January 24 – Happy Birthday Earle Gardner
Though they were also referred to as the Americans, their Highlanders’ nickname fit them well because they played their home games in a place called Hilltop Park, which was located on one of the highest points on Manhattan island. The team landed there in 1903 when Ban Johnson’s upstart American League relocated its Baltimore Oriole franchise to the Big Apple. It was a forced move that caused tons of bad blood and hostility. As a result, just about the entire Orioles roster either refused to make the move or were not offered the opportunity to do so. This forced the Highlanders to throw a team together in a helter skelter fashion, that included boozers, brawlers, gamblers and a few talented ball players thrown in for good measure. Co-owned by one of New York City’s biggest gambling barons and a retired corrupt cop, the club played as erratically as the hit-or-miss evolution of the team’s roster suggested it would. They finished 4th, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 5th, last, 5th, 2nd, 6th and last during their first decade in their new home. They battled helplessly for the attention of city’s baseball fans and baseball press in those early years with John McGraw’s mighty Giants. Things really didn’t get better for the team and its fans until the franchise was purchased by a couple of very wealthy colonels named Rupert and Huston in 1915.
Earle Gardner joined the team in 1908. He was a five foot eleven inch, 160 pound second baseman from Sparta, IL, who during three previous seasons in the minors had developed a reputation with his fancy glove work. He was also a decent hitter, averaging right around .300 in three different classes of farm league ball. It took him two-and-a-half seasons to claim the starting second-baseman’s job and he was only able to hold onto it for just a year-and-a-half. He hit .263 in 1911, his only full season as a starter and then he gave way to Hack Simmons in 1912.
Just 28 years-old at the time he lost his starting position, Gardner returned to minor league ball and never again played in a big league game. He ended up with a .263 lifetime average during his five seasons in New York. He continued playing in the minors until 1918. He died in 1943 at the age of 59.