but never found it when I looked for it later. Allison just said it was easier playing at first base. Finally due to injuries Allison went back to the outfield, Killebrew played everywhere, but could still hit and Mincher ended at first base. The Twins won the pennant.
  • Killebrew came back and played first base in 1966 and 1967 and was an average fielder at the position until he came back from the injury mentioned above. Killebrew had one of his best seasons in 1969 and was named American League MVP. However, after 1970 the Twins started to fade. They had one really young talented player they kept, a young Rod Carew.

The Twins ended up trading Nettles to Cleveland after the 1969 season to mainly get Luis Tiant. That didn’t work out for the Twins, but later worked out for Boston. Cleveland was smart and just stuck Nettles on third. He fielded great but was just a little above average hitter. However, after three years they traded Nettles to the Yankees. It sure worked out for the Yankees. Nettles hitting peaked in his early 30s.  Starting in 1979 Nettles started to fade. However, he remained solid enough to stay with the Yankees thru 1983. In 1984 he was traded to San Diego. He was good enough to help them to his 5th World Series at the age of 39. Nettles was aging but aging slow. Although he was not the player, he used to be he was still a solid player and help a team win. That helped him make my Hall of Fame.





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