Russ Cohen and I are embarking on a project to put together a list of the 10 best players at each position, with him doing the top National Leaguers and me taking on the best in the junior circuit.
The list comprises of the 10 best third basemen who played the majority of or all of their career in the American League:
Note: Any player who was entangled in performance-enhancing drugs or is suspected of taking them (such as Alex Rodriguez) were not under consideration. They should never be enshrined in Cooperstown and thus do not belong on this list.
1. Wade Boggs
Not what many considered a prototypical third baseman, Boggs was the American League’s answer to Tony Gwynn and simply one of the best pure hitters of baseball history. With a flawless lefty swing, Boggs won five AL batting titles in his first seven seasons and finished with his 18-year career with Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay with 3,010 career hits and a .328 average.
2. George Brett
A picture of consistent excellence, Brett played all 21 years with the Kansas City Royals, winning three AL batting titles, a World Series in 1985, and an MVP in 1980, coming the closest to hitting .400 since Ted Williams did in 1941. He finished with 3,154 career hits, .305 average, and was inducted to the Hall-of-Fame in 1999.
Widely considered the best defensive third baseman of all time, Robinson won 16 straight Gold Gloves (1960-75), an American League MVP in 1964, two World Series with Baltimore (1966, 1970), and played in 15 straight All-Star games. An above-average hitter, he compiled 2,848 career hits in 23 seasons with the Orioles.
4. Frank “Home Run” Baker
A member of the famed $100,000 infield along with Jack Barry, Stuffy McInnis, and fellow Hall-of-Famer Eddie Collins, Baker won three World Championships with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s and led the dead ball-era AL in home runs three straight seasons. After sitting out the 1915 season in a contract dispute, his rights were sold to the Yankees, where he played the final six years of his career, finishing with a .307 average and 96 home runs.
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After spending his first seven years with the Dodgers, Beltre spent the rest of his career in the AL with Seattle, Boston, and Texas and established himself as one the best offensive and defensive third basemen in baseball history, with 3,166 hits, a .286 batting average, 477 home runs and five Gold Gloves.
6. Paul Molitor
The Hall-of-Famer spent the second half of his career at DH because of the value of his bat, but the majority of his career with Milwaukee was at third base. Molitor played all 21 years of his career in the American League with the Brewers, Toronto, and Minnesota, finishing with 3,319 hits, a .306 batting average, and a World Series MVP with the Blue Jays in 1993.
7. Sal Bando
A cornerstone of Charlie Finley’s Oakland dynasty, Bando hit 20+ homers six times with Kansas City, Oakland, and Milwaukee in his 16-year career, finished runner-up to teammate Vida Blue for the AL MVP in 1971, and won three straight World Series titles with the A’s from 1972 to 1974.
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8. Buddy Bell
A second-generation major leaguer, Bell was not only an excellent defensive third baseman (winning six straight Gold Gloves with Texas from 1979 to 1984), he compiled 2,514 hits and a .279 career batting average in 18 years with the Indians, Rangers, Reds, and Astros.
A mainstay of the New York Yankees championship squads of the late 1970s, Nettles fielding ability in the World Series against the LA Dodgers in 1977 and 1978 is what most people remember. Acquired from Cleveland in 1973, his left-handed power was a perfect fit for the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, where he hit over 20 home runs eight times.
10. Edgar Martinez
The sweet-swinging righty spent all 18 seasons with Seattle, hitting 20+ homers and over .300 seven straight seasons. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019, Martinez was never known as more than an average defensively at the hot corner and spent most of the second half of his career at DH.
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