"Jelly" Gardner was an ideal lead-off hitter for numerous seasons in the early Negro leagues. A small but swift outfielder, Gardner was known for his scrappy hitting, daring base running and strong defense. For many years, he was consistently named among the greatest Negro league outfielders of all-time.3 4 5 6 In 2006, Gardner was nominated for the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Special Negro Leagues Committee.
Gardner was the son of Alex Gardner and Josie (nee Smith) Gardner.7 He was born and raised in Russellville, AR and began playing baseball at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, AR during the 1910s.8 9 About 1913, he began playing semi-professionally in Little Rock with the Missouri Pacifics team.10 By 1917, Gardner was playing with the nearby Hot Springs Giants club, which in June combined with the Longview, TX team to become the Texas All-Stars.11 The team traveled north to play against the Chicago American Giants and Indianapolis A.B.C.'s, giving Gardner greater exposure in Negro baseball. The following year, Gardner served in the Army during World War I and was briefly considered Missing in Action.12 He returned to the U.S. in 1919 and moved to Chicago where a friend helped him become connected with Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants.13 Gardner was sent to play with the Foster's Detroit Stars club for the season.14
After the formation of the Negro National League in 1920, Gardner was shifted back to Chicago where he began a long career with the American Giants. He became an everyday player in 1921 and remained with the American Giants through the 1926 season. That year, Gardner helped the Chicago American Giants claim the Negro World Series title by defeating the Atlantic City Bacharachs 5-3 in an eight-game championship series. He also played with Santa Clara during the 1924-25 Cuban League winter season. In 1927, a newly enforced salary limit in Negro baseball15 forced Gardner into a dispute with owner of the American Giants.16 Gardner refused to sign his contract and subsequently became a free agent.17 He reportedly joined the Gilkerson Union Giants, a Chicago-based independent team,18 but by July was a member of the Eastern Colored League's New York Lincoln Giants.19 Gardner returned to American Giants in 1928, but in late July he jumped to the Homestead Grays in the Eastern Colored League. From there, he returned to the American Giants for the 1929 and 1930 seasons and finished his career with the Detroit Stars in 1931.
After baseball, Gardner remained in Chicago20 and worked for the post office as well as various railroads as a pullman porter and waiter.21 He died on March 28th, 1977 in Chicago, IL and was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Evergreen Park, Chicago.22 23 24
"Floyd “Jelly” Gardner is also a product of the lone star state. Born in the little town of Russellville, 30 years ago, he graduated from the academic department of Arkansas Baptist College and began his professional career in 1913 as a member of the Missouri Pacifics of Little Rock. After many reverses encountered by ball players during those lean years of which he played on various teams through Texas and Arkansas, he came north with the Dallas Black Sox in 1917. The following year he was drafted into the World War. On his discharge he was signed by Rube Foster and sent to Detroit. Aside from playing a few games for the Dayton Marcos in 1920, Gardner has been a member of the American Giants up until the present time. Gardner’s work in the outfield might be equaled, but not excelled. He is not of the slugging type, but a batter who constantly keeps a pitcher in hot water. He is also one of the fastest men in the game in getting to first base and on the base paths. Yes, Fair Browns, he’s married."25
"I [See Posey] pick Jelly Gardner as the best run-getter and lead-off man I have seen in forty years. No lead-off man in recent years has had the aggressiveness and the ability to reach first base in as many ways as he did. In my opinion he was the only player I have ever saw that could steal first base."26
"I was born in Russellville, Arkansas in 1895. I started playing in college, Armstrong [sic] Baptist College. I was an infielder in school. I was a cross-handed batter until the coach changed me over. I hit left. I drifted over to Dallas in 1916-17. Playing with the Longview Giants. I played in the summer, then went back to school. You didn’t get much pay down there, you mostly played for your board and rent. Crush Holloway was playing there then. So was Biz Mackey, a great catcher and a great hitter. I went from school to Chicago in 1919, worked around different places, restaurants, hotels, different jobs. This friend of mine worked for a druggist here at 3510 State Street, and he told Dr. Porter that I played ball in school and I started from there. The first year I played, I played with Detroit. . . . . I finished up with the American in ’33. After I left baseball I went into the post office. After that I went on the railroad. I was a railroad man the rest of my career, a waiter and Pullman car porter on the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio. I retired in ’65."27
Statistics at Baseball-Reference.com
Statistics at Seamheads.com.
Cuban League Stats
1 "Jelly" is shortened version of the nickname "Jelly Roll."