Archive for Bernie Williams
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.
For the seventh installment of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts, we land in center field. For the Yankees of the 2000s, center field represents quite the dichotomy. The position peaked early and never regained the luster of the Bernie Williams Era.
Bernie Williams retired — or was forced off the Yanks when he opted against accepting a Spring Training invite in 2007 — in 2006. Yet, he remains the center fielder of the decade. Despite a late-career swoon, he still hit .293/.378/.474 as the Yanks’ center fielder this decade, and his early-00 numbers are, as we’ll see soon, stellar.
After Bernie became too old and too slow to adequately man center field, the Yankees simply could not find an adequate replacement. For one year in 2006, Johnny Damon‘s offense was well above-average, but his defense in center was anything but. He turned in a -11.6 UZR that year and sported his trademark awful arm. The man hired to replace Bernie had all over 843 at-bats at center over his four years with the Yanks.
Melky Cabrera and then Brett Gardner followed Damon in center. Although Gardner flashed some speed and Melky an arm, the two weren’t impact offensive players. For the decade, the tale of center field is one of decline. Bernie started off strong, but by 2009, the Yanks were content to live through average or below-average center field production. It’s been a long, hard fall:
|Yanks CF Overall|
With this table, we can track that fall. For three years, Bernie was a beast. He put up a combined OPS+ of 140, and Yanks’ center fielders hit a combined .308/.388/.509. The vast majority of the team’s overall counting stats in center came during those three years. The 81 home runs and 340 home runs were nearly 40 percent of the decade’s totals. The slugging outpaced the rest of the decade by over .060 points.
In 2003, though, Bernie fell to Earth, and for the next two seasons, the Yanks tried to move a proud aging ballplayer to lesser position. In 2004, the team brought in Kenny Lofton, but Joe Torre stuck with his man. Bernie still made nearly two-thirds of all center field at-bats, and his OPS+ over that span was a good-but-not-great 108. Still, the combined .281/.368/.446 line was not too shabby.
In 2005, it all fell apart. Bernie couldn’t hit, and his legs were gone. A cameo by Melky Cabrera was worse, and the Yanks’ center fielders hit .241/.296/.332. It was truly a low point of the decade. Johnny Damon provided some pop in 2006, but he couldn’t man the position. The combined .273/.345/.461 line was a breath of fresh air amidst some offensive woes later in the decade.
When Melky Cabrera took over in 2007 and enjoyed approximately 80 percent of the center field playing time for the next three seasons, the Yankees were seemingly content to let the offense in center slide. Since 2007, Yanks’ center fielders have hit .268/.333/.393. That .726 OPS is a far cry from the .897 mark that started the decade. Melky’s combined UZR in center over the last three seasons has been -8.4. He was well below average in 2007 and at or slightly above average in 2008 and 2009. Melky had an average 2009 with the stick, but now he’s gone, sent to Atlanta in the deal that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx.
As the Yankees head into 2010, they will begin a new era in center field. Curtis Granderson is under contract through 2013, and the club holds an option for 2014. Hopefully, the new decade will begin as the previous one did — with some top offensive and some solid defense out of center field. It’s been a while.
Watching Bernie Williams play during the World Baseball Classic was one of the more discouraging parts of an otherwise entertaining tournament. He didn’t look mobile in the field; his poor baserunning abilities seemed overexposed by a lack of speed; and his bat, while decent, is hardly feared. No one watching would peg Bernie as anything but retired. No one, that is, except Bernie Williams. In a CenterStage appearance taped yesterday, Bernie told reporters that he can “still play” and wants to get back into game.
Now, I love Bernie as much as any Yankee from the 1990s dynasty. I still proudly wear his jersey to games. But at this point, his repeated statements about playing are just awkward. There’s nothing wrong with retiring gracefully when age catches up, and Bernie has yet to embrace that. I wish he would.
John Reilly, the V.P. of their music department, writes in with a denial:
Yesterday evening we learned of the filing of a complaint against Mr. Bernie Williams. The news has taken us all by surprise. On the night in question, Mr. Williams had gone out after accepting an invitation to be a guest performer with a local music act. Mr. Williams denies any wrongdoing and we feel that some published media reports today are inaccurate. At this time, Mr. Williams has been advised by his legal counsel, José M. Marxuach, to not make any further comments, inasmuch as we do not want to interfere with the ongoing investigation. We want to assure everyone that Mr. Williams will fully cooperate with the local authorities to have this matter clarified as soon as possible.
Bernie and the Puerto Rican WBC team is scheduled to take on Team USA on Saturday night. There’s no word yet on Bernie’s status for the game, but we’ll track this story as it develops.
As swan songs go, Bernie Williams‘ efforts in the WBC haven’t been what he wanted. While he was internationally walked a few days ago, his play in the field and on the base paths nearly cost Puerto Rico a key game against the upstart Netherlands team. Now, a woman in Puerto Rico has filed a complaint against Williams, alleging that the former Yankee hit her and took her camera while at a nightclub early Thursday morning. Police are investigating, and I hope they find evidence to clear Bernie. He was always one of my favorites, and I’d hate to see him go out like this.
Bernie Williams knows about the pressures of playing in New York with a big contract. He knows about expectations and the media. To that end, he had some interesting things to say about Alex Rodriguez this weekend. “As hard as this may sound, it could be a blessing in disguise for him, because it might give him an opportunity to get away from all this craziness and give him an opportunity to heal. Kind of dissipate the whole distraction,” Bernie said while practicing with the Puerto Rican WBC team.
I agree with that aspect of Bernie’s comments, but he also said that it “might be good for the Yankees too” because the team has “enough firepower in that lineup.” But with older players returning from injuries and younger players coming off sub-par years, the Yanks were really counting on A-Rod‘s bat. It’s nearly impossible to replace a .306/.389/.578 hitter, and while being away from the PED scandal fallout may do A-Rod good, the Yanks will suffer if he is to miss a lot of time. (Hat tip BBTF.)
When the rosters for the World Baseball Classic teams were unveiled last night, an unlikely name appeared on the list for the Puerto Rican team: Bernie Williams. The former Yankee great will be will be 40 years old and 888 days removed from his last Major League appearance when the PR team squares off against Panama on March 7, but Williams will play because the other four outfielders include Carlos Beltran, Alex Rios, Hiram Bocachica (!) and, in the words of Mike, “some guy named Jesus Feliciano.” As I said to RAB’s Twitter followers, I don’t know if Bernie’s making the team is a good sign for my one-time favorite Yankee or a bad sign for the Puerto Ricans’ tourney hopes.
As a postscript, Christopher Reina at Real GM Baseball pondered the question of Bernie’s Hall of Fame eligibility and the WBC a few weeks ago. His conclusion: Bernie’s playing in the tournament won’t restart his HoF clock.
In preparation for the WBC, 40-year-old Bernie Williams, two seasons removed from his forced retirement, showed up in Tampa to practice yesterday. When Bernie, his four rings and all the nostalgia he carries with him shows up to camp, it’s a story. In fact, it’s more than just one story.
Peter Abraham presented a picture of a player reluctant to give up baseball. While time had passed Bernie by, the Yanks’ former All Star had trouble coming to terms with it and still seems as though he would be playing if for his family and the fact that no one will employ him. “It’s the story of a guy who still thinks he can play,” Williams said.
But the idea that he could still play never went away. Williams tried to make a comeback in December when he joined a team in the Puerto Rican winter league. That ended after three games when he pulled a muscle in his leg. Now he wants to try again in the WBC if his body holds up…
Williams, who has never admitted to being retired, wistfully spoke of playing in the majors this season. “I’ve always had the desire in the back of my mind that maybe, perhaps, if the situation was right with myself and my family that I could come back before it was too late. Right now I’m taking it as it comes,” he said. “If I still have the fire, I may have to consider seriously taking the opportunity to maybe, perhaps, playing somewhere else. Right now, it’s a very premature statement.”
And on the other hand — and in a somewhat similar vein — is Mark Feinsand’s piece. It sheds some more light on Bernie’s exit from the Yanks and his subsequent reconciliation. The two pieces overlap quite a bit, and both Abraham and Feinsand spend some words focusing on Bernie’s desires to return. Feinsand too sheds some light on the supposedly bitter break up between the Yanks and number 51. Apparently, it wasn’t as bad as we thought:
A lot was made of Bernie’s supposed anger over the way his career ended with the Yankees, but he cleared that up Thursday. The minor-league invite made it easier for him to turn down the offer, since he had a lot of issues with his wife and children, so many that he felt at the time that if he continued to play, he would lose them forever.
But now, Bernie seems happy with his life, even if this WBC represents his final shot at playing competitive baseball. He made his return to Yankee Stadium for the final game last September, but his appearance at Steinbrenner Field felt like the final step in fully mending any broken bonds between Bernie and the only team for which he ever played.
“I feel that I never left,” he said. “The fact that I stepped away had nothing to do with being angry with them. I had to take care of some things, step away and really figure out what was important in my life. I think I’m in a better place right now.”
Bernie wants to come back and play for someone somewhere as a way to go out on his terms. I doubt that will happen, and if he makes Puerto Rico’s WBC team, it probably be the last time we see him in uniform. I, though, am glad to see Bernie back in the Yankee fold. He deserves his Bronx day in the sun.
Bernie Williams never really wanted to retire when the Yanks decided his time was up. Over the last two years, the former center fielder has come to grips with his enforced retirement, but in a way, he just hasn’t been able to accept that his Major League career is all but over. In a lenghty profile on Bernie, the Daily News’ Christian Red explored the ins and outs of Williams’ celebrity in Puerto Rico and the current state of denial Williams appears to be in over his career.
To prove himself ready for the WBC, Williams tried his hand at winter ball and hurt his quad. As it heals, he’s contemplating his next step. “What would be the logical next step? That’s why the World Baseball Classic is so pivotal,” Williams said to Red. “To be really honest, if I play and I start getting those feelings back again, start getting the urge and feel good physically, it can open a whole world of possibilities for me. But right now, I’m just speculating on what could happen. It’s not going to be until I play in that competition whether I’m going to be able to make those kind of decisions.” At some point, Bernie will retire. For now, he’s trying to live his dream for another game, another series, another season.
Via PeteAbe, Bernie Williams suffered what was described as a serious quad injury while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. Bernie was trying to win a spot on a Puerto Rican WBC team, but it looks like this injury ends the comeback attempt. I was rooting for Bernie to make the team just to see him play one more time, and I wish him a speedy recovery. Bernie had been 1 for 7 with two strikeouts before the injury.