From a walk-on at the College of Charleston to starting left fielder of the New York Yankees, it has been quite the ride for Holly Hills, South Carolina native Brett Gardner.
Gardner’s accomplished plenty in his career so far, ranging from hitting the franchise’s 15,000th home run to receiving his first All-Star nod and Gold Glove Award. But no one, not even Gardner, could have imagined the type of career he has had with the Bronx Bombers.
On June 30, 2008, the Yankees called Gardner up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he would later make his Major League debut. From there, Gardner went from a projected bench player to an everyday outfielder.
Through June 28, Gardner has a career slashline of .263/.347/.392 with 89 home runs, 426 RBI, 248 stolen bases, 195 doubles, 56 triples, and a 100 OPS+. He’s Top- 20 among stolen base leaders within the organization, and he also recently joined the 1,000-hit club in 2017. Add a World Series ring, a few Fielding Bible Awards, a Wilson defensive award, and the MLB Heart and Hustle Award, and he’s had quite the tenure.
Staying in Yankee pinstripes for 10 consecutive seasons is extremely hard to do. In fact, Gardner joins Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Don Mattingly as the only other players to do it in franchise history.
Yankees reliever David Robertson echoed those sentiments. Along with Gardner, Robertson made it to ‘The Show’ in 2008. But Robertson didn’t spend all 10 seasons with the organization. Robertson left as a free agent in 2014, and spent two and a half seasons with the Chicago White Sox before he was traded back to the Yankees in 2017.
“It’s impressive. It really is,” Robertson said. “He’s always been that guy who’s just a grinder — a tough out the whole time, plays exceptional defense. He gives you everything he’s got, and he’s been doing it for 10 years now. It’s crazy.
“If you don’t appreciate what Brett Gardner does for the Yankees, you’re not a Yankees fan.”
Robertson and Judge aren’t the only ones who appreciate Gardner’s value and leadership. It’s become quite apparent the front office appreciates Gardner as well.
After the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract in 2013, fans speculated that it would only be a matter of time before Gardner was traded. However, the Yankees stunned everyone when they offered Gardner a four-year, $52 million extension in February 2014. The Yankees were notoriously known for not negotiating extensions in the midst of a current contract.
But Gardner was the lone exception. The only question was, why?
As it turned out, the Yankees never envisioned trading Gardner, and the team viewed him as a main component not only on the field, but in the clubhouse.
Following Jeter’s departure, Gardner showed assurance and authority. The young players would come to him for advice. His fellow veterans looked to him for guidance. At the beginning of Judge’s mainstay with the Yankees, Gardner opened his home to him, only to be repaid by Judge eating his two sons’ Easter candy. Most importantly, when the team found themselves at the hands of a losing streak, Gardner was the first person to help his teammates put the past behind them.
“After the three games we just lost in Tampa, he came in here and said, ‘Get back to work!’ That’s all it is,” Judge said.
The Yankees haven’t announced an official captain since Jeter retired, but to many in the clubhouse, Gardner’s their captain. With Gardner’s navigation, the Yankees hope to make it to their first World Series since 2009. But this season has a bittersweet aftertaste; Gardner is entering the final season of his contract with an option for the 2019 season. It’s no guarantee the Yankees will pick up Gardner’s option and it’s not a given that he will return next season.
But one thing is certain — Gardner has surely enjoyed his lengthy and well deserved ride in pinstripes.
“It’s definitely been a fun ride, and it’s hard to believe for me that it’s been 10 years,” Gardner said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Hopefully, I’ll be here a few more years.”