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Larry Gardner

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William Lawrence Gardner

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[edit] Biographical Information

Larry Gardner was one of the best third basemen of the Deadball Era and played on four World Champion teams with the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.

Born in a small manufacturing village in northern Vermont, a few miles from Canada, Larry Gardner was a star pitcher in high school and an amateur shortstop when some players from the University of Vermont discovered him and convinced him to enroll in 1905. He made the varsity team as a freshman, alongside future Boston teammate pitcher Ray Collins. In the summers, he played in various outlaw leagues around New England. In 1908, he led the University to the New England championship, and was signed by the Boston Red Sox after the end of the semester, foregoing his last year of collegiate eligibility. He played a few games for the Red Sox in June and July 1908, but was then offered a choice to stay with the team as a little-used reserve, or go play regularly in the minor leagues. Gardner chose the latter, taking over as the regular shortstop of the Lynn Shoemakers of the New England League. He batted .305 in 61 games, and then returned to college in September to complete his studies. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry in June 1909, and rejoined the Red Sox immediately afterwards.

In 1909, Larry Gardner served largely as a substitute for regular 3B Harry Lord, but still batted .297 with a .432 slugging percentage in 19 games. He was back on the bench at the start of the 1910 season, but a spot opened up in the lineup when second baseman Amby McConnell broke his leg a few days into the season. Gardner did extremely well in his place, hitting .283 in 113 games and playing outstanding defense. After the season, both McConnell and Lord were traded to the Chicago White Sox. Gardner opened that season as the Red Sox second baseman, but manager Patsy Donovan switched him to third base, a position he would play for the remainder of his career.

As good a second baseman as Larry Gardner had been, he was even better at the hot corner. His prowess in fielding bunts reminded observers of Jimmy Collins, one of his predecessors in Boston and acknowledged at the time as the best fielding 3B ever. In 1912, he hit .315 with 18 triples, but broke a finger on his throwing hand while diving for a ball on September 21. He only came back in time for the World Series, but with his hand taped up, he had trouble hitting at first. He improved as the Series advanced, delivered two hits in a 3-1 victory over the New York Giants in Game 4, hit the Series only home run in Game 7, and then drove in the Series' winning run with a sacrifice fly to deep right field off Christy Mathewson in the 10th inning of Game 8. It would be the first of four Championships for Gardner.

Larry Gardner slumped at the bat over the next few seasons, hitting .259 in 1914 and .258 in 1915, collecting a second World Series title that year. He bounced back in 1916, batting .308 and hitting two home runs in the World Series against the Brooklyn Robins. The second was particularly dramatic, an inside-the-park shot to deepest center field off Rube Marquard that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 Boston lead in Game 4. He slipped to .265 in 1917, giving management the sense that he may have reached the end of his rope. He was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics after the season for first baseman Stuffy McInnis. He hit .285 for the last-place Athletics but was missed in Boston: even though the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series without him, they used nine players at third base during the season, never finding Gardner's match.

Before the 1919 season, Gardner was sent to the Cleveland Indians as part of a youth movement in Philadelphia. He was reunited there with two former Boston teammates, player-manager Tris Speaker and former pitcher "Smoky" Joe Wood, who was now also playing the outfield for the Indians. Gardner hit .300 with a team-leading 79 RBI for his new team while playing every inning of every game. In 1920, he hit .310 with 110 RBI, leading Cleveland to its first AL pennant and a World Series victory over Brooklyn. He had another great season in 1921, hitting .319 with 101 runs scored, 32 doubles and 120 RBI. He then hit .285 in 1922 while fighting several nagging injuries, but was convinced to return for another season in 1923 as a player-coach. He filled that role for two seasons, then managed in the minor leagues for the Asheville Tourists in for three more years. The Indians' managerial slot came open for the 1927 season after Speaker was sold to the Washington Senators over gambling allegations; Gardner seemed the natural candidate for the job, but was passed over in favor of Jack McCallister. In a 1927 Asheville game, his pitcher Tom Farrell killed Pete Mann with a ball that broke at the last minute, which must have been a painful reminder to Gardner of former teammate Ray Chapman's fate.

At that point, Larry Gardner decided to return home to Vermont. He first opened an automobile dealership in his hometown of Enosburg Falls, VT, then in 1929 moved to Burlington, VT where he served for many years as baseball coach (1929-1951) and later athletic director at his alma mater, the University of Vermont. He died in St. George, VT on March 11, 1976.

The Vermont chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was initially named after Gardner. The chapter name has since been amended to also include the name of a former member.

[edit] Notable Achievements

[edit] Further Reading

  • Tom Simon: "William Lawrence 'Larry' Gardner", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., 2006, pp. 438-440.

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