A "bonus baby", Boyer broke into the major leagues in 1955 as an 18-year old utility infielder, playing in 12 games at shortstop, 11 at third and 10 at second. A solid glove man, he didn't display much of a bat and on June 4th, 1957, he was included as a player to be named later as part of a thirteen player deal with the Kansas City Athletics. K.C. would initially receive Irv Noren, Milt Graff, Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan, Rip Coleman and Billy Hunter with Jack Urban being sent in April as a player to be named later. Meanwhile the Yankees received Bobby Shantz, Wayne Belardi, Art Ditmar and Jack McMahan. Curt Roberts was sent as a player to named later (April 4th, 1957) and Clete, the last player moved in the swap, finished the mega-trade.
An after-thought in the deal with the Yankees already sporting a solid infield rotation under Casey Stengel (who loved the platoon) Boyer wouldn't join the Yankee roster as a regular until August of 1959. (Though he did have a part-time look in late-April through May.) He hardly impressed anyone with his bat, sporting only a .175 average in 47 games, but made an impression with his glove.
Clete became the Yankees' regular third baseman in 1960, beating out three other players for the starting job including Yankee veterans Gil McDougald and Andy Carey. He rewarded the decision with a solid glove and decent .242 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs as the Yankees won the AL pennant. However, he had a humbling moment in the first game of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With two runners on base and the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the second inning, manager Casey Stengel, never confident in Boyer's hitting, replaced him with a pinch-hitter, Dale Long, who flew out to right. The Yankees didn't score in the inning and lost 6-4. Boyer didn't play in the Series again until Game Six.
After the Series, the Yankees fired Stengel. Ralph Houk replaced him as manager and restored some of the confidence in Boyer that Stengel had taken away. Whereas Stengel preferred his platoon system, Houk saw something special in Boyer's defensive prowess and gave him the opportunity to play every day.
That gave Clete the opportunity to go down in the annals of history with the legendary 1961 team. While he didn't necessarily make his mark with his offense, with only 11 HR, 55 RBI and a .225 average, he made up for it defensively, leading the AL in assists and finishing second only to Brooks Robinson with a .967 fielding percentage and second to Boston's Frank Malzone by participating in 36 double plays. Yankee Second baseman said of Boyer, "He made only one bad throw to me...when I made the double play, I could just about close my eyes, put my glove up and the ball would be there."
In the first game of the 1961 World Series, Boyer displayed his defense by making two spectacular plays...one on a Gene Freese ground ball in the second inning, where Boyer stopped the ball backhanded and threw Freese out from his knees, and another on a Dick Gernert ground ball in which Boyer dove to his left and threw Gernert out, also from his knees.
In 1962, Boyer once again flashed the leather, leading all major league third basemen in putouts, assists an double plays in another championship season. He also came within nine assists of the third base record of 405 set by Harlond Clift of the 1937 St. Louis Browns. The difference being that he also contributed far more on the offensive end, posting his best totals to date in all categories, HR (18), RBI (68) and career bests in batting average (.272), doubles (24) runs scored (85). Better yet, he hit .318 with a HR and 4 RBI in the World Series win against San Francisco.
In 1963 and 1964, Clete still displayed the same fielding prowess (still without a Gold Glove to show for it thanks to rival Brooks Robinson) but his offensive numbers dwindled each year, down to 12 and 8 HR, 54 and 52 RBI, and a .251 and .218 AVG in '63 and '64 respectively. Neither of these years offered the solace of a World Series championsip to fall back on as the Yankees fell to the Dodgers in 4 in '63 and 7 in '64 in a legendary series against the Cardinals.
For the 1964 season, Boyer's ally Ralph Houk was promoted from manager to general manager and Yogi Berra replaced him as field manager. Early on, the 1964 team slumped under Berra but came on in a late surge (some say thanks to Phil Linz' harmonica) including a key 11-game winning streak in mid-September and won its fifth straight pennant by one game over the Chicago White Sox.
In that '64 series, Clete had the pleasure of playing against his brother Ken in which they shared the distinction of becoming the first brothers to hit home runs on opposing teams in a World Series game. In the 7th inning of Game Seven, Ken homered off Yankee pitcher Steve Hamilton and exchanged nods with Clete. Clete returned the favor in the 9th after homering off Cardinal ace Bob Gibson. When they asked my mother who she was rooting for in the Series, she told the media, the fellow on third base, Clete Boyer once told The Tulsa World.
After the 1964 Series, Houk unceremoniously fired Berra (in mid-season of 1964 the management, dissatisfied with Berra's work, made up their mind to fire him at the end of the season no matter what the Yankees did) and replaced him with Johnny Keane, who had managed the Cardinals to the World Series victory over the Yankees. During spring training in 1965, Boyer was involved in a fight in a Fort Lauderdale bar with a male model, Jerome Modzelewski. Apparently, Boyer, Roger Maris, Joe DiMaggio and Hal Reniff were at the bar, sitting at a table next to Modzelewski and his girlfriend. Modzelewski accused one of the players of flirting with the girl and next thing you know, fisticuffs ensued, resulting in a split lip for Modzelewski. Roger Maris was also named in the subsequent warrant, though it was determined he was only trying to break up the fight, but was acquitted of assault and battery charges in criminal court. Boyer plead no contest and received a fine of $175.
During the 1965 season, Clete did a little better at hitting with his bat as well, improving to .251, 18 home runs, and 58 RBI, but the Yankees slumped to sixth place with a 77-85 record, their lowest finish in 40 years.
In 1966 the Yankees fired the unpopular Keane two weeks into the season, and the popular Houk returned as manager. However, Houk's second managerial stint was longer, but far less successful than his first. Their talent and farm system both depleted, the Yankees finished dead last in 1966, the first time they had done so since 1912. After a season in which he hit .240 with 14 home runs, new Yankee GM Lee MacPhail traded Boyer to the Atlanta Braves for big time prospect Bill Robinson, the 1966 Minor League Player of the Year.
After the Yankees
In 1967 Boyer had his best offensive season. Playing in hitter-friendly Atlanta Stadium (a.k.a. "The Launching Pad"), he established career highs in home runs (26) and RBIs (96) in a lineup that featured the likes of Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou and Mack Jones. He also continued his mastery of the glove, leading National League third baseman in fielding both in 1967 and 1969. In '69, he finally won the Gold Glove Award that had eluded him in his Yankee years. On August 31 of that year, he fell victim to Morganna, the famed buxom Kissing Bandit. Prior to the kiss, he had been mired in a 1-for-17 slump; in that very at-bat, Clete drove in a run with a single. He got two more hits later in the game, then eight more hits in his next 15 at-bats. That season the Braves won the Western Division title but lost in the playoffs to the eventual World Champion New York Mets.
Going to Japan
Boyer continued to pick it at third base until he was released by the Braves on May 28, 1971, after a bitter feud with owner Paul Richards and manager Lum Harris over mismanagement. Boyer complained that the organization didnt teach the players the proper fundamentals. Richards countered that Boyer was a troublemaker. He left Major League Baseball and resurfaced in Japan, playing for the Taiyo Whales from 1972 to 1975 where his roommate was Japanese great Sadaharu Oh. He showed the same abilities as he did in the United States - great defense (two Gold Gloves), some power (14 to 20 homers each year) and a mediocre average and OBP (.257/.300). When the 38-year-old infielder asked for a day off every three games in his last year, the owner expressed anger. This was not a request common to the Japanese culture and as Boyer was being paid $800,000 a year, he felt fans would react poorly to this move. Instead, the owner and trainer had Boyer increase his workouts and provided him with so many vitamin injections that his arms were black and blue. Boyer went along with their regimen and retired after the season. He was one of the more popular foreign players in Japan due to his willingness to follow Japanese training approaches and culture.
Post Playing Days
After retiring in 1975, Boyer stayed in Japan, acting as the defensive coach for the Whales in 1976. Afterwards, Boyer returned to the Major Leagues as a third-base coach with the the Oakland Athletics from 1980-85.
He joined the Yankees staff in 1988 and again from 1992 to 1994. In between stints with the Yankees starting in 1989, he managed the Bradenton Explorers of the short lived Senior Professional Baseball Association; the team moved to become the Daytona Beach Explorers in 1990 and he managed the team until the league ceased operations in December.
In 2000, Boyer opened a restaurant named "Clete Boyers Hamburger Hall of Fame" in Cooperstown, NY just a few miles south of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The restaurant has featured sandwiches and hamburgers named after various Yankees' immortals such as: "Yogi's Special meatball sub", "the Mickey Mantle Cheeseburger Deluxe", "the Reggie Veggie Burger", "the Bobby Richardson Cheeseburger", "the Roger Maris Hamburger Deluxe", "the Whitey Ford Blue Cheese Burger" and "Tony Kubek Bacon Burger." Boyer could often be found at the restaurant chatting with visitors and graciously signing photos and other memorabilia.
Boyer died on June 4, 2007 from complications due to a brain hemorrhage in an Atlanta area hospital. Boyer was survived by six children, ten grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and older brother, former St. Louis Cardinal pitcher, Cloyd Boyer. Brother Ken Boyer (1964 National League MVP), passed away in 1982. That year, Clete remembered to Dave Anderson of the New York Times, "As a kid, I always fantasized about us being on the Cardinals together, him at third base and me at shortstop. The two of us on the same team. But it never worked out."