Brett Gardner is the unofficial captain of the Yankees – hands down. Time is running out to make it real. Hal Steinbrenner – it’s your move…
Brett Gardner is your prototype New York Yankee. Homegrown, fearless, overachieving, relentless, exuberant – this is the man who has patrolled the outfield at Yankee Stadium for twelve seasons.
Like a fine wine, Gardner is aging well and enjoying his most beautiful season at age 36. His value to the Yankees is measured only by the team’s quickness in signing him to a one-year deal last November that amounted to a $2 million pay-cut from the previous season.
Brett Gardner, however, doesn’t play baseball for the money. According to Spotrac, he has earned $70,896,000 during his tenure with the Yankees. That’s a paltry sum when you consider Giancarlo Stanton has already brought down $81,050,000. But that’s not the point.
The whole of the matter is that like Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, and Derek Jeter before him, Brett Gardner plays baseball like it’s supposed to be played – doggedly, with purpose, and with a spirit that’s driven to win.
The unique characteristic of Gardner is we don’t need to look at the numbers to define him. We know what and who he is without them. You can say when you look at baseball’s measure of greatness that Gardner hasn’t been great at all. His numbers are pedestrian by baseball standards. (Note: For a better view, (click here.)
What stands out? Not the home runs, although Gardner did hit 28 this year. And not the average .257 batting average. Instead, it’s the intangibles that don’t get you to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s the average of grounding into double plays (only 6), and the average 146 games played with more than 600 at-bats per season.
Don’t look for appearances in the All-Star Game – Gardner’s had only one. Gold Gloves? He’s had only one of those as well, despite that teammates and Yankees fans know otherwise. Only two times has Brett Gardner led the league in anything, once in stolen bases (49 in 2011) and once in triples (10 in 2013)
Brett Gardner – A Model For Consistency
Instead of greatness, consistency marks Gardner’s tenure with the Yankees. He is the same Brett Gardner I recall seeing in 2006 when he was playing his final games for the Yankee’s Triple-A club in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Jogging in with steel-eyed purposiveness, Gardner looked more like an NFL halfback than the future outfielder of the Yankees.
Team captains need not be made of numbers, anyway. They come in all sizes and shapes, threaded only by their capacity to be a leader.
And even there, there are differences in type. Thurman Munson was the fiery take-no-prisoners type. Teammates feared what might happen to them if they failed to run out a ground ball.
Don Mattingly was a hitter’s hitter. He carried his lunchbox to work every during the dog days of mediocre Yankee teams. Quiet, rarely demonstrative, Mattingly led strictly by his play on the field.
Jeter chose to wear a mask for his entire career in New York. It served him well as he enjoyed the admiration of both fans and media. Similar to Joe DiMaggio, Jeter carried himself with a tag of royalty. He backed it all up with Hall of Fame numbers, of course, as well.
What’s The Holdup, Hal?
Brett Gardner fits none of those molds except for the obvious one as a team leader. Smelling a title, Brett Gardner changed his brand in 2019. He instituted a feud with umpires, quivering on the edge of a suspension by Major League Baseball.
Most likely, Gardner is the player Aaron Boone had in mind when he infamously earned his ousting in a game, labeling his hitters as “Savages” in their at-bats.
As was the case last year, Brian Cashman will have hell to pay if he doesn’t sign Gardner to another re-up with the Yankees.
It can be argued that it’s payback time, and the Yankees need to ante-up with a two-year deal this time.
Except for pride and additional financial security, though, it’s not likely to make much of a difference to Gardner.
He’s a ballplayer, through and through. He also happens to be a mainstay in the Yankees organization, who can command a position of his choice when the playing days are over.
Neither Paul McCartney or Elton John needed the title “Sir” attached to their name. Each was already a musician etched in the lore of British music.
So too, it is with Brett Gardner and the New York Yankees.
What’s the holdup?