There are some close calls, but of all the great third basemen in New York Yankees history, who are the best?
The New York Yankees have had fantastic players man the hot corner in several of the team’s different eras. Many of the best are neck and neck, but let’s take a look at who comes out on top.
5. Clete Boyer (Yankees tenure: 1959-66)
• 1,068 games, .241/.298/.371, .669 OPS, 86 OPS+, 95 home runs, 393 RBIs, 7.7 oWAR, 15.5 dWAR
Coming in at No. 5 on our list is Clete Boyer, who has a very interesting story. The Yanks scouted Boyer as early as his high school days.
Unfortunately, the Yankees had already signed two “bonus babies” at that point and couldn’t acquire him. This is because bonus babies needed to be on major league rosters for their first two professional seasons.
As a result, New York’s general manager at the time, George Weiss, contacted Kansas City Athletics general manager Parke Carroll and convinced him to sign Boyer.
The Yankees were planning to eventually acquire him from Kansas City, which is what ended up occurring in 1957. Boyer was called up from the minors in 1959 and became the Yankees’ everyday third baseman the following year.
As is evident by his numbers, Boyer wasn’t a memorable hitter by any means but was incredible with the glove.
He was a two-time World Series champion and is fourth among Yankees third basemen in at-bats (3,658), runs (434), hits (882), home runs, and RBIs. He’s also fifth in walks (297).
4. John Franklin “Home Run” Baker (Yankees tenure: 1916-19, 1921-22)
• 676 games, .288/.347/.404, .751 OPS, 113 OPS+, 48 home runs, 379 RBIs, 18.2 oWAR, 4.9 dWAR
Widely considered as one of the best power hitters of the dead-ball era, John Franklin “Home Run” Baker was a mainstay of a dangerous Yankees lineup in the late 1910s and early 1920s.
A little known fact: before Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and their gang came to town, the term “Murderers’ Row” had already been coined by sports cartoonist Robert Ripley in 1919 to describe the Yankees lineup, of which Baker was a member.
Baker sat out the 1920 season after his wife died of scarlet fever, but his bat was crucial to the Yankees during his time in New York. A member of the Hall of Fame, Baker ranks third among Yankees third basemen in OPS+.
3. Red Rolfe (Yankees tenure: 1931, 1934-42)
• 1,175 games, .289/.360/.413, .773 OPS, 99 OPS+, 69 home runs, 497 RBIs, 24.5 oWAR, 5.7 dWAR
Red Rolfe is the only player here to have spent his entire career in New York. He was mostly known for his phenomenal glove work. Nonetheless, he did well enough on both sides of the ball to come in at No. 3 on our list.
He retired relatively early — after his age 33 season — due to injuries. He underwent a productive career though. Rolfe was a four-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion.
In 1936, Rolfe led MLB in triples (15). He also led the American League in doubles (46) along with the major leagues in hits (213) and runs (139) during the 1939 campaign. Rolfe is, by far, the best postseason player on this list. In 128 playoff plate appearances, he slashed .284/.336/.336 with a .672 OPS.
He played just one game in 1931 before the organization sent him back down for a few more years, but Rolfe ended up becoming a part of one of the Yankees’ most stacked lineups ever with the likes of Gehrig (one of his eventual close friends), Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, and Red Ruffing.
Rolfe leads all Yankees third basemen in triples (67), is second in batting average, runs (942), and doubles (257), and is third in at-bats (4,827), hits (1,394), RBIs, walks (526), OPS, and fWAR (26.2).
2. Graig Nettles (Yankees tenure: 1973-83)
• 1,535 games, .253/.329/.433, .762 OPS, 114 OPS+, 250 home runs, 834 RBIs, 35.5 oWAR, 13.9 dWAR
Graig Nettles was offensively productive despite his low batting average. But more importantly, he’s one of the best defensive third basemen of all time.
During his time with the Yankees, Nettles was a five-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, two-time Gold Glover, and the 1981 American League Championship Series MVP. Nettles was also the captain of the Yankees from 1982-84. The Bombers traded him to the San Diego Padres prior to the 1984 regular season.
He came in fifth in American League MVP voting in 1977 and sixth in 1978. Nettles also led the league in home runs in 1976 with 32.
His work with the glove was particularly outstanding in the 1978 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Game 3 played host to one of the greatest fielding performances in playoff history.
Nettles ranks second among Yankees third basemen in fWAR (43.6), hits (1,396), home runs, RBIs, walks (627), and slugging percentage.
1. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees tenure: 2004-13, 2015-16)
• 1,509 games, .283/.378/.523, .900 OPS, 136 OPS+, 351 home runs, 1,096 RBIs, 53.4 oWAR, 1.0 dWAR
Steroids or not, Alex Rodriguez is, without a doubt, the greatest third baseman in Yankees history.
A-Rod experienced one of the most controversial careers in MLB history. His performance-enhancing drug scandal resulted in him missing the 2014 season.
Even so, he’s still one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
Rodriguez was a shortstop before arriving in New York. Thus, it’s incredible that he still went on to become the greatest third baseman in both franchise and MLB history.
Rodriguez was a seven-time All-Star, one-time World Series champion, two-time American League MVP (finishing top-10 in voting a total of four times), and three-time Silver Slugger during his time in the Bronx.
In 2005, Rodriguez led the American League in runs (124), home runs (48), slugging percentage (.610), OPS (1.031), OPS+ (173), and was named MVP.
In 2007, his second MVP season in New York, Rodriguez led the American League in total bases (376) and MLB in runs (143), home runs (54), RBIs (156), slugging percentage (.645), OPS (1.067), and OPS+ (176). He additionally led the American League in slugging percentage in 2008 (.573).
Rodriguez leads all Yankees third basemen in runs (1,012), hits (1,580), doubles (263), home runs, RBIs, walks (779), slugging percentage, OPS, and fWAR (51.7).
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