New York Daily News
CLETE BOYER, YANKS’ 3RD MAN
Series standout, longtime coach dies at 70
CLETE BOYER, a glove man extraordinaire who was an integral member of the 1960-64 pennant-winning Yankee teams, died yesterday in an Atlanta-area hospital from complications of a brain hemorrhage, his son-in-law said. He was 70. He is survived by six children and 10 grandchildren.
Acknowledged as one of the all-time great fielding third basemen, Boyer was destined to play his career mostly in the shadow of his older brother Ken, an MVP with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964, and Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, the multiple Gold Glove winner with the Baltimore Orioles in the ’60s and ’70s.
Clete Boyer played 16 years in the big leagues with the Kansas City Athletics, Yan- kees and Atlanta Braves, compiling a .242 average and 162 homers. But he took a special pride in his fielding. His 2.24 assists per game rank eighth all-time among third basemen and his 201 “saved fielding runs” computed by Total Baseball rank second only to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt’s 265 at third. He also held the World Series record for assists by a third baseman (65), later broken by Graig Nettles.
“Brooks beat me out of about seven Gold Gloves,” Boyer said in an interview with Baseball Digest last year, “but God gave me a lot of ability. I felt like Houdini out there. I loved defense and I had a great arm and I was quick with it. I had a lot of ability and I won’t deny that. I used to tell people I was Ted Williams at third base. Defense is reflexes and instinct and I had it.”
One of 16 siblings, two of whom, Ken and Cloyd, a pitcher, reached the majors ahead of him with the Cardinals, Boyer grew up in Alba, Mo., and signed for a $35,000 bonus with the Athletics in 1955. Three years later, he was a “throw-in” in an eight-player deal that netted the Bombers pitchers Bobby Shantz and Art Ditmar. In 1960, he took over as the Yankees’ everyday third baseman and remained a fixture there until 1966, when he was traded to the Braves for outfielder Bill Robinson.
The 1962 Yankee infield of Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek and Boyer is regarded as one of the greatest defensively of all time. That was also Boyer’s best sea- son at the plate with the Yankees as he hit .272 with 18 homers and 68 RBI. Then in the ’62 World Series against the Giants, he hit .318 with four RBI, including a tie-breaking, seventh-inning homer in Game 1 and a key fifth-inning single that set up the only run in the Yankees’ 1-0 Game 7 clincher.
In the 1964World Series against his brother Ken’s Cardinals, Clete singled and scored a run in Game 1, tied Game 2 with a sacrifice fly, doubled home the first run of the Yankees’ Game 3 win and homered in the ninth inning in a losing Yankee cause in Game 7. “That week was the most fun I ever had in baseball,” he later recalled.
And make no mistake, Clete Boyer was one of baseball’s all-time fun-and-frolic seekers. In the spring of 1965, he and Yankee teammate Roger Maris were involved in a fistfight with another patron outside a Fort Lauderdale nightspot. Three years later, he and then-Braves teammates Bob Uecker and Deron Johnson became embroiled in another after-hours bar brawl in West Palm Beach. In 1971, Boyer was fined $1,000 by commissioner Bowie Kuhn after admitting to betting on football in 1968 and ’69.
Finally, it was Boyer’s outspoken objection to Braves manager Luman Harris’ strictly enforced midnight road curfew before day games that led to his release by Atlanta in 1971. He played out the season with Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League before finishing his career in Japan.
One incident in which fun sought him out occurred Aug. 31, 1969, as Boyer came to the plate immersed in a 1-for-17 slump. Morganna, the infamous buxom blond “kissing bandit,” raced out of the stands and planted a kiss on him. Boyer proceeded to get an RBI single and eight hits in next 15 at-bats.
In a mating of notorious late-night partiers, Boyer signed on to be Billy Martin’s third base coach with the Oakland A’s in 1980. He outlasted Martin, who was fired as A’s manager at the end of the 1982 season, remaining in Oakland until 1985. With Martin’s help, Boyer organized a benefit dinner in Scottsdale, Ariz., in March of 1982 at
which $100,000 was raised to help pay the medical bills for his brother, Ken, who was dying of cancer.
Boyer rejoined the Yankees as a minor league instructor in 1987 and later had separate tours of duty as third base coach under Martin in 1988 and Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter from 1991-94. B oyer remained on the Yankee payroll through 2003, working with Drew Henson and coaching third base at Triple-A Columbus in 2002.
“A lot of people didn’t give Clete the credit he deserved as an instructor and coach,” Merrill said. “He was the most perceptive baseball man I ever knew and he was tireless in teaching the rudiments of infield play to our kids in the organization.”