Almost trading Bernie Williams again and again


AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Bernie Williams hasn’t played in a regular season game for the Yankees since Oct. 1, 2006. He went 1 for 1 as a pinch hitter in Game 162, and then played in just one game during the ALDS. He knew he was nearing the end of his career, but he couldn’t convince the Yanks to give him a guaranteed deal. The team offered to invite him to Spring Training, and Bernie went home to nurse his wounded pride instead.

Now, three full seasons removed from his last game as a Major Leaguer, Bernie still feels the itch, and when he showed up at George M. Steinbrenner Field yesterday, he spoke with reporters about coming to grips with his forced retirement. “Someone said it takes a player three to five years to get used to not playing,” Williams said. “I’m in my fourth year now, so I’m right between there. I miss it, but I like what I’m doing.”

Bernie is 41, but he still thinks about coming back. “I think mentally I try not to really think about that too much,” he said. “I go through periods of time within the past couple of years in which I go back and forth, and this doesn’t help, being here and saying hi to the guys. It obviously brings a lot of the old feelings back, but I know that I’m doing something worthwhile in another field. Any way that I look at it, I can’t lose. If I come back, that would be great. But if I don’t, it’s just a great opportunity to do something different and try to excel at it.”

As much as he may want to rejoin the Majors, Bernie’s time has passed. I hated seeing Bernie go fading away as he did, and it still pains me to hear my one-time favorite talk about wanting to come back. He tried that during the WBC in 2009 and ended up with a quad injury. It was an ignoble end, to say the least.

But what’s done is done. Instead of dwelling on Bernie’s tortured present, let’s look at his distant past. As a top Yankee prospect in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bernie was subject of more trade rumors than we could count. Scouts knew he would be good, but they couldn’t foresee his peak from 1997-2001 when he hit .325/.411/.548 and led the Yanks to four World Series berths. And so into the Wayback Machine we go.

Would you, in 1989, have traded Bernie Williams for Jeff Blauser? That’s what the Braves wanted to do. Blauser, then a highly-coveted 22-year-old, had just made his Major League debut and would go on to put up serviceable career numbers. He hit .262/.354/.406 and twice made the All-Star team. A deal was nearly in place that may or may not have involved Bernie.

Here’s a more intriguing rumor: What about Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla for Bernie Williams, Kevin Maas, Roberto Kelly Jesse Barfield and a pitcher? It’s a bit tougher to say “no” to Bonds. The Yanks maybe could have landed Bonds and Bonilla in a deal with Gerald Williams instead of Bernie. A Bonds/Bernie outfield would have been a sight to see in the late 1990s.

Perhaps something a little more recent would give us a taste of life almost without Bernie. The Yanks and Bernie nearly split up in 1998 when the team moved on Albert Belle after Bernie’s contract demands grew too rich for their tastes, but that almost-divorce, rescued on Thanksgiving Eve, had its origins in the 1997 off-season. With Bernie nearing free agency and the Yanks not in love with their enigmatic almost-superstar, the team looked to trade him that winter and nearly did so to the Tigers. The deal would have sent Roberto Duran and Mike Drumright, Detroit’s number one pick in 1995, to the Bronx for Bernie.

Why the deal was scuttled remains a mystery. Murray Chass speculated that (1) George quashed a deal then-GM Bob Watson negotiated on his own; (2) other baseball advisers didn’t feel the Yanks were getting enough back from the Tigers; or (3) it was a negotiating ploy to get Bernie to lower his demands on the Yankees. No matter the reason, it would have been a disastrous trade for the Yanks. Drumright never reached the majors and today works in construction in Wichita, Kansas.

So Bernie remained that ever-elusive Yankee for Life®. He’s trying to give up the sport, but it just keeps sucking him in. Even if his words make me wince today, I, for one, am quite relieved the Yanks never traded him as they often considered doing.

Categories : Days of Yore


  1. (sh$#%s pants at idea of angering Bernie by trading him)

  2. Jake says:

    Darren Lewis was a George phone call away.
    We can thank Stick for saving us there.

  3. Rick in Boston says:

    Bonds/Bernie/insert RF here?

    That would have been great. True, no Paul O’Neill, but Bonds >>>>>>>>>>>>> O’Neill.

  4. What about Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla for Bernie Williams, Kevin Maas, Roberto Kelly Jesse Barfield and a pitcher?

    Yes please.

    The Yanks maybe could have landed Bonds and Bonilla in a deal with Gerald Williams instead of Bernie.

    Hmmmm, that’s tougher. Trading away Feared Williams is one thing… the Iceman is a whole different story. I’ll have to think about that for a while.

    (Yes, I’m joking. Please don’t freak the hell out.)

  5. JohnC says:

    Maybe George couldn’t stand the thought of Frank Costanza yelling in his ear. “HOW COULD YOU TRADE BERNIE WILLIAMS????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. A.D. says:

    I remember the near Belle for Bernie swap, boy would have that ended poorly.

  7. bennyprofane says:

    Chances the Yankees retire Bernie’s number or honor him in any way outside of old timer’s day, i.e., “Bernie Williams Day”, in the next five years?

    • Hmmm, good question.

      I’ll say… 30% chance he gets his number retired. It should be higher than that, IMHO, but Bernie won’t get into the Hall, and that will work against him.

      There will also fans who will argue that he shouldn’t get his number retired if Paul O’Neill isn’t getting his number retired, despite the fact that Bernie >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Paulie, but that sentiment may work against him as well.

      Bernie should go in Monument Park, though. He was that good.

      • Steve H says:

        but Bernie won’t get into the Hall

        Not with that attitude he won’t.

        Push the propoganda machine, he’ll get there.

      • Jake says:

        They retired Mattingly’s.
        They should retire Bernie’s.

        While they’re at it, Paul O’Neill was a great Yankee.
        They should show him some respect.

        • “They should show him some respect.”

          What? No. They shouldn’t.

          • Steve H says:

            Actutally they already have. To the tune of $47 million.

          • Jake says:

            Since you guys love to read off stats, instead of
            going by actually watching, here ya go. Deny this.

            Mattingly – 2153 hits, 222 HR, 1099 RBI.
            O’Neill – 2105 hits, 281 HR, 1269 RBI.

            Not saying one is better than the other, but their stats are very close.

            Go ahead, let’s see a really sarcastic senseless response.

            • bexarama says:

              these stats = not really the stats people like to use when comparing players

              • Steve H says:

                Nor did O’neill compile those as a Yankee. And since the discussion is about Paul O’Neill the Yankee, I’m not sure why his Reds numbers are relevant.

                It’s like saying the Mets should retire Willie Mays’ number because he hit 660 HR’s.*

                *(yes, it’s extreme, I know)

              • Jake says:

                Home runs and RBI don’t apply?

                bexarama, please teach me something.

                I was always under the impression that Don Mattingly was well on his to Hall after incredible season from 84-89, but then after he hurt his back, he became JT Snow.

                But, it seems that I’ve been wrong so many times here :)

                • bexarama says:

                  HRs are cool, sure. Not the be-all-end-all, but cool. RBI are bullsh-t. They’re pretty much completely dependent on your team. You could have the same batting stats at exactly the same spot in the order and if you play for the Yankees, you’ll probably have a lot more RBI than if you play for the Royals.

                  Also, as Steve H. said, what do O’Neill’s numbers as a Red have anything to do with why we should retire his number as a Yankee?

                  And yeah, Mattingly got really unlucky hurting his back.

                • bexarama says:

                  Also, since you seem to like HR and RBI so much, A-Rod generally has more HR and RBI every year than Jeter does. Heck, he had more HR and RBI from last year when he missed a good chunk of the season. Can that make A-Rod a “true Yankee” to you? Why do I think you’re gonna say no?

                • Jake says:

                  I’m sorry, bex, and I know plenty of sportswriters personally who don’t think it’s fair that a guy like Mattingly, who played it straight, are left out in the cold, because Mac and Co found a way to hit the ball farther.

                  How I know this to be true? Because when they had the chance to vote Mac in, they chose not to.

                  Maybe things will change over time. It’s possible that more of our favorite Yankees will turn out to have been cheaters, too.

                  Do you else had more home runs than Jeter? Nomar and Miggy. And, they were doing it at a time when number junkies thought Jeter was the 4th best SS in the game, and overrated.

              • rbizzler says:

                Plus he is giving credit to O’Neill for his time spent with the Reds. His stats with just the Yankees fall well short of what Donnie put up over the course of his career.

                I will say that O’Neill does outscore Donnie in TW+ (True Warrior Scale), so he’s got that going for him. I mean, Donnie was a disrespectful hippie with sideburns while O’Neill once went 2 for 3 with a carpenter nail embedded in his eye. The real outrageous part of the story is that he hammered the nail into his own eye because he heard that would make him a better player.

                What a guy.

            • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

              ok here:

              you can support an argument with statistics but being a jerk doesnt win you any friends nor does it draw people to your side even when you’re right.

        • andrew says:

          O’Neill was a very good player on a bunch of very good teams. Played above average baseball for nearly a decade in NY, but he’s not an all time great. He was a great player, a great contributor, but not everyone who contributes to a few championships should be retired.

        • JobaWockeeZ says:

          Of course the dynasty true Yankees should all be retired. From Scotty Bro to David Cone let them ALL be retired for their trueish Yankeeness.

          And while we’re at it let’s trade A-Rod and Cano for not being true Yankees.

    • If Paul O’Neill’s number is retired due to fan vehemence, Bernie’s should be too. He was, after all, the better of the two outfielders and Gold Glove defense at a premium position for a number of years.

  8. Mike Pop says:

    Oh man, I would have loved to see Bonds play for the Yankees. But, gotta be happy with how the last 15 years have turned out if you’re a Yankees fan.

  9. pat says:

    And your fans….they cried like babies as the GM tried to trade Bernie, again and again…. and again.


  10. bexarama says:

    this thread: Jake’d

    Though the ignoring thing isn’t a bad idea.

  11. rbizzler says:

    I find myself cringing a bit when Bernie still talks about coming back. I am all for players making their own decisions when it comes to retirement, and if Bernie wanted (or wants) to keep playing, I don’t think that it would sully his legacy as a Yankee if he played a few years in another org. I just find it a bit sad that Bernie couldn’t see that his skills had diminished to the point where he couldn’t be a contributor on the Yanks considering their roster construction and needs.

    That being said, I am all for Bernie Williams Day and retiring the #51. While the team is reaching the saturation point on retired numbers, Bernie deserves the honor as being an excellent player and an icon (yes, I know this is an intangible) during the mini-dynasty years.

    Plus, he plays some badass elevator music on the guitar.

  12. Opus says:

    Don’t forget about the legendary Bernie & Leyritz for Bonds trade that George Costanza conceived back in ’96. He also figured out a way to get Griffey as well (and not have to give up much), but he was presumed dead and lost out on being the assistant GM.

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