Yankees Brett Gardner, the last of a dying breed
Brett Gardner is of the last installments of one-team players. He, like few others, is beloved by his team’s followers for sticking it out with the Yankees since the beginning of his professional playing days.
The Yankees are becoming more and more business-like every year, and while some may praise the shift in ideals of the team, many like myself feel ashamed to be a fan of a team who puts business first.
What was once common practice within the Yankees organization is now a thing of the past. An idea going extinct. And this idea is especially ongoing with teams who continually strive and push to win World Series’.
The days of the Derek Jeter’s and the Chipper Jones’ are over. Lifers, players who “played with only one team for at least 10 years” are hard to come by these days. But why? Where did all the respect between players and franchises go?
With increased competition comes an increase in money. Players are paid more now than ever before, but that’s not a shocker. That’s inflation along with an increased level of play among professional ballplayers.
However, the decrease in consideration between teams and players is a direct result of this combination of inflation plus increased talent.
With new MLB contracts being for more money and longer durations of time than they have been in the past, teams not only begin to value their players more but as a result, look to rid the club of older players who often cost too much money for their lowered production.
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Back to Gardner, he is this dying breed. Gardy is not the best player, nor is he the cheapest, but he is unique in that he is one of few one-team players left in the majors. And to support reasoning for Gardner being chosen, he led the Yankees this past season in both plate appearances and at at-bats, showing just how resourceful he has been to the Yankees organization.
That is saying a lot of Gardner’s drive as a baseball player; to face more pitchers than all of his teammates, at age 33, being the third oldest batter on the team. Behind 37-year-old Matt Holliday and 37-year-old, Erik Kratz, who saw two at-bats all year.
Gardner has been put in the same group as many of baseball’s icons, especially being on a team that used to value these types of team-first players. A team that has 21 retired numbers, including all numbers 1-10, eight being retired twice (Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra).
But Gardner is different from all these storied players. He is the least decorated of all the Yankee players who have had their number retired, and yet he is still an excellent candidate to retire as a Yankee for life and to have his no. 11 retired.
We can try to measure what makes up a one-team player. First off, one-team players are the exception to the sport. We have to remember that, of retired players, only 170 remained with a single team for 10 seasons or more.
That being said, these players are also not the only ones who receive number retirement. Babe Ruth is a prime example, one of the best hitters ever; The Babe played for three different teams throughout his 22-year career. And yet, Ruth still received number retirement, of his No. 3, from the Yankees.
The average one-team player’s (playing at least 10 years) career total WAR is 37.66 with an average WAR per season of 2.49. But there’s more to it than that.
High WAR just means an exceptional player which results in the acknowledgments of All-Star honors, Cy Young Awards, Rookie of the Years, and all the other recognition you can think of.
As for Gardner, his career total WAR being 30.5 is slightly lower than the average of these franchise players, but Gardner’s career is also not over.
Also, with an average WAR per season of 3.05, Gardner is above the average for these franchise players. Gardner is an ideal candidate to not only have his number retired but also to be an example to other players and teams. To show that baseball is not just a business.
What cannot be measured here is the feeling a player allows to resonant within his supporters, within fans of baseball. Brett Gardner is a player with zero negative connotation to his name. He has a squeaky-clean personal life and has been with the Yankees since being drafted.
And the fact, that Gardner is even in this conversation with his lack of performance acknowledgment (just one All-Star showing) demonstrates that there is something about him that people love.
Gardner is not just admired by fans, but by his teammates as well. Clint Frazier, the Yankees rookie in 2017, felt that Gardner was the team’s “captain.” Now the Yankees haven’t had an actual “captain” since Derek Jeter and none before that since Don Mattingly back in 1995.
But with backing from both fans and teammates, Gardner’s career is ideal in ways that aren’t just statistically sound.
Now many argue that teams, especially the Yankees, have seen too many one-team players, and as a result have retired too many numbers too quickly. But I say the opposite.
The Yankees, baseball’s most storied franchise, with the most numbers retired, with the most World Series titles, have plenty of non-retired numbers and plenty of numbers which have never been seen on a uniform. Along with that, I think many of us would eventually like to see triple digit numbers just for fun.
But don’t get too number crazy. Player numbers are not meant to be retired willy-nilly. Number retirement is intended to be an honor of the highest class which a team can bestow on a player. And while I speak as if there are very few one-team players left, that could change rather quickly.
The Yankees alone are looking at a younger team with a lot of talent. Talent which could stay with the club for another decade.
I think we are looking towards a golden age of Yankees baseball; years of success to come. And what team is better known for this than the Yanks, with as many as seven World Series titles coming within a 10-year period (1943-1953).
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With a sound bullpen, two players capable of hitting 50+ home runs and competing with each other for MVP Awards, this Yankees team has the potential to turn the baseball world back to the past.
For a team who had an average age of 28.4 in ’17, coming in as 13th youngest in all of MLB, turning fans back to adoring and appreciating these one-team players is a distinct possibility.