|Danny Gardella, baseball pioneer, dies at 85
By MICHAEL GANNON
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: March 9, 2005)
Gardella, plucked from a New York shipyard to club 18 home runs in his only full major league season in 1945, jumped to the renegade Mexican League the following year after a contract squabble with the Giants.
Baseball Commissioner Albert B. Happy Chandler suspended him and several other players for violating the reserve clause, which bound players to the teams they signed with unless traded or released. Gardella, who was offered $4,500 to play for the Giants and made $10,000 in Mexico, later teamed with lawyer Frederic Johnson to sue major league baseball for violating antitrust laws.
Gardella settled for $60,000, going on to play only a few more games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1950. His lawsuit, however, laid the groundwork for players like Curt Flood, who in 1972 lost his challenge of the reserve clause in the U.S. Supreme Court, and Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who three years later won arbitration cases that ushered in modern free agency.
"I did it because I loved the game and wanted to play," Gardella told former Journal News columnist Maury Allen in 1990. "Today's players make too much money to love the game. Their hero is Donald Trump, not Babe Ruth."
A colorful oddball with a penchant for pranks, Gardella began his professional baseball career at 17, when he joined his older brother Al on a Detroit Tigers farm club in West Virginia, said Al Gardella, who went on to manage in the minor leagues and now lives in Florida.
Danny Gardella played a few years there and on another minor league club in Arkansas, before tiring of the game and heading back to New York. He continued to play ball on a semipro club affiliated with the New York shipyard where he worked, Al Gardella said. In 1944, while many major league stars were abroad fighting in World War II, a Giants scout spotted him and signed him to a contract. Al Gardella joined him a year later.
"Danny was in left and Mel Ott was in right, and I was thinking, this is pretty good," said Al Gardella.
Danny Gardella's Mexican League career one day put him in the same outfield as Ruth, who moonlighted south of the border after his legendary New York Yankees career was over, Al Gardella said. The encounter produced a tale that has become something of a family heirloom.
"The Babe said, 'Hey kid, do you have any chew?'" Gardella said, recalling his brother's account of the day. "And Danny says, 'All I have is a cigar.' So the Babe says, 'Well, give me half.' He took it, split it in half, and they chewed the tobacco together."
A father of 10 and grandfather of 27, Gardella spent his life after baseball out of the limelight, "working at just about every blue-collar company in Westchester," said his son, also named Al Gardella. Not that he didn't mind the occasional attention his career and his fight with major league baseball brought him from reporters and fans.
"He loved it," said his son, who also lives in Yonkers. "He never turned anyone away. That was his 15 minutes of fame."
Gardella will be remembered in a wake and funeral today at Eastchester Funeral Home, 190 Main St. Visiting hours are 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., with a funeral service at 8 p.m. He will be buried tomorrow at Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson at 10:30 a.m.
Gardella's family requests that in lieu of flowers, mourners make donations to Phelps Hospice, 701 N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591.
GARDELLA, DANIEL L.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2005