Hot Corner Heroes
The quickest reflexes in the infield can frequently be found at third base – and often need to be. Screaming major league line drives demand an almost superhuman response to turn those line drives into outs or at least keep them from rolling into extra bases.
The third sackers listed below demonstrated that kind of response in the field, and made runs happen at the plate. They were the best third basemen of the 1960s, a decade which had its share of Hall of Fame performers at the hot corner (as well as a couple guys who should be enshrined in Cooperstown).
Here’s my rundown of the top 10 third basemen of the 1960s, based on a combination of their offensive prowess and their stellar defense.
1. Brooks Robinson - Throughout the 1960s, Brooks Robinson was simply the best third baseman in baseball. He had a Gold Glove for every year in the 1960s – 16 in all during his career. When Robinson retired, he held practically every career fielding record for a third baseman, including most career putouts (2,697), most career assists (6,205), most career double plays (618), and the highest fielding average (.971). Robinson was also a consistent batting threat in the heart of the Baltimore Orioles’ batting order. His best offensive year was 1964, when he won the American League Most Valuable Player award by batting .317 with 28 home runs and a league-leading 118 RBIs.
2. Ron Santo – Ron Santo’s offensive production, combined with sterling defense, made him one of the best all-around third basemen of all time. In 1961, his first full season, he hit .284 with 23 home runs and 83 RBIs. From 1964 through 1969, Santo averaged 24 home runs and 104 RBIs per season for the Chicago Cubs. He hit .297 over that period, and led the league in walks for 4 of those years. He was also the best defensive third baseman in the National League, winning 5 consecutive Gold Gloves between 1964 and 1968. For his career, Santo holds or shares the National League record for years leading the league in chances (9), assists (7) and double plays (6).
3. Dick Allen – Dick Allen was one of the most-feared hitters during the 1960s, when he was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1964, leading the major leagues in runs (125) and triples (13) while batting .318 with 201 hits, 29 home runs and 91 RBIs. In 1966, Allen hit 40 home runs with 110 RBIs and a .317 batting average, his best all-around year with the Phillies. He also led the league in slugging in 1966 with a .632 average. Allen was a consistent threat as Philadelphia’s All-Star third baseman during the 1960s, averaging 29 home runs and 90 RBIs per season from 1964 to 1969, and batting a combined .300 over that period.
4. Ken Boyer – Ken Boyer was the soul of consistency, both in the field and at the plate, for the St. Louis Cardinals. He won 5 Gold Gloves as the Cardinals’ third baseman, and averaged 23 home runs with 91 RBIs and a .293 batting average during his Cardinal career. Boyer’s best performance came during the Cardinals’ championship season of 1964, when he led the majors with 119 RBI. He batted also .295 with 24 home runs and scored 100 runs. His all-around play and championship-caliber leadership earned Boyer 1964’s National League Most Valuable Player award.
5. Tony Perez - Tony Perez, Hall of Fame Cincinnati Reds infielder, had a long and productive career that began in the 1960s and continued until 1986. From 1967 through 1969, he was a mainstay already in the Cincinnati offense, hitting .289 over that period as he averaged 27 home runs and 105 RBIs per season. For his career, Perez had 379 home runs and over 1,652 RBIs, good for tenth place all-time among right-handed batters.
6. Eddie Mathews - Eddie Mathews, Hall of Fame third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves, hit 512 home runs over his 17-year career, twice leading the National League in round-trippers. While his most productive seasons came in the 1950s, Mathews bat was still lethal into the 1960s, averaging 29 home runs and 93 RBIs per season from 1960 to 1965.
7. Max Alvis - Max Alvis, Cleveland Indians third baseman, had a promising career derailed when he contracted spinal meningitis in 1964 and never had quite the same strength afterward. Always a solid defender, his best season was 1963 when he hit .274 with 22 home runs.
8. Frank Malzone – Frank Malzone provided steady third base play for the Boston Red Sox for nearly a decade, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. From 1957 to 1964, Malzone hit .281 and averaged 81 RBIs per season. He also won 3 Gold Gloves during that time period.
9. Pete Ward – Pete Ward broke in with the Chicago White Sox in 1963, hitting .295 with 22 home runs and 95 RBIs. He finished second in the Rookie-of- the-Year race to teammate and 19-game winner Gary Peters. Ward’s power numbers improved the next year to 23 home runs and 94 RBIs, and he seemed on his way to a promising career. That promise was derailed the next year when a traffic accident resulted in chronic back problems that hindered Ward for the rest of his career.
10. Clete Boyer – Clete Boyer, brother to Ken, was a fixture at third for the New York Yankees in the first half of the 1960s. The Yankees could count on Boyer for 13 home runs and 55 RBIs per year, along with solid defense. Boyer was dealt to the Atlanta Braves after the 1966 season, and it was in Atlanta that he won his only Gold Glove in 1969.