Brett Gardner: ‘Ole Reliable’ Will Again Be Yanks Most Valuable Outfielder

Brett Gardner takes out Max Muncy (Photo: Kevin Kuo AP)
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Brett Gardner is a New York Yankee by default. Signed as an insurance policy to protect an outfield decimated by injuries, he’ll prove to be the key again.

In 2019, Brett Gardner played in 141 games as a 35-year-old outfielder for the New York Yankees. Only Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu appeared in more games, and neither of them is an outfielder.

At first glance, it might appear the Yankees signed Brett Gardner as an afterthought for the 2020 season.

Put together with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Mike Tauchman, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andujar; the Yankees outfield seemed to be overkill.

But Brian Cashman knew in advance that baseball is not predictable, and fresh off a 2019 season in which the Yankees set a major league record for the most games lost to injury, signing Gardner became a no-brainer.

Brett Gardner Has Yankee Pedigree

Tommy Heinrich (r) with Jor DiMaggio and Charlie Keller (1941)
Tommy Heinrich (r) with Jor DiMaggio and Charlie Keller (1941)

In the 1940s, the Yankees had an outfielder known as “Mr. Clutch ” or “Ole Reliable. ” His name was Tommy Heinrich, and similar to Brett Gardner Heinrich played his entire career in the shadow of Yankees greats, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra – all Hall of Famers.

Although Brett Gardner will never reach that height, his value to the Yankees when all the intangibles are added in is immeasurable.

Gardner’s most significant contribution has and continues to be his ability to stay on the field. During Gardner’s eleven full seasons with the Yankees, his team has played 1,782 games. ‘Ole Reliable’ has appeared in 1,457 or 82% of those games.

In contrast, Giancarlo Stanton has played in only 54% of his possible games with the Yankees, Aaron Hicks, barely half (54%), and Aaron Judge comes in at 75% with the jury still out as far as his ability to be on the field when the Yankees play the Nationals in D.C. on July 23.

Your Classic Overachieving “Grinder”

Brett Gardner is what is known in the game as a grinder. He never gives an at-bat away, and whether Aaron Boone places him as the leadoff hitter or as the ninth hitter, Gardner always works the count and the pitcher.

In what will always be remembered as Brett Gardner’s signature clutch at-bat, his RBI single put Game 5 of the 2017 ALDS away for the Yankees in the ninth inning.

It was Cody Allen who met the pesky Brett Gardner fouling off pitch after pitch before his 12th pitch met Gardner’s bat on the sweet spot. (full at-bat video below)

That’s the Brett Gardner many of us have grown to love over the years. The classic overachiever, somehow he’s always in the middle of anything good coming to the Yankees.

Not necessarily a born leader, Gardner leads by example rather than as a rah-rah guy cheering his teammates on to victory. He does nothing exceptionally well, but when you put it together in a package, Gardner shines above the rest.

Brett Gardner Is More Than Outfield Insurance

Brett Gardner - Hard-Nosed? You Betcha (USA Today)
Brett Gardner – Hard-Nosed? You Betcha (USA Today)

A check of the Yankees 2020 outfield as summer camp reopens the season still has Judge as a question mark, Hicks saying he is “ready to go” (but he always says that), and Stanton supposedly 100% healed from last year’s injuries that limited him to eighteen games.

Seeing is believing as they say, and if I were a betting man, I’d slot Hicks in for 20 games before he pulls this or that.

Together with Stanton relegated to D.H. when Gary Sanchez is catching, and Judge a less than even favorite to play the final half of the shortened season.

This means Brett Gardner emerges as Boone’s go-to guy in the outfield, even if he is forced (like last year) to use him in centerfield, a position Gardner played adequately in the heat of the injury explosion that hit the Yankees.

Brett Gardner: Team First And The Last Hurrah

Brett Gardner is the sole-surviving member of the last Championship Yankee team in 2009. One more ring, the kind that escaped CC Sabathia in 2019, would be the crown of personal achievement for this lifelong Yankee.

As such, it is reasonable to assume that Brett Gardner would love nothing more than to see the Yankee’s intended starting outfield of Stanton, Hicks, and Judge to come out of the box roaring hot in this shortened 60-game season. So they merge at the end without a scratch with the Yankees poised for No. 27.

But the comfort Aaron Boone must feel as he looks around to see Number 11 always ready and attuned to the game being played, knowing ‘Ole Reliable’ is available for duty.

And how later, this will fully explain why Brett Gardner, most likely in the postseason, will prove once again to be the Yankees’ MVP outfielder, and perhaps of the entire team.

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Brett Gardner: 'Ole Reliable' Will Again Be Yanks Most Valuable Outfielder
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Brett Gardner: 'Ole Reliable' Will Again Be Yanks Most Valuable Outfielder
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Brett Gardner is a New York Yankee by default. Signed as an insurance policy to protect an outfield decimated by injuries, he'll prove to be the key again.
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Reflections On Baseball
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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.