Daniel Lewis Gardella was born on February 26th 1920 to an Italian American family in New York City. He originally signed with the Detroit Tigers but did not get to the major leagues. Six years later, while working in a ship yard, he signed with the New York Giants.
He was a wild character who was known on the field to walk on his hands to the cheers of the Polo Grounds crowds. On the road, he would scare his roomates by hanging out of hotel windows by his finger tips.
Gardella would imitate his Hall of Fame manager Mel Otts' one legged batting stance, with a comedic twist getting huge laughs from team mates. He would sing openly and burst out into song out of nowhere, with his baratone voice any chance he got. The muscular Gardella was one of the first players to work out with heavy weights. He would swing an Iron bat to loosen up as well.
He only played for the Giants for two seasons, seeing action first in 1944, batting .250 in 47 games. In 1945 he had his best season playing in 121 games, batting .272 with 18 HRs (8th in the NL) ten doubles 71 RBIs posting a .349 on base %. He drew 46 walks & was hit by five pitches (6th in the NL). That season he had three different games where he hit two HRs, all coming at home in the Polo Grounds, for the fifth place Giants. The left handed outfielder played an average defense with limited range.
Family: His brother Al Gardella also played for the ’45 Giants, batting .077 in 16 games. It was his only year at the major league level.
After World War II the Giants were interested in recruiting more war veterans. They offered Gardella $4,500, but he jumped to the banned Mexican league where he was paid $10,000. Commissioner Happy Chandler, imposed a five year to life ban on any players who went to the Mexican League for violating the reserve clause. Player affected by this were big names like: Sal Maglie, Mickey Owen, & Vern Stephens.
Gardella couldn’t get back into the majors in 1947 and filed a law suit against MLB challenging the reserve clause. His lawyer, Frederic A. Johnson, charged that baseball was unlawfully depriving Gardella of his livelihood and that it was violating federal antitrust laws through the reserve clause, which bound a player to his team until he was traded or released.
The case was going to trial but his lawyer warned him, it would be a long costly trial. He dropped the suit and allegedly received $60,000 from MLB. In 1950 he was signed by the St Louis Cardinals and after one at bat was sent back to the minor leagues.
Quotes: Looking back in 1990 Gardella said: "I feel I let the whole world know that the reserve clause was unfair. It had the odor of peonage, even slavery."
Gardella was married to his wife Katherine for sixty years, they had ten children together. He passed away in Yonkers, New York in 2005 at age 85. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, in Hastings on the Hudson, New York.