Nettles’s moment in the sun came in Game Three of the 1978 World Series against the Dodgers when he made four dazzling stops, twice robbing Reggie Smith of hits. Nettles’s fielding enabled New York to win its first of four straight games, after losing the first two games in Los Angeles, to win the Series.
Nettles was a power-hitting third baseman in the mold of Eddie Mathews, and his 319 homers as an AL third baseman are the record. He played mainly the outfield for the Twins in his first three seasons (Harmon Killebrew was at third), but switched permanently to third base when he joined Cleveland in 1970 in a six-player deal in which he was the only non-pitcher. In 1971 he set AL records with 412 assists and 54 double plays, and he led the league in assists in 1972, as well as errors. After the 1972 season, he was swapped to New York, but had trouble adapting and suffered a poor year defensively in 1973, and hit just .234. He rebounded the following year, however. In April, he clubbed 11 homers, half his total for the year, including four in a doubleheader on April 14. On September 14, both he and his brother Jim, playing for the Tigers, homered in the same game.
Nettles led the league in homers in 1976 with 32, but had his best season in 1977. He won the Gold Glove, slammed 37 homers, drove in a career-high 107 runs, and scored 99 runs to lead the Yankees to the first of two World Championships, both over the Dodgers. His power production dropped off during the next two seasons. After committing seven errors in his first 20 games in 1980, he was diagnosed with hepatitis in July and was out for 67 games, but came back to play in the Yankees’ playoff loss to the Royals.
Nettles was traded to San Diego in 1984 and was a key figure with ex-teammate Goose Gossage and ex-Dodger Steve Garvey in the Padres’ first pennant. He was dealt to the Braves in 1987 and the Expos in 1988, for whom he mainly pinch hit. In 1989, he was involved in the new over-35 “senior” league of former major leaguers started in Florida.