Thursday, August 30, 2007

Richard Lally Spends Five Minutes With...Clete Boyer

According to most defensive metrics, Clete Boyer, and not Brooks Robinson, was the greatest defensive third baseman in the history of baseball. A former New York Yankee and Atlanta Brave, Mr. Boyer died from a stroke at the age of 70 on Tuesday, June 4, 2007. In memoriam, the Baseball Library presents portions from six interviews Richard Lally conducted with Mr. Boyer between 1980 and 2002.

RL: We've talked about this before, Clete, but now we have numbers to support the argument. Does it surprise that the new statistics of baseball place you over Brooks Robinson among defensive third basemen?

CB: Don't get me wrong. Brooks Robinson was a hell of player, a great third baseman and a real gentleman, but I'm going to tell you something and I think he'd tell you the same thing. From 1960 to 1966, I got to more balls than any third baseman in both leagues, but he won the Gold Glove every season and some of those babies should have been mine.

RL: Why do you think you were overlooked?

CB: Because he was a great player for one thing. Every year, he had numbers that qualified him for the award. It's not as if they were giving it to someone who couldn't play. Brooks always had a great fielding percentage. I made more errors, but that's because I got to more balls. And he hit better than me, which does help. It gets the attention of the voters. Part of that for me was Yankee Stadium. Being a righthanded hitter, the Stadium killed me. I look at someone like Graig Nettles and I see myself turned inside out. Had I been a lefthanded hitter I would have a hit more homeruns, a lot more. When I finally got out of here and went to Atlanta, I hit 26 homers and I could have done that every year in another park. I wouldn't have given you a real high average, but I had some power.

RL: You also finally won that Gold Glove after switching leagues...

CB: Yeah, I won it but I don't have it. I didn't bother picking it up.

RL: Why not?

CB: Because by then, I didn't deserve it. They should have given it to Doug Rader, so I figured, "Hey, if you couldn't give me the award when I should have won it, you can keep it now."

RL: You worked with Darrell Evans on his fielding when he came up to the Braves, even though he was young third baseman and was in line for your job...

CB: Oh, you can't think like that! The whole idea is your part of a team and if you can make your teammate better, you have a better chance to win. That's why you play. If Evans could take my job, fine. I'd move to shortstop or help the team off the bench. You can't think about yourself. I can't say I did all that much for him, anyway. I could see he had talent as a hitter and the skills to play third, but he was raw. So I just taught him the basics, getting closer to the ground, positioning. But you know the biggest thing I did? I told him he was good. Every time we worked in the field, no matter what kind of day he had, I told him he was good. And, son of bitch, after a while, he believed it and he became an excellent third baseman, really underrated with the glove as far as I'm concerned. You know, everybody who comes up here has ability. You can't get to the majors without talent. But you have to believe in your talent. If you tell a guy he's good long enough, eventually he'll believe in himself and the talent will come out.

RL: You're known now as one of the top third base coaches in baseball and I remember you're saying the Giants' third base coach cost San Francisco that World Series against the Yankees in 1962..

CB: I don't know if he cost them the Series, but he cost them a chance to win the Series. In the ninth inning of game seven, Matty Alou led off with a bunt single but Ralph Terry stuck out the next two batters (Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller). Up comes Willie Mays and drive the ball the other way, into righfield and it looks like it's going all the way into the corner. But Roger (Maris) made a great play, cutting it off and he hit Bobby Richardson with that perfect relay. Bobby threw a seed to Ellie (Howard) for a strike. A hell of a play but look at the films from that game. Matty Alou should have scored standing up! I saw the whole thing and as the ball was coming in, I'm thinking, "Screw it, the game is tied." But the third-base coach held Alou up, a mistake in our favor. I would have sent Alou and the game would have been tied, because there was no way we would have nailed him. He was just too fast."

RL: So Willie McCovey comes up as the tying run...

CB: Oh, boy, was that scary. Ralph (Houk) comes out to talk to Terry. I was the only infielder who came to the mound for that meeting, because I had this bad feeling. I figured Terry would intentionally walk McCovery to load the bases and pitch to Cepeda. I'd had a good Series to that point, and I always wanted the ball hit to me. As far as I was concerned, I was the Ted Williams of defense. But now, all I could think was that Cepeda was then going to rake a grounder to me that would hit off my ankle or knees, then bounce through into left field for a two-run single and the ballgame. Or that I would field Cepeda's grounder and throw away the ball. The wind in Candlestick Park must have been blowing forty miles an hour, and even the most accurate throw could get carried into the dugout. Either way, if Cepeda got up, I was going to be the goddmaned goat. Honest to god, my knees started shaking thinking about it.

McCovey, on the other hand, there was no fucking way he'd hit a hard grounder to me off Ralph (Terry). He was strictly a pull hitter back then. The best he could do on any ball hit my way would be to pop it up. So I was hoping Ralph would pitch to him. I swear, I didn't care if McCovey hit a three-run homer over the fucking scoreboard, I would have traded that rather than be the goat. When Ralph said he wanted McCovery, I patted him on the back and said, "Go get him, big guy!" I was the happiest man in the park.

RL: And it worked out...

CB: Yeah, it worked out. McCovey hit that rope to Bobby Richardson, but everybody has that wrong. The way it reads today, Bobby had to range far to catch the ball, but he had McCovey played perfectly. He had moved over into the hole as Ralph went into his windup. Bobby was a great second baseman. He knew what he was doing out there and he didn't have to move much to catch that ball. McCovey did hit it hard, though. Bobby doesn't catch it, it goes right through him.

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