Reggie Jackson claimed the title. Brett Gardner never asked for it, but make no mistake, Gardner is the straw that stirs the Yankees drink…
It was in 2008 when I first noticed Brett Gardner patrolling center field for the Yankees Triple-A team in Scranton, Pennsylvania as part of my pilgrimage touring minor league ballparks across America. Gritty with a shaved head at 24, muscles shaped like an NFL halfback, with a speed that went uncontested that day for two stolen bases, Brett Gardner looked every bit like the ballplayer he would become.
Come August, Brett Gardner will be 36, and he’s still the same player and person he was then. What you see is what you get with Brett Gardner. Aaron Boone called Brett Gardner “one of the heartbeats of our club”. Forgive Boone’s momentary lapse though because Gardner is the heartbeat of the Yankees.
Along with CC Sabathia, Gardner is the remaining vestige of the Yankees last World Championship a decade ago. Allowed to become a free agent after the 2018 season,
Brian Cashman wasted no time in re-signing Gardner to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. Cashman joked he would be afraid to walk the streets of New York if he had done anything else.
Unlike Reggie Jackson, who put in a claim as the straw stirring the Yankees drink, there is no bravado attached to Brett Gardner. Much like Don Mattingly, he is the working man’s ballplayer who carries his lunchpail to work every day – ready to play.
Brett Gardner: Put Him In Coach, He’s Ready To Play
Originally, Gardner’s role on the 2019 Yankees was written differently than it’s turned out to be. Penciled in as a spot starter almost exclusively against right-handed pitching, Gardner has appeared in 51 of the Yankees 54 games.
He’s been the backbone of the Yankees outfield this season following injuries to the entire projected starting outfield of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks. Those same injuries opened up a spot for Clint Frazier, and it was Gardner who took Frazier under his wings in the outfield, covering the young player when Frazier misplayed a ball and “cheating” toward Frazier in his center field positioning.
The month of April was not kind to Brett Gardner and the whispers in some quarters could be heard – he’s washed up. A .221 batting average with only 20 extra-base hits in 202 plate appearances didn’t help. But the “Grinder” never strayed from the only thing he knows. Play hard.
To the surprise of no one in the Yankees clubhouse, Gardner has rebounded in the month of May, batting ,267 to raise his season’s average to .240. Nothing to write home about but again, when we’re talking Brett Gardner his full story has to contain the intangibles he brings to the table.
Gardner: Oh My, Those Intangibles…
Leadership is the first word that comes to mind when asked to describe Brett Gardner. And much like his teammate, CC Sabathia who assumes the role with the pitchers, Gardner leads by example. Moreover, his is the corner locker of the clubhouse and the first spot the media hits when the doors are opened.
Gardner, unlike his former teammate Derek Jeter, who gave the media a bunch of gobbly-gook, never flinches. He’s always available and always ready with a quick analysis of the game just played, good or bad.
For Aaron Boone, this lifts a load off his mind in knowing he can safely turn the Yankees clubhouse over to Gardner and Sabathia, realizing things will be done the Yankees way.
It is no coincidence the Yankee’s revolving clubhouse door due to injuries has been free of dissension. Almost immediately, players like Gio Urshela, Thairo Estrada, and previously Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman, and a slew of replacement pitchers, are greeted at the same locker by Gardner, welcomed to the team, and told – “Ask me or CC, we’re here to help”.
As the Yankees Injured List shrinks, Brett Gardner’s playing time will decrease, especially against lefties. But whenever the Yankees are playing one of those must-have games though, Aaron Boone will have Gardner in there, whether it’s Chris Sale or not.
The sentiment is on the side of Brett Gardner returning on another one-year team-friendly contract. Unlike Sabathia, Gardner has given no indication he’s ready to hang-’em-up. Much like Nick Swisher, they may have to tear his uniform off before giving into father-time.
But in so many ways, Brett Gardner still looks and plays like the kid I recall seeing sprinting in from center field so many years ago when he was playing his final season for the Triple-A Scranton Railriders.
The “heartbeat” of the Yankees continues to stir the drink that makes him indispensable as a throwback for what symbolizes the best baseball has to offer.
Brett Gardner went 1-3, driving in a run in today’s 7-0 win over the San Diego Padres and engineering another series win by the Yankees. Tomorrow, the Red Sox come in for a four-game series at Yankee Stadium. (Preview Here)