If you don’t understand why the Yankees think so highly of Brett Gardner — and based on my interactions with Yankees fans, a sizable such population exists — I submit Chris Dickerson as the first character witness.
Remember Dickerson? You might not if you don’t qualify as a hard-core Yankees fan. Dickerson, an outfielder, played a total of 355 major-league games from 2008 through 2014. He clocked 85 of those games with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012.
One of those 85 Yankees games stood out in my memory: May 18, 2011, an Oriole Park at Camden Yards contest. Bartolo Colon threw eight scoreless innings, only to see Mariano Rivera blow the lead in the ninth. That led to Dickerson’s unfortunately memorable moment: In the top of the 15th inning, with two runs already in, Baltimore reliever Mike Gonzalez drilled Dickerson in the helmet.
A.J. Burnett, of all people, pinch ran for Dickerson, who went to The Johns Hopkins Hospital nearby for concussion testing.
“That was some scary stuff,” Dickerson recalled, when we spoke in October. “That was one of my first games with the Yankees (it was his second).”
As used to be medical protocol for concussions, the medical experts on duty instructed Dickerson to not go to sleep.
“I remember the task was put on Gardy to keep me up all night,” Dickerson said. “I remember Gardy and I played FIFA after I got back to the hotel. What always sticks out to me is Gardy staying up in the middle of the night with me, playing FIFA.”
The Yankees re-signed Gardner for 2020, with a raise from 2019, primarily because the 36-year-old proved he still has value left to give. A strong secondary selling point, however, is what Gardner contributes to the clubhouse culture. If you were so inclined, you could arrange for another 50 witnesses to testify after Dickerson.
Dickerson’s career didn’t last as long — he’s a year-plus older than Gardner and retired after 2017, his third straight season playing only in the minors — or prove as prosperous due in large part to osteoarthritis in his left knee.
“I had six knee surgeries before I was done playing,” Dickerson said. “I had five knee surgeries by the time I signed a contract, I was wearing a knee brace when I was 11, 12 years old. It got gradually worse.”
He still gets treatment for his knee in retirement, yet that doesn’t stop him from living a full life. He works in an advisory role for Transition Sports & Entertainment, which helps athletes and entertainers manage their lives. He’s also interested in broadcasting.
And he connects with people like me to get the word out about osteoarthritis. He urges people with this condition to talk to an orthopedic specialist to discuss treatment options. And to not let the pain discourage them from living a full life that allows you to meet people like, well, Brett Gardner.
— Let’s catch up on Pop Quiz questions:
1. From John Santello of Jacksonville: Name the former major-league infielder who appeared in the 1959 classic film “North by Northwest.”
2. From Richard Siegelman of Plainview: Name the legendary TV character, both fictional and animated, who was “inducted” into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017.
3. From Steven Santucci of Middletown, NJ: In the 1961 film “One, Two Three,” C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney) asserts, “The only royalty we know are” jazz musician Count Basie and a pair of major-league players. Name the two players.
— At the winter meetings this past week, I attended a breakfast hosted by the Baseball Assistance Team, or BAT (https://www.mlb.com/baseball-assistance-team). The work it does to help baseball community members who have hit hard times is nothing short of remarkable. If you know any such person who could use some aid, don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
— Your Pop Quiz answers:
Johnny Berardino, or Beradino (he changed the spelling of his name when he went Hollywood).
Duke Snider and Earl Wlison
If you have a tidbit that connects baseball to popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.