October 12, 1999 — For the first time since Bucky Dent carved himself a place in playoff lore, the Yankees and Red Sox are gearing up to meet in the postseason. Boston is all abuzz as the AL East Champions are playing host to the Wild Card team and defending World Champions from New York. While the Yankees finished with 98 wins this season, the Red Sox’s 104 victories were tops in the Majors, and the Yanks will have to hope that their superior pitching can overcome a power-packed Boston lineup.
Ironic in this meeting is one center fielder for the Red Sox, the former Yankee Bernie Williams. Williams, after becoming a Yankee mainstay, left the Bronx after the Yankees’ 125-win season last year. While the Yankees were prepared to offer Williams a five-year, $60-million contract, the star and his agent Scott Boras rejected that deal. They knew they could get more elsewhere and were tired of playing games with George Steinbrenner.
So now Williams will face off against his old team in Fenway. The Yanks — with their tempestuous twosome of Paul O’Neill and Albert Belle — look strong, but can they overcome the Red Sox?
* * *
We know that didn’t happen. Bernie Williams wasn’t on the Red Sox in 1999, and the Yankees were the AL East champs again.
But it was close. For a while in 1998, it looked like Bernie was Boston-bound, and if he had landed in Fenway, it’s not hard to imagine the Sox taking the division. Williams was the top offensive center fielder in the AL in 1999. His VORP that year — a measure of how much better he was than the next best available option — was 79.9. Darren Lewis, the Red Sox’s starting center fielder, pulled down a -24.8 VORP. That swing of 100 would have theoretically netted the Sox 10 more wins and a spot atop the AL East. It’s funny how history turns out.
“Bernie on the Red Sox?” you might say with a chuckle. “That never would have happened, right?” While it can be tough to see through Scott Boras’ hyperbole and fake seven-year offers, by all accounts in November of 1998, Bernie Williams nearly ended up in Fenway.
Bernie’s tale begins in 1997 when the Yankees were trying to extend their center fielder. They offered him a five-year deal worth just south of $40 million. As you could guess, they were laughed out of the room, and for a while, it seemed as though their offer and past contract snubs were insulting enough to convince Williams to cease negotiations entirely. Money and loyalty are powerful motivators.
Throughout November, Scott Boras and the Yankees engaged in their usual dance as reports of other deals surfaced. At various times, the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies and Red Sox all expressed interest in Williams. But by the end, it became a battle between rivals. The Yankees and the Red Sox squared off with a big x-factor waiting in the wings.
To the dismay of Yankee fans, that x-factor was none other than hotheaded slugger Albert Belle. As the Yankees and Bernie looked to finalize their looming divorce, a new marriage between the Yankees and Belle was on the horizon. While the Yanks were initially interested in Jim Edmonds, those talks fizzled, and at 32 years old, Belle was one of the most sought-after free agents of 1998. The hip condition that would end his career two seasons later was nowhere to be found, and his numbers and temper were fearsome.
When Williams rejected that five-year, $60-million deal, the Yankees turned their attention to Belle. When I left my apartment on Wednesday night, November 25, 1998, to attend a friend’s Thanksgiving Eve party, I believed that Bernie Williams’ tenure in the Bronx was over. The Yanks and Bernie, as Buster Olney had reported that morning, were nearing a final separation, and Bernie was about to land in Boston.
The Yankees however had an out: Scott Boras offered them one last chance to match the Red Sox’s supposed seven-year, $90-million deal. Bernie, it seemed, wasn’t as keen to get out of New York as earlier reports indicated. When I got home late that night, my dad had left me a note on the door: Bernie Williams signs with the Yanks for seven years and $87.5 million, it said. I was ecstatic. Somehow, the Yankees and Bernie were able to overcome their differences, and Bernie would remain a Yankee.
In the end, it was always tough to tell if Bernie was actually going to leave. Three columnists in The Times — Jack Curry, Harvey Araton and Buster Olney — all speculated that Boras used vague, half-serious offers to get the Yanks to ante up. By keeping the archrival Red Sox involved, Boras knew the Yanks would pay, and he won.
When the real 1999 ALCS dawned, the Yanks, led by Bernie, beat the Red Sox with their sad excuse for a center fielder. As we know, Bernie’s Yanks would go on to great success. While Bernie’s contract became something of an albatross by the end of it and Williams still seems to have a poor relationship with the Yankees, keeping Bernie out of Boston was a sage move.
David Cone, star of the best Yankee commercial ever, is back with the organization. According to Joel Sherman, Cone will join the YES Network, filling one of the two Yankee broadcast vacancies. Cone will serve as an in-game analyst and host of “Yankees on Deck.” · (14) ·
The Twins now say they would like an offer from the Yankees for Johan Santana in exchange for a package centered around Melky Cabrera and Phil Hughes. I think they’re a little bit late on this one. Rookie GM Bill Smith is about to learn what happens when you overplay your hand. No more Santana today after this unless, of course, a trade goes down. · (85) ·
Short and sweet because everyone knows where we stand on this topic. Let’s play connect the dots:
- The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that the Twins will probably trade Johan Santana within the next ten days.
- Buster Olney reports that Jon Lester is off the table.
- The Mets are beginning to think that maybe they are being used by the Twins.
- Meanwhile, Hank will only be so patient with the young pitchers.
So it seems that this saga will play itself out in the next 10 days. Somehow, I don’t think the Yanks are quite yet as out of it as we thought. Surprise.
Life in the AL East just got a little easier. The O’s shipped the best pitcher in the division to Seattle for a package centered around uber-prospect Adam Jones. No word yet on the other pieces headed to Baltimore, but previous rumors suggest it could a few prospects like Chris Tillman (probably), Carlos Triunfel and Jeff Clement (both doubtful), and/or reliever George Sherrill (likely). I dunno about you, but Bedard-Felix in a short series scares me more than Beckett-DiceK or Sabathia-Fausto.
(hat tip to MLBTR) · (17) ·
I really don’t like this story, and I really want it to go away. I knew this would come out soon enough, but it didn’t have to. The sad tale of Bernie Williams‘ last year on the Yankees continues.
Bernie was always a favorite of mine. He was a solid presence on the team and was emblematic of the great Yankee teams in the late 1990s. But he never knew when to quit. After a poor 2005, we all figured Bernie would come back to the Yankees for a farewell tour in 2006. He never saw that season as anything other than just another year, and when Brian Cashman didn’t offer him up a contract for 2007, it seemed that the relationship between number 51 and the Yankees grew a little sour.
Now we didn’t know that it grew a little sour. Or at least we didn’t know until this weekend when Brian Cashman got to talking about it. In discussing baseball with Theo Epstein on Friday, Cashman started opining on Bernie:
Cashman took a few jabs at Bernie Williams, the popular Yankee whose exit from the team was not on friendly terms. Cashman said that Williams was terrible in 2005, but that he brought Williams back as a farewell in 2006. After Williams had a solid year, he wanted to return for 2007. But Cashman did not sign Williams. Cashman said that Williams’s music career “took away from his play.” Interestingly, Cashman said that Joe Torre, who was then the manager, looked for ways to play Williams in 2006 “ahead of guys who could help us win,” so Cashman did not want that to happen in 2007.
We saw this conflict emerge between Cashman and Torre in 2007, and when Torre wasn’t welcomed back for 2008, more than a few thoughts of inevitability ran through my head. The Yankees weren’t going to have Torre back unless he brought that a World Championship no matter what. Cashman had to take Scott Proctor away from Torre; he had to take Miguel Cairo away from Torre. And when the GM starts taking players away from a seemingly stubborn manager, the future does not look good. It’s just too bad that Bernie had to be dragged into this mess.
Meanwhile, Peter Abraham picked up the phone and called Bernie Williams who wasn’t too thrilled with Cashman’s comments. “I don’t think he has any basis to say anything like that,” Bernie said to Abraham about Cashman’s comments. “Let me put it this way: Questioning a person’s commitment to the team is a very serious accusation, at least in my book.”
I don’t blame Bernie was being upset with Cashman, but at the same time, I don’t blame Cashman for not offering Bernie a guaranteed Major League contract for the 2007 season. I just wish this spat hadn’t become so public. I wish Bernie hadn’t been so stubborn. We all hate seeing our favorite players taken down a notch, and that’s what’s happening here.
According to The Canberra Times, the Yanks and Australian teenager Kyle Perkins are close to agreeing to a seven year deal. Perkins is a 16-yr old catcher at Daramalan College, and was first spotted by the Yanks last year at an Under-18 event in Western Australia. He is expected to come to the States in 2010, when he finishes school. This post is not a joke.
(hat tip to Chad Jennings)
Update: Loyal reader Ricochet points out that this is only the second Austalian teenager the Yanks have signed this month. So … um …when does Spring Training start again?
As of Friday afternoon, federal marshals still hadn’t been able to serve Chuck Knoblauch his subpoena. Knoblauch is due to testify in front of Congress on Tuesday and was originally subpoenaed this Tuesday. For what it’s worth, Chuck’s mom thinks that he’ll show up on Tuesday. I still can’t quite figure out why Chuck Knoblauch, of all the people named in the report, is getting picked on by our elected officials. · (0) ·
It’s getting to be that time of year again, the time when we can start looking at some prospects for June’s first-year player draft. It’s obvious now that the Yanks’ draft strategy in the early rounds is to take whatever top talent has fallen because of signability/injury concerns/etc., so I’ve decided to kick off this year’s draft coverage by looking at the best players available, since there’s always a chance they could fall.
The draft order is basically set (there are only five free agents left unsigned that will bring back compensation), and the Rays have earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first team in the history of man to have back-to-back first overall picks. It’s almost unfair considering how ridiculously stacked their farm system is, but what can you do. The remainder of the top 5 picks belong to the usual suspects – the Pirates, Royals, Orioles and Giants.