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Card Corner--Graig Nettles
2007-08-20 12:08
by Bruce Markusen
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.
 

As The Bronx is Burning winds down its two-month run on ESPN, it’s time to present the last in our series of three tributes to members of the 1977 Yankees. One of the few criticisms I have of the riveting miniseries is the lack of face time given to the character of Graig Nettles, whose cutting sense of humor and sincere dislike of Reggie Jackson represented two interesting sub-themes in 1977. Nettles might have been the most underrated member of the "Bronx Zoo" Yankees; he was a terrific defender and power source at third baseman, a borderline Hall of Famer who remains underappreciated, especially by those who never saw him play.

When the Cleveland Indians traded Nettles and catcher Jerry Moses to the New York Yankees for a package of four players on November 27, 1972, the Topps Card Company was left with a familiar quandary: how to portray the players on their new 1973 cards? As Topps often did, it resorted to the art of airbrushing, a re-touching method that involves drawing in new colors and logos onto existing photographs. In the case of Nettles’ 1973 Topps card (No. 498), we might call it a case of airbrushing gone mad. After selecting a 1972 action shot of Nettles (playing in a game for the Indians at either Milwaukee’s County Stadium or Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium), the Topps artist decided to brush in the colors of the Yankees’ road uniform, which is gray. Instead, the artist came up with a kind of bluish hue, giving the card somewhat of a surreal look. The blue on the helmet and the socks is also the wrong shade of blue—a light blue, instead of the traditional Navy blue used by the Yankees (a blue so dark that it looks black, especially from a distance). Showing further unawareness of the design of the Yankees’ road uniform, the artist decided to play a game of mix-and-match, drawing the famed interlocking "NY" logo onto the front of the jersey. Of course, the interlocking "NY" is only worn on the home uniform, and not the road jersey, which features the words "New York" spelled out in block print. So what we have is a rather intriguing amalgam of a uniform, one that has never been worn by the Yankees anywhere or anytime in their history. Yet, it’s actually somewhat attractive and might provide a reasonable basis for future changes. Heck, the interlocking "NY" looks better than "New York;" perhaps the Yankees should carry the "NY" both on the road and at home.

Here’s one other trivial note about Nettles: for those wondering why Nettles first name is spelled "GRAIG," instead of the conventional "GREG," here’s the story. According to Wayne Nettles, Graig’s father, it was Nettles’ mother who came up with the idea for the unusual birth name. Mrs. Nettles wanted to name him Greg, but she hated the longer version of that name, which is Gregory. So she found a way around that conventional trap by coming up with the alternate name of Graig, so that once others realized how his name was spelled, they would never try to lengthen it to the more formal version of the name.

Now on to the more important material. The 1972 trade that brought Nettles to the Bronx was one of the most critical of the decade, as general manager Gabe Paul produced one of his classic 1970s specials. The four players that the Yankees surrendered for Nettles produced mostly disappointment for the Indians. Top prospect Charlie Spikes clubbed 45 home runs in his first two seasons in Cleveland before fading into something less than mediocrity. Another prospect, the swift-footed Rusty Torres, didn’t hit at all in two years with the Indians, resulting in a trade to California. Veteran catcher-first baseman John Ellis played decently in Cleveland for two seasons, but eventually continued his journeyman ways in Texas. And veteran infielder Jerry Kenney lasted only five games with the Indians before watching his major league career come to an end. In the meantime, Nettles replaced the light-hitting Celerino Sanchez as the Yankees’ regular third baseman, giving the Bombers solid all-around production at the hot corner for the next decade. Along the way, he won two Gold Gloves and earned five All-Star Game selections.

After Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson, Nettles was arguably the most important member of the Yankees’ starting nine in 1977. Overshadowed by the circus-like triumvirate of Jackson, Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner, Nettles put together what may have been his finest season. Achieving career highs with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs, Nettles also secured the Gold Glove Award for his work on the left side of the infield. In addition, Nettles developed a quick dislike for the Yankees’ high-priced winter acquisition. "The best thing about being a Yankee is getting to watch Reggie Jackson play every day," Nettles said one day. "The worst thing about being a Yankee? Getting to watch Reggie Jackson play every day."

Later on, Nettles couldn’t resist making further cracks about Jackson. On one occasion, he took a shot at Jackson’s propensity for striking out. "If Babe Ruth were alive today, he wouldn’t be able to bat cleanup [for the Yankees]," Nettles said sarcastically. "He didn't strike out enough. I guess I'm not able to bat cleanup because I don't strike out enough." Ouch.

In handing out barbs, Nettles showed little regard for politically correct thought or opinion and sometimes ventured into the realms of race and ethnicity. As the Yankees prepared to play the Indians one day, Nettles took note of one of the Cleveland players. "I never saw a player with his address on his uniform," Nettles said out loud to one of his teammates. Nettles then pointed toward Indians first baseman Wayne Cage, a large African-American first baseman. It was the kind of racially charged jab that would have landed Nettles in hot water in today’s society, but as part of the 1970s culture in the Bronx Zoo, it hardly drew a second thought.

With his tendency for troublemaking, Nettles also enjoyed playing practical jokes on teammates. Typically, Nettles executed the prank (or delivered a wisecrack) and then departed the scene quickly, earning the nickname "Puff" for the way he disappeared—like a puff of smoke.

On a team with larger-than-life personalities like Jackson and Martin, Nettles managed to remain in the background, despite his tendency for causing trouble. That would all change in the spring of 1984, when advance notice of Nettles’ upcoming book, Balls, founds its way onto the desk of George Steinbrenner. "The Boss" soon read excerpts in which Nettles severely criticized his employer. Not taking kindly to the cross words, Steinbrenner ordered that Nettles be traded as soon as possible. Prior to Opening Day, the Yankees sent Nettles to the Padres for about fifty cents on the dollar, which amounted to left-handed starter Dennis Rasmussen and a faceless player to be named later.

Nettles didn’t return to the Yankees’ organization until 1991, when he was named to Stump Merrill’s coaching staff. Nettles had aspirations of succeeding Merrill as Yankee manager, but that would never come to pass. Instead, he was fired by the next manager, Buck Showalter, who felt that Nettles had been disloyal to Merrill by repeatedly badmouthing him.

For the second time in his Yankee career, Nettles’ outspoken tendencies had caught up with him. Just like that, he disappeared—like a puff of smoke. Nettles might not work for the Yankees anymore, but he remains one of the most fascinating pieces of franchise history from the last 35 years.

 

Bruce Markusen writes Cooperstown Confidential for MLB.com. He has also written eight books on baseball. Bruce, his wife Sue, and their daughter Madeline live in Cooperstown, NY.

Comments (80)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2007-08-20 12:37:34
1.   Cliff Corcoran
Nettles does do some work for the Yanks in spring training. Most notably, he taught Alex Rodriguez how to play third base (though in the recent YES special on third basemen, Nettles said that it looks like Rodriguez has been playing in too shallow, not deep like he had taught him, which has resulted in some bad plays on in-between hops).

I agree with you about him being a missing character in the Bronx is Burning, and about the fact that he is greatly under appreciated. For my money, there's not that much difference between Nettles and Brooks Robinson. Brooks hit for more average, Nettles for more power. Otherwise, Brooks wasn't meaningfully better than Puff.

Finally, for those curious about what Nettles uni looked like before Topps airbrushed it, check it out here:

http://tinyurl.com/39qflc

Myself, I've always wanted the Yankees to drop the sleeve stripes and white outlines and make the road uni look like it did in the days before double-knits:

http://tinyurl.com/3co465

But I can appreciate the fact that it's remained unaltered since 1973. I'd rather no change than the wrong one.

2007-08-20 12:54:34
2.   pistolpete
1 Hey, why didn't we have uni's like this in 97, 99, 2000 and 2001? ;-)

http://tinyurl.com/2brz9j

2007-08-20 12:59:12
3.   Cliff Corcoran
2 I love that John McGraw wouldn't even play the AL in 1904, then he beats them in 1905 and plasters it across the front of his team's unis the next year. Dickish behavior can be so entertaining if it's far enough in the past.
2007-08-20 12:59:16
4.   pistolpete
BTW, the little cartoon men they use to display the uniforms from 1995 on are just awful.

Go back to the original cartoon men, HOF.

2007-08-20 13:00:24
5.   williamnyy23
I like the "New York" across the chest on the road uniform, just in case those huckleberries around the country don't know where the Yankees come from! Also, the interlocking NY deserves exclusivity amid the glorious pinstripes of the home uniform.
2007-08-20 13:08:17
6.   Cliff Corcoran
5 Agreed. Plus it's traditional to have the team name (or logo) at home and the city name on the road. The Yanks briefly had "Yankees" on the road grays in the '20s. That's kinda fun, but "New York" is better. It splits across the buttons nicely too.
2007-08-20 13:11:35
7.   pistolpete
Another note on the Topps practice of re-touching the cards - this was obviously before they started putting out the 'Traded Set' in the early 80's, and could easily supplement the yearly series with players who had been moved after card production.

One of my favorite (and rarest) cards is a Pete Rose from either 84 or 85's Traded Set that has him in an Expos uniform.

2007-08-20 13:12:30
8.   Knuckles
4 Amen- how could Bud claim ignorance of the steroid issue, when even the HOF put their cartoon uni models on the juice after the strike year?
2007-08-20 13:13:31
9.   Knuckles
9 And then they got slightly skinnier in 2001- probably had a heads-up from Bud that testing would begin shortly.
2007-08-20 13:19:47
10.   Peter
I particularly like how the Yankees are one of only two teams who don't even bother with putting their team name on any of their uniforms. There's a simple elegance to the interlocking NY.
2007-08-20 13:24:20
11.   pistolpete
10 And no name...

...of course.

2007-08-20 13:31:53
12.   Emy
Good stuff, Bruce. I always enjoy your work.

btw - with a little help from baseballreference.com, I learned the "faceless player to be named later" was none other than "Darin Cloninger." Who of course is Tony's son...

2007-08-20 13:36:30
13.   Raf
Given all the blue seats, I would have to say that was MN's Metropolitan Stadium
2007-08-20 13:46:30
14.   Bob B
It is a little strange considering that Nettles won a gold glove that year and arguably had his best offensive year in '77. Maybe its because he co-wrote "Balls" with Gollenbeck and got himself traded to San Diego by GS. He certainly was outspoken.
2007-08-20 13:47:48
15.   Raf
13 For the young'uns here, Metropolitan Stadium, "The Met," is where the Twins played before they moved to the Metrodome. Don't remember much about it other than it was an open air stadium, and it was cold out there. I remember when the Metrodome opened they had a surface that seemed to play faster than KC's turf (Yes, Kauffman (Royals?) Stadium had astroturf once upon a time).
2007-08-20 13:56:36
16.   Chyll Will
I'm willing to bet that Bama could do a better job on the uni transfer if he felt like it. Hell, Alex could do a crayon version better than that. But I would hide the brushes from ol' Peter Max...
2007-08-20 13:57:51
17.   Raf
Now that I think of it, it strikes me as odd that the artist would go that length to airbrush the photo when the Indians 1970-71 road unis were relatively close to the Yankee unis.
2007-08-20 14:07:54
18.   Cliff Corcoran
Photoshop has improved Topps ability to airbrush unis over the years (and they still do quite a bit of that), but last year they did something new, which was put a photo of a player on their old team on the card design of his new team. Really jarring. And there still appears to be no method behind which players get that treatment, which are portrayed entirely on their old team, and which have proper photos with their new teams.
2007-08-20 14:07:57
19.   Raf
4 I just took a look at them. Awful is an understatement.
2007-08-20 14:36:22
20.   Bama Yankee
16 I might just give it a try later on tonight.

I have always despised those airbrushed cards. Here are a few more "classics":
http://tinyurl.com/ywlsnd
http://tinyurl.com/yttmne
http://tinyurl.com/29elzm

Remember when they used to airbrush the logos off the helmets on football cards?
http://tinyurl.com/2dl882

2007-08-20 14:41:01
21.   joejoejoe
When I was growing up the only Graig I knew was Graig Nettles. My whole life I thought Greg was the the weird spelling and Craig was a bastardized version of Graig.

In '77 Nettles finished 5th in the MVP voting ahead of every other Yankee and in '78 he finished 6th ahead of every Yankee but Guidry who was robbed of the MVP by Jim Rice (I'm still bitter). Having a 125.5 OPS+, two Gold Gloves, and two World Series championships over two seasons isn't a bad run. Nettles was damn good.

2007-08-20 14:45:35
22.   Cliff Corcoran
20 Oh man I hated that Honeycutt card! (in addition to all it's other crimes, it just made that awful way he wore his hat that much worse) Though in the pantheon of airbrushed Topps cards, the McKinney ain't so bad. Can't say the same for the Money card. Ouch.
2007-08-20 15:56:39
23.   rbj
I did a little dealing in baseball cards as a kid. I'd buy a few packs and then sell the better players to some other kids -- at a profit (I'd make about a quarter or so on every pack, but this was the 70s). I did screw up one time, there was a sharp kid who wanted the card of some guy on the Mariners. Cost me a bit to buy it back when he showed me that the guy was still in his old team's uniform. D'oh!
2007-08-20 16:45:28
24.   OldYanksFan
Sox up 3-0 already. Against Kazmir. Shit!
Thanks Bruce. I learned more about baseball cards then I thought there was to know! I was a dumb kid. I collected cards for 2 years before I knew all those tiny numbers on the back meant something. I just thought they looked cool in my bicycle spokes.
2007-08-20 17:42:00
25.   pistolpete
And Seattle up 4-1 on the Twins.

Cripes - maybe our job this week is to knock LAA out of first place in the West and then catch THEM for the Wild Card...

2007-08-20 17:43:15
26.   OldYanksFan
wow.... 56 minutes between posts. Is there something I'm missing? New Thread? New Site?
2007-08-20 17:45:09
27.   OldYanksFan
25 If we take 2 out of 3, that might just happen. And I certainly wouldn't mind. Although I'd prefer the Central winner post a better record then the West.
2007-08-20 17:52:40
28.   OldYanksFan
27 So Dude... what's doing? Can't wait for the game?
2007-08-20 18:05:51
29.   KJC
10 What's the other team?
2007-08-20 18:08:51
30.   Shaun P
28 Everyone is just patiently waiting for Cliff to put up the LAA of A, OC, CA, USA, NA, E, S, MW game thread. =)

I see Boston is up 6-0 and Seattle 7-1. Sigh.

2007-08-20 18:12:00
31.   OldYanksFan
http://www.strmz.com/Clip2661
I don't know if myfellow Banterers have seen this. I happened to catch it on TV when it happened. It's kinda the closest thing I get to Jewish 'culture' up here. It is pretty funny, if not the event, but that the event happened.
2007-08-20 18:35:14
32.   Simone
Arrgghh! The freaking Mariners won't lose! That is all.
2007-08-20 18:42:37
33.   RIYank
Now the good news, from the Seattle Times via David Pinto:
-----------------
The Mariners now face a daunting stretch in which they play 17 of their next 20 games on the road, starting tonight with the opener of a three-game series in Minnesota.
-----------------

David adds:
-----------

The real question is, how long can Seattle keep winning close? They've only outscored their opponents by 15 runs this season. Over the next three weeks, only Minnesota and Texas are worse than that, and the Twins only by two runs. And the team hasn't improved in that category under McLaren, as they've scored and allowed 209 runs since he took over.

So this is the test. Seattle is faced with the teams it needs to beat to make the playoffs, none of which are without flaws. But Seattle is a combined 23-29 vs. this group of team this season. They'll need to turn that winning percentage around to make the post season.

2007-08-20 18:43:23
34.   JL25and3
Nettles had the misfortune to come between Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. That made it tough to get the recognition he deserved.

I loved him. Somewhere I have a yellowed clipping of a play I saw him make in about 1976. He dove headlong to his left, leaving his feet completely. While he was in mid-air the ball took a bad hop, so Nettles had to suddenly jerk his glove hand up to snag the ball. Then, of course, the landing, getting up, throwing - piece of cake.

There've been lots of suggestions that some skullduggery was involved in the trade from Cleveland to NY. Gabe Paul was the Indians GM who pulled it off, on November 27, 1972. On January 3, 1973, George Steinbrenner officially bought the Yankees, and shortly thereafter Paul became a minority owner and club president.

2007-08-20 18:44:56
35.   Joeg
Bruce, appreciate the "borderline hall of famer" blurb on Nettles. Looking at his career stats today, it's hard to believe that there were legitimate arguments about the pecking order of the premiere third basemen in the late 70s. Brett, Schmidt, and Nettles were usually 1-2-3, but not always in the order you'd expect. Bell and Cey were usually considered a step behind those three.

Nettles' peak years were too short and the inflated numbers of recent times really hurt a .249 hitter with less than 400 homers. (I tried explaining what made Jim Rice so fearsome once, "He could hit .300 AND hit 30 homers!" I'd say with the requisite awe in my voice. The kids looked at me with that "So?" expression I love so much.)

I took a peek at some of the 77 lineups at baseball reference. What was Billy smoking? People batted all over the place. Don't have the time to research, but it seems like all of the regulars batted a few times in each of the nine slots. Must have been crazy playing for them that year.

2007-08-20 18:48:24
36.   Chyll Will
Release the crickets... (cricket, cricket...)

Usually, I'll come around on these not-really-game threads with a comment and Cliff will immediately post a new thread. Let's see if I can help you guys out and spur some action before I retire for the night (I did say I was taking off for a while, right?)

Of course, Cliff could easily let me prove myself wrong as he normally does >;) and leave this thread up. It's fifty-fifty...

2007-08-20 19:09:41
37.   RIYank
Um.
Is this the game thread?

Looks like a big strike zone today.

2007-08-20 19:10:26
38.   Vandelay Industries
Jete!

Yea, if that was a strike, it could be a loong night.

2007-08-20 19:10:27
39.   Vandelay Industries
Jete!

Yea, if that was a strike, it could be a loong night.

2007-08-20 19:10:34
40.   Ravenscar
I'm here to root for my Yankees fantasy players. A-Rod, Hughes, and Edwar.

Also, I can't stand Anaheim.

2007-08-20 19:10:54
41.   RIYank
Jeter needed the rest, I guess.
2007-08-20 19:12:00
42.   RIYank
Damon and Abreu both took pitches lowish and definitely outside; both were called strikes.
2007-08-20 19:12:22
43.   seamus
bobby is a fine wine. that is quite the compliment!
2007-08-20 19:13:17
44.   RIYank
39 Maybe a short night, actually, if all those pitches are going to be strikes!
2007-08-20 19:14:21
45.   Vandelay Industries
Vlad was loafing!
2007-08-20 19:14:32
46.   Ravenscar
That was odd. But an RBI. I thought it was an out for sure but he definitely let it bounce.
2007-08-20 19:14:35
47.   Mattpat11
Vlad sort of falls down on a sinking liner and the Yankees score.
2007-08-20 19:15:06
48.   rsmith51
Thanks, Vlad.
2007-08-20 19:15:18
49.   RIYank
43 And well deserved!
2007-08-20 19:15:54
50.   rsmith51
This looks like a pitcher that Giambi could crush.
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2007-08-20 19:16:09
51.   RIYank
Vlad appreciates a good wine, and he wanted to let Bobby breathe a little.
2007-08-20 19:16:30
52.   RIYank
Geez.
Okay, I'll pay attention now.
2007-08-20 19:16:51
53.   Mike T
Nice, getting on the board early.
2007-08-20 19:18:15
54.   RIYank
Matsui swung at the outside pitch that Damon and Abreu watched.
Let's see if Phil gets those too.
2007-08-20 19:18:43
55.   Vandelay Industries
God, what a joke Minnesota has turned into.
2007-08-20 19:19:51
56.   tommyl
Argh, M's leading and Boston has already won. A win here would be nice.
2007-08-20 19:21:08
57.   Vandelay Industries
Fuck! You cannot do that Robbie.
2007-08-20 19:21:31
58.   Ravenscar
Hughes has to do well for me because my other starter tonight was - guess who - MATT GARZA. Oy.

Ouch, Cano. Yeah, he caught caught inbetween steps there.

2007-08-20 19:22:21
59.   Mike T
WTF Rob? That ball wasn't even coming at him very fast.
2007-08-20 19:22:27
60.   Vandelay Industries
Keep that pitch count low baby!
2007-08-20 19:22:34
61.   seamus
51 lol!
2007-08-20 19:22:37
62.   Mattpat11
Is Vlad hurt? He's moving like my grandmother.
2007-08-20 19:22:42
63.   tommyl
Is there something wrong with Vlad? or has he just gone to the Manny Ramirez school of baseball?
2007-08-20 19:22:52
64.   Ravenscar
GOD Vlad looks old. That's sad.
2007-08-20 19:23:15
65.   Mike T
Wow, 5 pitches. Nice job by Franchise.
2007-08-20 19:24:08
66.   RIYank
65 And he kind of got four outs with those five pitches!

(Work with me here...)

2007-08-20 19:26:42
67.   claybeez
Loved Nettles. He was always my favorite player hands down. My first dog whenever we meet will bear his name. In fact I'll be picking up my first home jersey just in time for the Sox series. It, of course, will sport the number "9" on the back.
2007-08-20 19:27:05
68.   Mike T
Robbie is golfing. Don't swing at those.
2007-08-20 19:28:21
69.   RIYank
We need to take more pitches. Not just Rob.

Also:
Wakefield in Tropicana is money in the bank.

2007-08-20 19:33:49
70.   Cliff Corcoran
Hey guys, I completely forgot to post my series preview. It's up now. Your choice as to whether or not you want to move the game thread over there.
2007-08-20 19:35:20
71.   Mike T
That's embarrassing.
2007-08-20 19:35:39
72.   Mattpat11
Lazy Robbie tonight.
2007-08-20 19:35:41
73.   Ravenscar
Robbie, geez, that was yours.

Also, Melky didn't start after the ball until it got by Cano. Kind of asleep on that one.

2007-08-20 19:36:32
74.   JeremyM
Cano is jaking it tonight, good Lord.
2007-08-20 19:39:40
75.   Vandelay Industries
Hughes is playing right into the Angels style of play.

Anyone have video of Cano laying out for a ball?

2007-08-20 19:40:38
76.   Yu-Hsing Chen
fuckin ump could hose Hughes more
2007-08-20 19:42:58
77.   RIYank
(Most of the banter has moved to the new thread.)
2007-08-20 19:46:55
78.   OldYanksFan
Man... Sudcliff is one long verbal blowjob. Everybody's a hero, even the DH with no HRs. And he gives his team a productive out... by striking out on a 3-2 count, on ball 4. Very, very productive
2007-08-20 19:48:59
79.   tommyl
Hughes is still off with his location. He's got a good fastball, but its not 98. He has to hit his spots.
2007-08-20 19:51:28
80.   tommyl
Argh, and every Yankee is hitting the ball hard right at Angels. I hate the fucking Angels. Why can't they play like this against Boston?

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