Bruce Clark Gardner
6', 185 Bats Left, Throws Left
Edmonton 1958, Regina 1959
The sad tale of Bruce Clark Gardner is presented brilliantly in "An American Tragedy" by Ira Kerkow and Murray Olderman, Inside Sports, August 31, 1980.
A star college hurler with the storied University of Southern California Trojans, he had a stunning first full pro season (20-4, 2.82) before arm trouble curtailed his career. Suicide ended his life in 1971, on the ball diamond at USC. Gardner played two seasons in Canada, 1958 with Edmonton and 1959 with Regina.
W L IP H BB SO ERA
1958 Edmonton 5-4 75 69 34 57 3.84
1959 Regina 5-6 110 106 54 101 3.60
In a series on the best minor league teams of all time, Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright touched on the Bruce Gardner story in an item on the Reno Silver Sox of 1961 :
Over the full season, the pitching star was the ill-fated Bruce Gardner (20-4), who led the league in wins, ERA (2.82), percentage (.833) and complete games (18). Gardner, a 22-year-old left-hander, was in his second pro season. He never reached the majors, but made headlines ten years later when he committed suicide on the baseball field of his alma mater, the University of Southern California. His body was found 15 feet from the pitcher’s mound. Nearby was his All-America plaque. In his right hand was his USC diploma. Gripped in his left hand was a .38 caliber revolver. One bullet hole was in his left temple.
Gardner was a star at Fairfax High, student body president and was chosen “student mayor for a day” of Los Angeles. It was reported that the White Sox offered him a $50,000 bonus, a lot of money in 1956, but his mother refused to sign the contract because she wanted him to go to college. He went to USC where he had a 50-5 record. When Gardner graduated in 1960, the Dodgers signed him, but for a bonus smaller than his earlier offer. He went directly to AAA Montreal (International) where he was 0-1, 3.97 in 16 games. After the 1961 season, he went into the Army for six months under the reserve training plan and while at Ford Ord he suffered an injury to his pitching arm. Gardner was never the same pitcher again.
In 1962 he was 1-5, 6.00 at Spokane and in 1963 1-2, 9.00 at Salem (Northwest) and 10-4, 4.07 at Great Falls (Pioneer). During spring training in 1964 he broke his ankle practicing sliding and after going 2-2, 5.40 at Salem that season he was released. After baseball, Gardner tried other things. An accomplished pianist, he performed at clubs in several cities. There were jam sessions at parties in Los Angeles with, among others, two high school friends who had become famous in the music business, Herb Alpert and Phil Spector. Gardner was restless. He worked in the brokerage business and was apparently successful, but quit to become a substitute teacher. In 1971 he became JV baseball coach at Dorsey High in Los Angeles and led his team to a league championship, but on June 7, Gardner decided to end his life. Friends said he always was bitter about not having been permitted to sign when he was 17. (MiLB.com)
Gardner (right) and USC teammate Pat Gillick arrive in Edmonton for the 1958 season. Courtesy of the Edmonton Archives EA 52461
Pat Gillick on Bruce Gardner :
He was my roommate. It didn't surprise me.
I can recall the day. I was in New York City that day and I came down to breakfast somebody said, "Did you hear about Bruce Gardner?" I said no and he told me what had happened and it didn't surprise me because for Bruce it really weighed on his mind.
He had an opportunity to sign with the Chicago White Sox out of high school and didn't take that opportunity and went to USC and I think that probably, that thing weighed on his mind more than anything I had ever run into. It really, really, really bothered him that he didn't sign out of high school as opposed to going to school and then signing.
He was very intense. Absolutely. And, yes he sure had the talent to make it as a major leaguer. I just wasn't surprised to hear it because he just really couldn't get away from this thing at all.
The caption on the Edmonton Journal photo was "BUT CAN HE COOK?".
Bruce Gardner, with another standout mound performance in the playoffs, helped at the plate with a run-scoring triple. The Lloydminster third baseman is Suge Carter. (Edmonton Journal, August 20, 1958)