Brett Gardner has always been regarded as one of the game’s speed guys, whether it is gunning it from home to first to beat out an infield hit or tracking down a line drive deep in the outfield.
So it was rather jarring – almost amusing – to learn that the New York Yankees outfielder was fined around US$3,500 by Major League Baseball earlier this week for repeatedly flouting the game’s new pace-of-play rules.
As fleet of foot as he is, one of Gardner’s faults is that he is slow to enter the batter’s box, which has angered the likes of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who believes the game without a clock needs to be sped up.
Gardner has reportedly had as many as six violations.
Gardner would not discuss his run-ins with the league’s pace police when asked about it on Friday before the Yankees opened a three-game weekend series against the Blue Jays at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
“I really haven’t commented too much about it simply because I really don’t have a whole lot to say,” Gardner said. “Trying to continue to play my game, be the best I can, get up there as fast as possible and keep the game moving along.”
But you can bet that Gardner – as professional as there is in this game – is seething about the unwanted attention and has instructed his agent to take care of the clock issue with the league.
“I’ve got more things to worry about than taking three seconds too long to get to the box,” Gardner told Newsday. “Somebody else can [throw pickoff throws to first base] 27 times in a game and waste 15 minutes of everybody’s time and I get fined thousands of dollars taking three seconds too long to get in the box.”
In a great major-league 11-year career, all with New York, this is about as controversial as it has been for Gardner. The longest-tenured Yankee has never wilted under the bright lights on the game’s biggest stage.
“It’s kind of crazy to think that, to be honest,” Gardner said about his continued longevity in Yankees pinstripes. “My time has really flown by.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve gotten a chance to, not just meet and get to know a lot of special people, but play with a lot of really, really good players. I’m just fortunate and blessed to be in this position for so long.”
“You have to play good if you want to stay in New York because if you don’t they’ll get rid of you,” offered Toronto catcher Russell Martin, who played with Gardner in New York in 2011 and 2012.
In the final season of a four-year, US$52-million contract, the Yankees also have a US$12.5-million option to tack on another season, which they almost certainly will.
Gardner is in the midst of another typical Gardner season – consistent. He was hitting a little under his career average at .248 heading into Friday’s game, in which he batted leadoff and was in left field.
He singled in his first at-bat and then stole second against a Toronto team he has always owned. Gardner has more home runs (17), driven in more runs (51) and walked more times (66) against Toronto than any other team he has played against.
An all-star in 2015 and a Gold Glove recipient in 2016, Gardner won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009 in his second season.
He has a pretty good chance to win another this season on a powerhouse team that came to Toronto nipping at the heels of the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East.
All in all, not a bad career for a walk-on at the College of Charleston in West Virginia who went on to become a third-round pick of the Yankees in 2005.
Kevin Pillar, the Toronto centrefielder, has always been a Gardner admirer.
“His ability to get on base,” Pillar responded quickly, when asked what qualities he admires most about Gardner. “He just gives you a professional at-bat every time.
“And defensively, he’s as solid as it gets. He makes the plays, he makes the right throws. Just a pro.”
Gardner said he would jump at the chance to remain a Yankee for life.
“There’s no better place to play,” he said. “I’d love to be able to do that but obviously things don’t always end up the way you want them to.”