Nettles led all third basemen but one in games played at third, assists and double plays. The one guy ahead of him? Brooks Robinson. Nettles couldn’t start winning Gold Gloves until Robinson retired (even though he passed him up defensively a few years earlier), so he only won two Gold Gloves. But if you’re on a short list at third base with Brooks Robinson, you certainly deserve consideration.
How about offensively? Does Nettles stack up to Hall of Famers there? Ten players made the Hall of Fame primarily as third basemen: Frank Baker, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jimmy Collins, George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, Eddie Mathews, Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Pie Traynor.
Only Schmidt and Mathews hit more homers than Nettles and they were the only other third basemen in the Hall of Fame who led their leagues in homers (Nettles did it in 1976). Only Schmidt, Mathews, Robinson and Brett drove in more runs.
Think about that: Defensively and in two of the three Triple Crown offensive categories, Nettles was better than more than half of the third basemen in the Hall of Fame.
I think you weaken your argument for the Hall of Fame when you start comparing a player to the marginal Hall of Famers. But when you start comparisons and you keep lumping a player with guys like Robinson, Brett, Schmidt and Mathews, and ahead of most of the other guys at his position in the Hall of Fame, he’s a Hall of Famer.
In one of the Triple Crown categories, batting average, Nettles was worse than all the Hall of Fame third basemen, hitting only .248. But he walked a lot and his on-base percentage, .329, was actually higher than Robinson’s. And he had more career hits and walks (not just combined, more in both categories) than four third basemen in the Hall of Fame: Baker, Collins, Kell and Lindstrom.
Nettles was a six-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion (1977-78) and a League Championship Series Most Valuable Player. He turned in one of the most amazing defensive performances in World Series history.
In my posts about why Don Mattingly and Ron Guidry, I noted that longevity and being Yankees were the only reasons they weren’t slam-dunk Hall of Famers. But Nettles played long enough to be a leader at his position in nearly every offensive and defensive category.
So there’s only one reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame: He was a Yankee.