A five-time All-Star third baseman who played for six major league clubs over his 22year career, including 11 seasons with the New York Yankees, Graig Nettles is more interested in tracking the progress of his son Jeff in the minors than in keeping tabs on his old teams. Nettles traveled from his home in Knoxville, Tenn., to watch his son play 10 times this season, and he liked what he saw. Jeff, a 26-year-old third baseman for the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots of the Atlantic League, hit .320 with 22 home runs and 95 RBIs.
Still, Nettles, 60, does occasionally check the progress of one big leaguer, a player he tutored in spring training this year-- Alex Rodriguez. After the Yankees traded for A-Rod in the off-season and moved him from shortstop to third base, they asked Nettles, a two-time Gold Glove winner, to teach Rodriguez the intricacies of playing the hot corner. (At week's end A-Rod had the second-best fielding percentage among every-day American League third basemen.)
Nettles, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1965 and traded to the Cleveland Indians four years later, is best remembered for his play with New York, which traded for him in 1972. He was the AL home run leader in '76; had career highs in homers (37), RBIs (107) and slugging percentage (.496) in helping the Yankees become world champs the next season; and was vital to winning the '78 World Series with his glovework against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
His dry wit amused teammates, but his 1984 book, Balls, played to a tough crowd; its cynical clubhouse anecdotes and rants against owner George Steinbrenner ultimately led to his trade to the San Diego Padres before the '84 season. Nettles spent three seasons with the Padres, one in Atlanta and one in Montreal, then retired after the '88 season with a lifetime .248 average and 390 home runs. Unable to step away from the game entirely, he returned to the Yankees as first base coach for the '91 season, then worked as a scout for the next three years. He coached third base for the Padres in '95 before getting back with New York as a scout for six years.
Other than working part time as a spring training instructor, Nettles has been living off his pension, traveling with his wife, Ginger (they have four grown children), and playing golf. Next April he plans to join a new tour for players with handicaps of up to 36. A weighted-handicap scoring system will give everyone a shot at purses up to $60,000. "I golf because I like to be competitive," says Nettles, who is a five handicap. "I like to win, and this sounds as if it's going to be fun." -- Andrew Lawrence