Yankees: Brett Gardner’s farewell to empty stadium is heartbreaking

Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees smiles during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on September 02, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees smiles during the sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on September 02, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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Longest-tenured Yankees player Brett Gardner tipped his cap to an ugly Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees wrapped their season with an emotionless affair, falling 5-0 to the Marlins and backing into the five seed, thanks to some Baltimore Orioles chicanery in Buffalo.

But we got the injection of emotion we never expected as the game wrapped, when cameras caught Brett Gardner sneaking back out of the dugout to pay tribute to the cathedral in the Bronx.

Gardner, a Yankee since the final season at the old ballpark in 2008, has somehow managed to be the last remaining player from the ’09 title-winning roster, and seemingly has carte blanche to sign one-year deals until he deems himself unfit to serve.

But clearly, he was feeling some type of way about exiting the stadium for the final time in 2020, with much of the roster in flux this offseason. Without a roster spot guaranteed, Gardy may have tipped his cap one last time to a crowd that wasn’t there.

https://twitter.com/blondinthebronx/status/1310344127062704131

It was hard to avoid the strangeness of this season at every turn. After all, every crowd shot should’ve been brimming with strangers, sweating profusely through the dog days of August. Every one of the five home runs the Yankees hit in an inning against Buffalo should’ve been punctuated by the roar of promise being fulfilled. Instead, the best we got was digitized FOX fans whose heads disappeared when confronted by real human bodies.

But sometimes, it was especially apparent that the confines of the stadium were empty, when the players broke the fourth wall and acknowledged they were playing for an imagined crowd. Gardy did it to us when the season began, too, doing the Bleacher Creature Roll Call for no one.

Gardner made it clear after the game that he intends to return in 2021 — though likely not on the expensive option that’s still attached to his contract.

We see no reason why he shouldn’t be back, either. After the slowest of slow starts, Gardner charged back and was among the team’s hottest hitters over the season’s final three weeks, finishing with a 110 wRC+.

In a strange year that’s difficult to evaluate, the veteran found his footing faster than, say, Mike Tauchman, who would’ve been ahead of him in the pecking order prior to 2020. And, like many people have rightfully said, it truly does seem like Gardner could get a piano dropped on him and still find a way to start for the Yankees.

Even if you were ambivalent about Gardner’s chance to return before watching this video, though, you have to admit that it’s not fair for him to go out like this. He’ll be a fourth outfielder on a contending team next year either way. So why not make that team the Yankees?