The following is the third (and final) installment in my series examining the greatest third basemen in Yankees history.
For Part I, please click here: https://drpaulsem.com/2016/03/13/missing-from-monument-park-part-i/
For Part II, please click here: https://drpaulsem.com/2016/03/15/missing-from-monument-part-part-ii/
Following Graig Nettles, third base once again became a weak position for the Yankees. In 1984, Toby Harrah spent his lone year as one of the Yankees’ starting third basemen. In 88 games, Harrah rewarded the Yankees’ confidence by hitting a paltry .217. Harrah split time that year at third base with a converted shortstop, Roy Smalley. His contribution was a weak .239 batting average. By mid-July, the Yankees called up a left-handed swinging potential slugger named Michael Pagliarulo. Known as “Pags,” this scrappy player took hold of the position and enjoyed some success with the long ball. Between 1985 and 1987, Pagliarulo hit 79 homeruns, but his low batting average helped his flame burn out rather quickly and by 1989, Pagliarulo was traded to the San Diego Padres.
In the early 1990’s, the Yankees tried a host of players at third base, none leaving much of a mark. These players, Randy Velarde, Mike Blowers, Pat Kelly, and Jim Leyritz, had all come through the Yankees minor league system. None attained prominence as a starter.
Charlie Hayes ably manned the position in 1992, batting .257 with 18 home runs, but was taken from the Yankees by the Colorado Rockies in the Expansion Draft.
The next truly great Yankee third baseman was former Red Sox star Wade Boggs who came to the Yankees in 1993. In five seasons with the Yankees, Wade Boggs batted .313 including a high of .342 in 1994. Boggs’ strong bat, better than advertised defense (Boggs won the Gold Glove in 1994 and 1995), and leadership helped bring the Yankees back to respectability. Boggs was the Yankees starting third baseman on their 1996 World Championship team. At the end of the 1996 season, Charlie Hayes returned to the Yankees to help with that championship drive. Hayes and Boggs shared the starting third base duties in 1997.
Between 1998 and 2000, the Yankees won three consecutive World Championships. Their third baseman during those years (and in 2001, when the lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks) was Scott Brosius. Brosius was a solid defensive player who hit the occasional long ball. In his four seasons as a Yankee, Brosius averaged just over 16 home runs a year. He was an American League All-Star in 1998 and he won the Gold Glove in 1999. Brosius’ play helped to cement a strong left side of the infield along with shortstop Derek Jeter. Known as a “clutch-player,” Scott Brosius hit three World Series home runs including the game winner in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series.
Scott Brosius retired after the 2001 season. In 2002 and 2003, the Yankees primary third baseman was Robin Ventura. Late in the 2003 campaign, the Yankees acquired Aaron Boone. Boone’s performance as a Yankee was lacking, but he etched his name in Yankee lore when he hit the game winning homerun that sent brought the Yankees victory over the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in 2003.
Finally, any discussion about Yankees third basemen would be incomplete without a discussion about the third baseman who may have been the greatest all-around player the Yankees ever had, along with being one of their most controversial – Alex Rodriguez.
While Alex Rodriguez is signed with the Yankees through 2018, he now plays as a designated hitter. A-Rod’s days as the Yankees’ third baseman are over. Nonetheless, for nine seasons, from 2004 through 2012, Rodriguez was the Yankees starting third baseman. In that time, Alex Rodriguez played more games at that position (1.193) than any player in Yankees history other than Graig Nettles (1,508).
When he arrived with the Yankees in February 2004, Alex Rodriguez was widely hailed as one of the greatest players of his generation. He was the premier shortstop in baseball – a seven time All-Star who had led the American League in home runs each of the three years before arriving in New York with amazing totals (52 home runs in 2001, 57 home runs in 2002, and 47 home runs in 2003). Rodriguez won the Gold Glove at shortstop in 2002 and 2003. He was also the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2003, the year before he became a Yankee. Alex Rodriguez was a superstar in every sense of the word. Yet, the Yankees at that time had a great shortstop of their own, the legendary Derek Jeter. Upon his arrival in New York, Alex Rodriguez deferred to Jeter and voluntarily moved from shortstop to third base where he would star for many seasons.
As a Yankee third baseman, Alex Rodriguez put up numbers that had never been seen by a Yankee at that position. From 2004 through 2010, Rodriguez enjoyed seven consecutive 30+ homerun seasons. In each of those seasons, Alex Rodriguez also drove in at least one hundred runs. Over that span, Rodriguez batted .296 with 268 home runs and 841 runs batted in. A-Rod was the American League MVP in 2005 and again in 2007.
The only blemish on Alex Rodriguez’ resume was his seeming inability to deliver big hits in the post season as the Yankees qualified for the playoffs in each of those seasons, except 2008. Through the 2007 post season, Rodriguez owned a .245 batting average with only four homeruns in 24 playoff games. The Yankees failed to reach the World Series in any of those seasons, losing in the Division Series in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Rodriguez’s inability to raise his game was considered a major factor in the Yankees’ post season failures.
All of that changed in the 2009 post season when Alex Rodriguez finally delivered on his promise. In the 2009 Division Series, he hit .455 with two home runs and six runs batted in as part of the Yankees’ three game sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Rodriguez followed that by batting .429 with three home runs and six more runs batted in against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as the Yankees won that series in six games. While his batting average was just .250, Rodriguez hit one homerun and drove in six runs to help the Yankees defeat the Philadelphia Phillies to capture the 2009 World Championship. Alex Rodriguez was a huge force that post season as he put to rest, forever, discussion of his inability to be clutch.
Alex Rodriguez’s resume through 2009, and then beyond, would have been enough, judging by the numbers to easily rank him as the Yankees premier third baseman of all time. But, just as he seemingly won over the Yankee faithful, his career started to unravel – Alex Rodriguez’s name became associated with steroids.
The steroid talk actually began in 2009 with the release of a positive test and then articles and a book that claimed Alex Rodriguez had used steroids throughout his career. Rodriguez admitted to using illegal performance enhancing substances in the period 2001-2003 while a member of the Texas Rangers, but denied that he still used them. In 2013, he was involved in another steroid allegation that ultimately resulted in his suspension from baseball for the entire 2014 season. Books will be written that document this sorted affair. For the sake of brevity, the allegations, dishonesty, law suits, and such that played a major role in this story greatly tarnished Alex Rodriguez’s legacy as a Yankee and as one of baseball’s premier players. His close association to performance enhancing drugs puts Alex Rodriguez’s body of work in question. His numbers alone would rank him as an all-time great, but the controversies that surround his career, leave much of his legacy in doubt. In the case of Alex Rodriguez, time will determine his legacy.
Throughout the Yankees’ impressive history, many great players patrolled third base who contributed to the team’s glory. Frank “Home Run” Baker and Wade Boggs have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame. Alex Rodriguez certainly has Hall-of-Fame worthy numbers. In addition to Boggs and Rodriguez, both Graig Nettles and Red Rolfe were Yankee All-Stars at third base. Scott Brosius, Wade Boggs, and Graig Nettles all earned Gold Gloves while manning the hot corner as Yankees.
Each of the major players in this series has left enough of a legacy with the Yankees to be considered to be enshrined in Monument Park. They all contributed to the Yankees championship history. Their absence from Monument Park is an oversight that must be corrected.
It is my contention that it is time to begin honoring some of these Yankees legends. The place to begin is with the player who played more games at third base than any other in Yankees history. A former Yankees captain and the team’s anchor during their successful seasons in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Graig Nettles. For Nettles, and numerous others, this recognition is long past due.