Yankees' Top 5 third basemen: Hoch's take

April 13th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Bryan Hoch’s ranking of the top five third basemen in Yankees history. Next week: Shortstops.

1) Alex Rodriguez (2004-16)
Key fact: Leads all Yankees 3B in runs, hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, walks, SLG and OPS

If Aaron Boone had not played a January 2004 game of pickup basketball, A-Rod might never have had the opportunity to wear pinstripes. With Boone’s contract voided due to a left knee injury, the door was opened for the Yankees to acquire Rodriguez, who agreed to shift to third base from his natural shortstop position in order to accommodate captain Derek Jeter.

Rodriguez went on to belt 351 homers with 1,096 RBIs during a dozen turbulent seasons in The Bronx. A two-time American League MVP (2005, ’07) who won three Silver Slugger Awards and earned seven All-Star selections with the Yankees, Rodriguez paced the AL with 48 homers in ’05 and led the Majors with 54 homers and 156 RBIs in ’07. His cumulative 51.7 fWAR and 138 RC+ pace all Yankees third basemen.

The high point of Rodriguez’s tenure came in 2009, when he helped the Bombers inaugurate the new Yankee Stadium with their 27th World Series championship. Rodriguez also endured several high-profile stumbles -- none greater than those that prompted a historic suspension for performance-enhancing drug use, costing him the ’14 season. Rodriguez was ushered into retirement after tallying 696 career home runs, fourth all-time behind Barry Bonds (762), Henry Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).

"I do want to be remembered as someone who was madly in love with the game of baseball, someone who loves it at every level," Rodriguez said in 2016. "Someone who loves to learn it, play it, teach it, coach it. I'm going to be hopefully remembered as someone who tripped and fell a lot, but someone that kept getting up."

2) (1973-83)
Key fact: 319 home runs while playing 3B, still an AL record

A rangy performer whose defensive exploits in Game 3 of the 1978 World Series helped the Yankees to a second consecutive title, Nettles excelled at the hot corner during his time in the "Bronx Zoo," including back-to-back Gold Glove Awards (1977, ’78), five All-Star selections and honors as the MVP of the 1981 AL Championship Series against the A’s.

A fan favorite, “Puff” produced a fWAR of 43.6 during his time in pinstripes, second only to A-Rod among Yankees third basemen. He also ranks second among Yankees third basemen in hits (1,396), home runs (250), RBIs (834), walks (627) and slugging percentage (.433).

“I will always consider myself a Yankee,” Nettles said in 2015. “I played at the same time as Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. They were good players. If I can be mentioned in anyone’s top five third basemen, I will be happy with that.”

3) Red Rolfe (1931-42)
Key fact: .289 career batting average leads all Yankees 3B prior to 1993

Overshadowed in lineups by the likes of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, Rolfe celebrated five World Series championships while meriting four All-Star selections during his time with the Yankees. A left-handed hitter who was known for his quiet demeanor and meticulous attention to detail, Rolfe became the starting third baseman in 1935, offering notes on opponents that helped the Yanks incorporate an early version of the defensive shift.

Injuries shortened Rolfe’s career, as he retired at age 33. Despite that early exit, Rolfe compiled a 26.2 fWAR that ranks third among Bombers third basemen. He leads all Yankee third basemen in triples (67) and rates second in batting average (.289), runs (942) and doubles (257). Rolfe is also third in at-bats (4,827), hits (1,394), RBIs (497), walks (526) and OPS (.773).

4) (1959-66)
Key fact: .965 career fielding percentage at 3B (league average was .951)

Known for contributing frequent diving stops and throws from his knees on the championship Yankees teams of the 1960s, Boyer showcased modest power and exceptional defense as part of five consecutive pennant winners from 1960-64, earning two World Series championship rings.

Teammate Bobby Richardson once said that Boyer’s glovework was “as good as anyone who ever played the game.” Boyer spent half of his 16-year big league career with the Yankees. Among Bombers third basemen, Boyer ranks fourth in at-bats (3,658), runs (434), hits (882), home runs (95) and RBIs (393), and fifth in walks (297).

5) (1998-2001)
Key fact: Batted .314 (22-for-70) with four homers and 13 RBIs in 20 World Series games

Brosius had batted .203 for the Athletics in 1997, but a move to Yankee Stadium turned his performance around, as he compiled a .428 slugging percentage on dominant clubs in franchise lore. A 1998 All-Star, Brosius batted .300 with 19 homers and 98 RBIs, then went on to secure World Series MVP honors after batting .471 (8-for-17) with two homers and six RBIs in a sweep of the Padres.

Brosius earned his only Gold Glove Award in 1999 and tallied a slightly below-average 96 OPS+ over his four regular seasons with New York, but the durable performer earned a permanent place in fans’ hearts for his October exploits. Brosius made his mark in four World Series, including an epic two-run blast off the D-backs' Byung-Hyun Kim in Game 5 of the 2001 Fall Classic that set up an emotional extra-inning victory.

Honorable mentions
Frank “Home Run” Baker (1916-22) finished his career with the Yankees and posted a 113 OPS+, which ranks third behind A-Rod and Nettles … Though he’s in Cooperstown more for his Red Sox tenure, Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (1993-97) paces all Bombers third basemen with a .313 batting average and .396 on-base percentage … Bobby Brown (1946-54) tallied a .367 on-base percentage, third behind Boggs and A-Rod … Joe Dugan (1922-28) ranks fourth among Yanks third basemen with a .286 average … Mike Pagliarulo (1984-89) belted 105 homers in pinstripes, third among Yanks third basemen.