Can we cut Brett Gardner a little bit of slack?
As if being in centerfield on a team is in a must win situation on a team that demands success wasn't enough, now the Yankees have made some huge free agent acquisitions. Now, the remaining hot topic is "What do we do with Brett Gardner?" or "Can Brett Gardner fill the shoes of the greats that have graced Yankee Stadium?"
All this fascination of the sanctity of centerfield and how Gardner will go down as the first centerfielder in the new stadium makes me sick. I submit that you would be hard pressed to find a position that was not at one time or another held by a legend.
Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson held leftfield, while rightfield had Babe Ruth and Reggie "Mr. October" Jackson. Third base had Wade Boggs and Graig Nettles, first base had Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly, and the Yankees had three of the greatest catchers to sit behind the plate in Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, and Thurman Munson. Yet, no one is complaining that there are possible non-legends filling those positions as the Yankees move to unveil Yankee Stadium 2.0.
Centerfield has had maybe one of the most storied histories for the Yankees and many great players. Players like Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Mickey Rivers, Bobby Murcer, and Bernie Williams have graced centerfield in pinstripes. Did you know that Bernie and the Mick both started off badly with the Yanks, a lot like Gardner?
Mantle batted .267, sported the worst OBP of his career, and was picked off stealing seven times during his first 93 games with the Yanks. Bernie Williams hit just .238 with only 76 hits in his first 85 games played. Both, however, went on to have beautiful careers full of championships and finished with career batting averages of .298 and .297 respectively. Even the late great Bobby Murcer, who played center at one time of the Yanks, had a combined batting average of .198 in his first two seasons with the Yankees.
Gardner came up from the minors and started off very slowly last year. He was terrible at the plate early, getting crossed up and striking out thirty times and hitting only .229 in his 42 games. The upside is that he stole 13 bases, getting caught only once. He adds speed to a lineup that desperately needs it. With his 13 SB, he finished third on the team behind A-rod, Abreu, and Damon. He also started to come around with his bat at the end of the season batting .343 in the last 10 games of the season. That shows that once he gets used to being in the big leagues a little longer he could be an awesome player.
Gardner may never end up being in the same class as any of the aforementioned greats, but let's let him play it out and give him the benefit of the doubt. He may calm down and turn into a good player sooner if we don't continually remind him of the acts that he his following.
Good luck Brett, and don't let the media get you down.