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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Classic Twins Remembers Graig Nettles, The One That Got Away

Young Mr. Nettles, circa 1968.

Graig Nettles is better known as one of the all-time best New York Yankee third basemen who was also a world class wise-ass. Don't let the "I'm-All-Business" facade fool you...there was a cackling hyena just under the surface.  He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1965 Amateur Free Agent Draft.This was the first of its kind, established to limit the high bidding that had favored the more profitable Major League teams. Frank Quilici is quoted as saying the Twins probably gave up on Nettles too early, thinking a leg injury he suffered would hinder his ever becoming a solid, everyday player. One other source, an author friend of mine, told me that owner Calvin Griffith wasn't prepared to pay Nettles the money they knew he would soon command as an everyday player - which he stated very clearly in a personal letter to Craig, with his regrets. So, they traded him to the Cleveland Indians on December 10, 1969. Yes, indeed, children. It seems for every Twins trade success (see "Cesar Tovar, for Gerry Arrigo, 1964", "Tom Brunansky for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong, 1982"), there has been a blunder ("Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young, 2007, or allowing David Ortiz to flee after the 2001 season - please hit me with a hammer, now!!). A good chronology of Nettles' stay in the Twins system is at the Fack Youk blog (yes, you read that correctly), with some fine graphics.

(Nettles, losing shoe while reaching reaching third base,
probably in a game against the Red Sox on August 29, 1969. Syd O'Brien
takes throw. He played left field that day for that 1969 Twins team 
(team page at BBR). Photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins: 
Bob Showers, "The Twins At The Met")

A Twin Cities author informed me of the following: once the trade was transacted, Twins owner Calvin Griffith sent Nettles a letter, stating to the effect that: "We sure wanted to keep you Graig - but there was no way we would be able to pay you what you will deserve." An unusual gesture, with unusual candor, to say the least.

After Nettles was traded to the Indians, all he did in 1970 was lead the AL third basemen in fielding percentage (.967), and hit 26 homers.  He and Mike Schmidt were the top third basemen in their respective leagues. He became one of the signature characters in the late 1970's with the New York Yankees, aka; The Bronx Zoo. His chief roles on that club were being the smooth, lovely-to-watch fielder, hitter with pop, and chief court jester. To wit:

"When I was a kid I wanted to play baseball and join the circus. With the Yankees, I've been able to do both."

1969 Twins Spring Training

"From Cy Young to sayonara in one season."
--Graig Nettles, on Sparky Lyle going from winning the Cy Young Award to being traded a year later by the Yankees

Minor League Nettles Feature in
"The Sporting News" - Aug. 10, 1968

Hello! My name is Graig in the World Series, and I can fly!
Graig Nettles had an excellent, long career, finishing with the Montreal Expos in 1988, after brief stops in Atlanta and his birthplace of San Diego. His fine SABR biography can be found here. His Wikipedia entry is a fine how-do-you-do as well, shedding some more light on that interesting spelling of his name. I kind of like the way the old Minneapolis Star writer Dick Gordon gets right to it. An added bonus is this 1965 amateur video footage (You Tube) of Nettles' elite amateur team playing in Alaska, called the Alaska Goldpanners (see link to team feature article).This winning squad included Rick Monday, Tom Seaver, Gary Sutherland, and, of course, Herr Nettles. You can view a "Nettles Chronology" timeline of his career highlights at Baseball Library. A Nov., 2008 video at MLB.Com shows what Graig looks like today, in a Q & A session at a "Legends For Youth Dinner."

As our old friend at the mic, Herb Carneal, used to say: "...And the count rides along." - TT

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