- Gardner defeated Chris Hoiles, Mo Vaughn, and Erik Kratz to get to this spot. His writeup: “There is a legend (myth?) about Brett Gardner in college that sums him up pretty well, I think. The story goes like this: in 2002, Brett Michael Gardner tried to walk on to the College of Charleston baseball team. After a day, or two, supposedly, Gardner did not make the team… but no one told him, officially, that he was cut. So he kept showing up, day after day, working his butt off to improve as a player. No one told him to go away, so he kept showing up. He ended up batting 83 times as a freshman, hitting a pretty anemic .241, with a .325 slugging percentage. You would be forgiven if you thought that the young man had no chance to be a major league baseball player at that point. He won a starting job as a sophomore, though, and showed an ability to get on base (he had a .370 OBP that season), and then steal a base, too, finishing with 28. He improved even more as a junior, and then exploded as a senior, hitting .447/.506/.571 in 273 at-bats, with 85 runs scored (in 63 games), 18 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 38 stolen bases (and he only got caught five times), and a silly 29/18 BB/K ratio. The Yankees drafted him in the 3rd round in 2005, and Gardner began working his way up the minor league chain, step by step, improvement by improvement. He reached the major leagues in late June, 2008, and eventually worked his way into a starting position in the outfield, showing the same patience/speed combo, with superb defense. His best season to date was probably the last one, 2019, in his age-35 season. In 141 games and 491 at-bats, Gardner hit .251/.325/.503, with 86 runs scored, 26 doubles, seven triples, 28 home runs, 74 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases. For his major league career, now spanning 12 seasons and 5,220 at-bats, he’s hit .260/.342/.401, with 68 triples, 124 home runs, 524 RBIs, and 267 stolen bases. He was named an All-Star in 2015, won a Gold Glove in 2016, led the American League in triples in 2013 and stolen bases in 2011, and won a World Series with the Yanks in 2009.”
- Kruk defeated Wayne Comer, Jon Jay, and Yonder Alonso. “John Kruk is pretty well known as an interesting guy. For example, he famously said, “I ain’t an athlete, lady, I’m a professional baseball player,” and he was batting in the 1993 All-Star game when Randy Johnson fired a fastball over Kruk’s head. He was visably relieved that he wasn’t hit by the pitch, and then he promptly struck out on three pitches, much to the delight of the other players. On July 30, 1995, he reportedly told his manager that if he got a hit in his first at-bat, he was retiring. Sure enough, he singled, was lifted for a pinch hitter for his next at-bat, and Kruk never played again. (He retired with a batting average of exactly .300. If he had made an out, his career average would have been .299974.) Over ten years and 3,897 career at-bats, Kruk hit .300/.397/.446, with 199 doubles, 34 triples, 100 home runs, and an outstanding 649/701 BB/K ratio. He was a three-time All-Star, received MVP votes in those same three years, and finished 7th in the Rookie of the Year award voting in 1986. One of his best years was in 1993, when the Philadelphia Phillies surprised MLB by advancing to the World Series. Kruk hit .316/.430/.475 that summer, with 100 runs scored, 33 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs, and 85 RBIs. He walked 111 times against only 87 strikeouts. He went on to be an ESPN broadcaster after his career, and he was inducted into the VBL Hall-of Fame in 2017.”
Vote by going to twitter.com/JohnATVL to vote! (Closes Friday morning)
And by the way, if you want to read much, much more about the 2019 VBL season, be sure to check out the 2019 Valley League Annual!