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Brett Gardner’s unique place in Yankees history

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The veteran outfielder’s consistency has made him a Yankee to remember.

Divisional Series - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Whether or not Major League Baseball owners and players find common ground in their negotiations this month, 2020 will mark the end of a streak for Brett Gardner: seven straight seasons appearing in at least 140 regular season games.

The streak was a testament to Gardner’s best qualities as a ballplayer: doggedness, durability, versatility and longevity. No matter his age, his perceived talent level or his competition in the outfield, Gardner has kept earning his way into the lineup year after year. He was never a star, but his diverse strengths helped him compile unexpected and impressive numbers while carving out a unique spot in Yankees history.

The most recent surprise from Gardner, now 36, came at the plate. Slashing .251/.325/.503 in 2019, he posted career highs in home runs, slugging and OPS. Juiced baseballs were likely an important ingredient in his recipe for an offensive renaissance, but he still needed to maintain his high level of play to take advantage of the opportunity.

And even if he’d been less productive at the dish, his defense in 2019 helped make him too valuable to keep on the bench. Among all major league outfielders, Gardner ranked 16th with 5 DRS — not among the game’s best, but still flashing better leather than the majority of players in left, right and center.

It helps that Gardner hasn’t lost a step. Per Baseball Savant, his sprint speed back in 2015 was 28.8 ft/sec. Last season, it was actually a tick higher at 28.9 ft/sec.

As much as his continued quickness has helped him in the field, it has truly set him apart on the basepaths. Gardner has 267 career stolen bases, good for third all-time on the Yankees, trailing only Derek Jeter (358) and Rickey Henderson (326).

And by one measure — BsR, a cumulative metric that measures runs lost or gained by skills like stealing prowess, advancing on the basepaths, and staying out of double plays — Brett Gardner is the most accomplished baserunner in team history.

Gardner owns a career BsR of 70.9 as a Yankee. No other player comes close. Henderson is a distant second, with 41.1, and then Jeter with 24.0.

So while he never boasted the raw power of Aaron Judge or the precocity of Gleyber Torres, Gardner has made up for any shortcomings with elite speed and diverse skills to help his team on the margins. And because he has been grinding out so many good innings for so long, he has managed to entrench himself in the Bronx Bombers’ illustrious history.

His career fWAR of 37.0 is fifth among all Yankees center fielders, and places him 23rd on the list of every man to ever don pinstripes. Had a full season been possible in 2020, Gardner might have leapfrogged higher, joining heady company like Jorge Posada, Don Mattingly and Thurman Munson.

As good a ride as it has been with Gardner since 2008, the postponement and potential cancellation of the present season leaves him in an uncertain position. His current contract has a team option for next year, and teammates and fans alike will undoubtedly want to see him return as a veteran leader.

But the option’s price tag of $10 million complicates the situation. Given his age, the club’s crowded outfield, and the wrangling between owners and players over salaries, there’s a nonzero chance we’ve seen the last of Gardner in a Yankees uniform.

For now, though, let’s not contemplate that bleak possibility any further. Instead, we can appreciate the seven-season run Brett Gardner has strung together. The last few baseball-free months have been a painful reminder how precious every game is for both players and fans. It’s worth taking a moment to tip our caps to a Yankee who has showed up so reliably for so many of them.