Billy Gardner Passes Away
Former MLB infielder and manager Billy Gardner passed away last week at age 96. An obituary is available courtesy of The Day in Gardner’s hometown of New London, Connecticut.
Billy Gardner's Baseball Career
Billy Gardner, who was born in 1927, signed with the then-New York Giants out of high school. He played in their minor league ranks for almost a decade before reaching the majors in 1954. The right-handed hitter played sporadically at the MLB level from 1954-55, appearing in 121 games. He won a ring as a rookie when the Giants swept the Indians in the 1954 Fall Classic, although he didn’t make an appearance in the series. In April ’56, New York sold his contract to the Orioles. Gardner immediately stepped in as Baltimore’s starting second baseman.
He would have his greatest success as a player over the next four seasons. In 1957, Gardner led the American League in plate appearances (718) and doubles (36). While his overall .262/.325/.356 batting line was a little worse than league average, his durability and defensive reputation earned him some down-ballot MVP votes. Gardner continued to play regularly in Baltimore through 1959. The O’s flipped him across town to the Washington Senators in 1960. Gardner tallied 649 plate appearances with a .257/.313/.363 slash.
That wound up being the franchise’s final season in D.C. During the 1960-61 offseason, the organization uprooted to Minnesota and rebranded as the Twins. Gardner was briefly part of the original Twins team and was traded to the Yankees for lefty Danny McDevitt midseason. It proved a fruitful trade for him personally, as he finished the year in the Bronx and collected a second World Series title. He made one appearance in what would ultimately be a five-game triumph over the Reds.
Billy Gardner's Coaching and Managing Career
Gardner closed his playing career in Boston after being traded yet again. He finished with a .237/.292/.327 line over parts of 10 MLB seasons. He hit 41 homers and 159 doubles in a bit under 3900 trips to the plate. Gardner played more than 8000 innings on defense, with the vast majority of that time coming at the keystone.
The end of his playing days didn’t mark the finale of his baseball career. Gardner transitioned to coaching with the Red Sox after his playing career concluded. He worked his way to an MLB staff with the Expos before rejoining the Twins as a coach in 1981. Within a couple months, he was tabbed as manager to replace Johnny Goryl. Gardner held the managerial role in Minneapolis for parts of five seasons. The team only got to .500 once (an 81-81 record in 1984) and he was dismissed midway through the ’85 campaign. He got one more managerial opportunity, leading the 1987 Royals to a 62-64 mark before being replaced by John Wathan. His teams finished with a 330-417 record (44.2% win percentage).
Condolences to Gardner's Family
MLBTR sends our condolences to Gardner’s family, friends, and loved ones.