Everyone knows Alex Rodriguez is a generational MLB talent. Even people who don’t know he was a third baseman — and a shortstop — by trade, know his talent. He’s a regular fixture on gossip blogs and sports programming. Years removed from playing in baseball, A.Rod remains firmly ingrained in pop culture.
Rodriguez is Hall of Fame material, but how does he compare to the Yankees greats of the past? Is he truly the best ever to grace his position in the Bronx? A dive into his career and a look at the top third basemen should suss out the answer.
How Alex Rodriguez became A.Rod in Seattle
Before he was A.Rod, he was the new kid called up to the majors for the first time in 1996. Rodriguez’s knees nearly buckled as it dawned on him that he’d now have to show teammates Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez his stuff. He went 1-for-6, ending on a walk-off single to get the Mariners the win.
Rodriguez was a shortstop then. He spent seven years with the Mariners, where he broke rookie records and won the hearts of fans of one of the strongest franchises in baseball. By the time he joined the Yankees, teaming up with his old pal Derek Jeter, he was a seasoned third baseman.
Rodriguez’s case for being the Yankees’ best third baseman
This is where he truly defined his career, for better or worse. Across 12 years, he bolstered his case for Cooperstown. Rodriguez had some off years, plagued by injuries, but always seemed to return stronger. As he became a tabloid fixture, Jeter shied from the spotlight. The two came to resent each other on a personal level. Yet their mutual professionalism meant they still fought hard together to bring Ws to the Bronx.
According to Baseball-Reference, Rodriguez maintained a .295 batting average including 3,465 hits. He took on the MVP honors three times, and his impeccable defense got him two Gold Gloves as well. Granted, the subject of his PED abuse casts a pall over some of these statistics.
That can be a winding road to follow, with how common it was at the start of his run. There’s also the oft-ignored matter of how prevalent amphetamine use was in the game for decades prior. Could anyone else at 3B — even on a team as storied as the Yankees — possibly top A.Rod?
Rodriguez’s competition in Yankees third basemen history
Of the many great Yankees third basemen, it’s easy to narrow A.Rod’s strongest competition down to three. Wade Boggs has a decent case. His wild .328 batting average across 18 seasons certainly sticks out. His worst hitting season, when he turned in a .259 batting average in 1992, ended his run with the Boston Red Sox.
When he spent his next five seasons with the Yanks, he quickly proved that a blip on the radar. He only spent five years in the Bronx, though, and is heavily associated with the Sox.
Scott Brosius cuts a similar figure, in the sense that his overall career was great but he only spent a small portion of it with the Yankees. When he joined up, he immediately turned in a .300 batting average season, got the All-Star game nod, and most importantly the World Series MVP, according to Baseball-Reference. Brosius helped bring two more world championships back to NYC and notched a Gold Glove in 1999.
Defensive king Graig Nettles has the best case next to A.Rod. His long run with the Yanks was a huge part of their 1970s identity. He was a crucial reason why they won the World Series twice and the American League Pennant four times during his run.
Nettles’ batting average wasn’t so much to write home about, at .248. But he hit when it counted, breaking the home run record for third basemen at the time. Nettles even won the AL Home Run title in 1976. With two Gold Gloves to his name, it was his defense that mostly made him such a crucial piece of that generation of Yankees.
His batting average wasn’t so much to write home about, at .248. But Nettles hit when it counted, breaking the home run record for third basemen at the time. He even won the AL Home Run title in 1976. With two Gold Gloves to his name, it was his defense that mostly made him such a crucial piece of that generation of Yankees.
But was he better than A.Rod? The stats say, overall, he probably wasn’t, given Rodriguez’s sometimes freakish abilities at the plate as well as at 3B. In the end, it may come down to what matters more to a fan: the utter domination A.Rod’s Yankees were capable of, or the scrappier baseball the team played as they grew into a stacked force in the ’70s.