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Sports Legend Revealed: Did a Yankee outfielder barely make the College of Charleston's baseball team as a walk-on?

BASEBALL LEGEND: A Yankee outfielder made the College of Charleston's baseball team as a walk-on!

STATUS: False (for an odd reason).

Fabforum Baseball history is filled with players who did not fit into the prototypical mold of what a star baseball player "should" look like. Athletes tend to fall somewhere on the physique scale between guys like Alex Rodriguez (who looked like he could play Major League Baseball when he was 15 years old) and David Eckstein (who can't seem to get an article written about him that doesn't mention the fact that he's five foot seven inches tall). The Yankees' Brett Gardner falls a bit more towards Eckstein on that scale. The slender, five foot ten Gardner certainly does not cut an imposing figure on the baseball diamond, but whatever he lacks in the "fear factor," he makes up for in the "baseball playing ability factor."

Gardner's keen batting eye led to him having the highest On-Base Percentage on the New York Yankees last year. And we're not talking about a team of free swingers here! The Yankees had the highest team On-Base Percentage in the Major Leagues in 2010 and Gardner was their top guy. In addition, Gardner's blistering speed led to him being one of the most feared base stealers in the game, stealing forty-seven bases out of fifty-six attempts. That speed has also made him one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. He did not win a Gold Glove in 2010, but with the way the Gold Glove voters tend to work, I wouldn't be surprised if he got a "make-up" one next season.

And yet, since Gardner did not "look the part" coming out of his small South Carolina high school, Holly Hill Academy, he did not receive a single baseball scholarship offer from a NCAA Division 1 school. That's not that strange, as neither did the aforementioned Eckstein, but Eckstein walked on to the Florida Gators baseball squad and made the team, later receiving a scholarship from the school. Florida has one of the best college baseball programs in the country.

Gardner, meanwhile, tried to walk on to the College of Charleston, a NCAA Division 1 school that is known more for their academics than for their athletics.

And he didn't make the team!

Read on to find out what happened!

Brett's father, Jerry Gardner, was a professional baseball player, as well. A center fielder like his son, Jerry made it all the way to Double A ball in the Philadelphia Phillies system. After his son ended his high school career at Holly Hill without getting any offers from Division 1 schools, the elder Gardner sent a letter to Scott Foxhall, then the recruiting coordinator for the University of Charleston (which is about fifty miles from Holly Hill, SC), asking him to take a look at his son. Foxhall went to go watch Gardner play in an American Legion game in North Charleston. He was struck by Gardner's unusual speed, but that was about it. Still, he decided to allow Gardner a try out with the Charleston Cougars.

Gardner showed up, and while he did run the sixty yard dash in an impressive 6.6 seconds, he did nothing else to make himself stand out, not getting a ball out of the infield and even making a poor throw to third base from right field! Gardner himself recalled the situation in a 2009 New York Times article by Jack Curry as, “If I was a coach, I’d be like, ‘This kid’s not going to cut it.’" And that's exactly what Foxhall and the Cougars felt, and Gardner did not make the team.

Gardner surprised the team by showing up at the next practice. He had brought along another letter from his father. In it, Jerry asked if Brett could at least be allowed to practice with the Cougars. Foxhall and head coach John Pawlowski figured it couldn't hurt to let him work out with the team, and if he were to play in some of their fall scrimmages, that'd be fair enough, as well.

The rest, as you imagine, is pretty much history (Foxhall later recalled of how Gardner impressed them, "He never left our field without his uniform being filthy"). Gardner went on to have a stellar career at Charleston, making the All-Southern Conference team twice and was even named to the All-American third team in his senior year! In 2005, he was drafted by the Yankees with the second-to-last pick of the third round of the Major League Baseball Draft.

And now he's the starting left fielder for the New York Yankees (and was in the outfield when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009). Not bad for a guy who couldn't make the College of Charleston baseball team on his first try, eh?

Thanks to the College of Charleston for a lot of the information for this piece, and thanks also to Jack Curry for that great Gardner quote.

--Brian Cronin

Be sure to check out my Sports Legends Revealed for more sports legends! For other sports legends about athletes who got off to less than auspicious beginnings, be sure to check out...

Was Michael Jordan really cut from his high school basketball team?

What Olympic Athlete won a Gold Medal just five years after being declared dead at the scene of a plane crash?

What NFL football player, chosen with the last pick of the NFL draft, made his debut as a starter with a mis-spelled jersey?

What Olympic athlete won her first Silver Medal years after losing the use of her legs to Polio?!

What calamities ensued during slugger Ron Wright's one and only game in the Majors?

In addition, I have archives of all the past legends featured on the site in the categories of: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, the Olympics and Soccer/Football!

Also be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for legends about the worlds of TV, Movies, Music and more!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com. And please buy my book, "Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed! here.

Photo: Brett Gardner. Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP.

 
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