(From left to right) Joe DiMaggio, Clete Boyer, Joe Pepitone,
Tony Kubek, and Bobby Richardson in Spring Training of 1965.

Former Yankee Third Baseman Dies Of Massive Stroke

By Bryan Hoch of MLB.com
and Ben Walker - AP Baseball Writer

Clete Boyer, a standout third baseman and key component of five New York Yankees World Series clubs, died Monday, June 4th, 2007, after suffering a massive stroke in Atlanta, Ga. He was 70.

Regarded as a stellar defensive third baseman, Boyer's 16-year Major League career perhaps received its greatest accolades from his outstanding play in the 1961 World Series against the Reds.

In the first game of the Fall Classic, Boyer contributed to the Yankees' efforts with two stunning plays, throwing out Gene Freese from his knees on a backhanded stop and diving to his left on a ball hit by Dick Gernert.

"I think to when we played Cincinnati, and he made those great plays at third base," former Yankees teammate Moose Skowron said. "He took a couple of balls from his knees, I remember that. He was a [heck] of a gloveman."

Boyer became the Yankees' starting third baseman in 1960 and held the job through the '66 season, when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for prospect Bill Robinson.

While many regarded Boyer as one of the game's top defensive third basemen during his era, Boyer often did not receive the accolades offered to his contemporary, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.

Still, in years past, teammates and opponents have insisted that Boyer was every bit the defender Robinson was, helping save pitching staffs countless runs with his stellar play.

"He was a real good player," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who was a teammate of Boyer's in 1970 and '71 with the Atlanta Braves. "He was up during the Brooksie era and didn't get as much attention because of Brooksie, but he could play third base -- great arm."

Boyer could also be a presence at the plate. In 1,725 Major League games with the Kansas City Athletics (1956-57), Yankees (1960-67) and Braves (1968-71), Boyer batted .242 and never hit higher than .272 in a single season, but he clubbed 162 career home runs, including a career high of 26 in 1967 for the Braves.

"He hit a lot of home runs in Atlanta when we were teammates," Torre said. "Plus, he was a little goofy. It certainly helps you play the game."

After his retirement, Boyer remained around the game. He was a frequent visitor to the annual Old Timers Days at Yankee Stadium and also attended the Yankees' Spring Training as a guest instructor -- a role that Skowron said Boyer was helping to fill even when he was still wearing a big-league uniform.

"He helped out a lot of third basemen who'd join the Yankees in Spring Training," Skowron said. "He'd work out with them. He gave 100 percent, and that's all you can ask."

Born in Cassville, Mo., two of Boyer's brothers -- Ken, a St. Louis Cardinals star, and Cloyd, a pitcher for St. Louis in the early 1950s -- reached the Major Leagues. Boyer, who was not married, is survived by six children.

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NEW YORK (AP) Clete Boyer, the third baseman for the champion New York Yankees teams of the 1960s who made an art form of diving stops and throws from his knees, died Monday. He was 70. Boyer died in an Atlanta hospital from complications of a brain hemorrhage, son-in-law Todd Gladden said.

"He wanted to be cremated and he wanted his ashes to go in a Yankee urn," Gladden said.

Boyer played from 1955-71 with the Yankees, Kansas City Athletics and Atlanta. He helped the Yankees reach the World Series in five straight years from 1960-64, when they won two titles.

Boyer's death came on the 50th anniversary of the day he joined the Yankees, completing a dozen-player trade between New York and the A's.

"He was a great Yankee and a tough guy. He never talked too much but he was extremely hardworking. A wonderful third baseman, and had fire in his belly," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said through a spokesman.

In 1964, Boyer and his brother, Ken, became the first brothers to homer in the same World Series game. They did it in Game 7, and nodded to each other as they rounded the bases.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the Series and Ken was the NL MVP that season. An All-Star third baseman, he died in 1982 at age 51.

Another brother, Cloyd, pitched in the majors from 1949-55. There were 14 children in the Boyer family.

Cletis Leroy Boyer was a career .242 hitter with 162 home runs and 654 RBIs. Decent stats, but it was fielding that became his signature.

Boyer added an air of flamboyance to a Yankees team that otherwise played with a conservative precision. "In all my years of playing with him, he only made one bad throw to me," former Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson said by telephone from his home in South Carolina.

"When I made the double play, I could just about close my eyes, put my glove up and the ball would be there," he said. "I would consider him one of the best players defensively. And when we got in the World Series and the lights came up, he made those great, great plays."

Boyer's lone Gold Glove came in 1969 in Atlanta; he might've earned more had it not been for the peerless Brooks Robinson.

"He was in the Brooksie era. He didn't get as much attention as Brooksie," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, a former Boyer teammate with the Braves.

"Plus, he was a little goofy," he said. "Certainly, it helps you play the game."

After finishing with Atlanta, Boyer played in Japan. He later coached under Billy Martin with Oakland and the Yankees.

Boyer was part of an exceptional Yankees infield in the 1960s that included Richardson, shortstop Tony Kubek and first basemen Moose Skowron.

Richardson said he was with Boyer last month in New York for a reunion of the 1961 Yankees infield. "We had three or four, we looked forward to them," Richardson said.

The Yankees beat Cincinnati in the 1961 World Series. Boyer's best Series performance came in 1962, when he hit .318 with a home run and four RBIs in the seven-game victory over San Francisco.

"I got a lot of rings by him playing third base," said Skowron, who works in community relations for the Chicago White Sox.

"When we played Cincinnati, he made those great plays. He threw a couple balls to me, he was on his knees. He was a hell of a glove man."Boyer made his major league debut at 18 with Kansas City. With Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Roger Maris, the Yankees started out every season in the early 1960s as the team to beat.

"He always said, 'I wish you could have played on the team that we had in the '60s. We'd have won 150 games,'" Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry said.

"You'd talk to Moose and he would always tell you how good a third baseman he was," he said. "You talked to Whitey Ford and he'd tell you, 'I didn't have to worry about ground balls. I could pitch inside, throw breaking balls. If they hit it down the third-base line, he was going to catch it.'"

Richardson praised Boyer's other attributes.

"I would give him a lot of credit for being a good No. 8 hitter. It wasn't easy in those days, with the pitcher hitting being you," Richardson said. "He was a team player and a great teacher.

"He was a hard liver, I don't think that's any secret," he said. "He lived life to the fullest."

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CLICK HERE to read a story by Todd Newville which appeared in the June 2004 issue of Baseball Digest.