Glancing Back, and Remembering Clete Boyer
Clete Boyer was an outstanding third baseman for the New York Yankees for the better part of the 1960s. The recognition attracted by Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson in Baltimore overshadowed the day-in, day-out excellence of Boyer’s play at third in New York. Yet he was an essential component in the Yankees’ success in the first half of the 1960s.
Boyer was signed as a bonus baby in 1955 by the Kansas City Athletics. As one of the bonus babies in that era, he was required to spend at least two seasons on the major league roster. He appeared in 47 games for the A’s in 1955, batting .241, and played in 67 games, hitting .217, in 1956.
In June of 1957, Boyer was sent to the Yankees to complete an earlier 10-player deal that had brought pitchers Art Ditmar and Bobby Shantz to the Yankees. Then, according to baseball rules at the time, he could be sent to the minors, and was. He stayed in the Yankees’ minor league system through 1958, hitting .284 for New York’s AAA club in Richmond, Virginia, with 22 home runs and 71 RBIs. He played 64 games for Richmond in 1959 before being called up to New York, where he hit .175 in 47 games with the Yankees. But now he would be in the big leagues to stay for the next dozen years.
Boyer won the third base position with the Yankees in 1960 and hit .242 in his first full season with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. In 1961, his batting average slipped to .224 (with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs), but his defense was superb. He led all American League third basemen (including Brooks Robinson) in assists and double plays, and was second in putouts to Cleveland’s Bubba Phillips. (He would lead AL third basemen in putouts in 1962.) Boyer anchored the “hot corner” on the Yankees outstanding infield that included Tony Kubek at shortstop and Bobby Richardson at second base.
Boyer raised his batting average to .272 in 1962, with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 68 RBIs. In 8 seasons with the Yankees, Boyer hit for a combined .241 and averaged 12 home runs and 45 RBIs per season.
In November of 1966, the Yankees traded Boyer to the Atlanta Braves for Chi-Chi Olivo and Bill Robinson. Boyer hit .245 for the Braves in 1967, with career highs in home runs (26) and RBIs (96). Injuries limited his playing time in 1968, but he rebounded in 1969 by hitting .250 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs. He also won the Gold Glove in 1969.
After batting .246 in 1970, Boyer was released by the Braves in May of 1971 and finished that season playing with Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League. He spent his last three seasons as a player in Japan, retiring after the 1975 season.
Boyer batted .242 over his 16-year major league career, with 1,396 hits and 162 home runs.