Bernie Williams to make first Old Timers’ Day appearance

Via Peter Botte, Bernie Williams will make his first Old Timers’ Day appearance this year on June 26th. Bernie’s been back to the Stadium a few times since unofficially retiring, specifically the final game at the Old Stadium, but this will be his first as an Old Timer. It’s always fun whenever former great makes his first appearance at the event, so I’m excited. Bernie was probably my favorite player during the dynasty years.

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Mailbag: Bernie, Cutters, Cashman, Jorge, More

I bailed on the mailbag last week for no good reason, but I’ll make up for it today with a bunch of questions and some shorter, punchier answers. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions throughout the week.

Bernie was awesome, but he's no Beltran. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

eyerishyank asks: Got into a twitter battle today with Tommy Dee of the Knicks blog about Beltran vs Bernie and who is the better player, could make for an interesting blog entry. I think it is Bernie, though defense and baserunning goes to Beltran. Can we quantify Beltran’s decline? Can we measure Bernie’s championships? I think Sabermetricians may go the way of Beltran and “old school” may go Bernie.

Carlos Beltran‘s a better player, but that’s not a knock on Bernie Williams. They have identical .371 wOBA‘s for their careers, although Beltran was power while Bernie was batting average and on-base percentage. The difference is in the stolen base department, where Beltran’s 88.1% success rate is the best in baseball history (239 SB, just 39 CS), and on defense. Bernie’s got himself a bunch of Gold Gloves, but Beltran slaughters him in both CF UZR (+32.4 to -90.8) and John Dewan’s +/- system (+59 to -61).

I hesitate to give Bernie credit for the titles because that’s a team thing, and although he certainly contributed to the cause, it’s wrong to punish Beltran for his sucky Royals teammates for all those years. If you want to compare postseason stats, then Bernie hit .275/.371/.480 (545 PA) in October, Beltran .366/.485/.817 (101 PA). Yeah. Their career arcs are similar, right down to the decline at age 32-33, but when you have two players with similar offensive ability, the guy with the crazy stolen base rate and brilliant defense wins.

Evan asks: With Soriano set to be the primary setup guy, if there is any overlap in batters that he and Mo would both face, is it possible that the batters that faced Soriano’s cutter would be better equipped to deal with Mo’s? Could there be a noticeable negative effect in Mo’s performance this coming season as a result?

I don’t think so. Theoretically they won’t be facing the same batters in the same game, unless something bad happens along the way. Batters see fastball after fastball at-bat after at-bat, game after game, season after season, and I suspect that as long as Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera aren’t leaving their cutter in the happy zone, they’ll be perfectly fine. Would we ask the same question about a curveball or changeup?

Daniel asks: Does it seem strange to anyone else how many interviews Cashman has done this offseason? Feel its a little out of the ordinary. Could it be that maybe he is advertising himself for a new job next season? No matter what the reason I’m sure there is some strategy to it. What do you think?

It seems odd but I think it’s just a coincidence more than anything. They had the Soriano press conference, then he was doing the WFAN breakfast, then it was the Foley’s thing, then today it’ll be Andy Pettitte‘s presser, all one right after the other. I don’t think there’s much to it, other teams won’t hire him based on what he says to the media.

Pounder asks: Just wondering, what if Jorge is floundering, or is in some other way unhappy with his situation come July, would he be open for a mid year trade?

Can’t see it. And besides, if he’s floundering, he’s untradeable with that contract. The Yankees would have to eat a ton of his salary, and in that case I just say keep him and hope he rebounds late in the year.

I think 2000 was the last time Sheets was healthy. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Tucker asks: I know you have already discussed Ben Sheets, but assuming Pettitte doesn’t come back and with how thin the market is right now, could he start to become a more intriguing target? It seems like at the right price, he could become the epitome of low-risk, high-reward.

Obviously this question was sent in before the andy Pettitte news broke. Anyway, Sheets had Tommy John surgery late last year and is out until August at the earliest. Considering that it usually takes guys 18 months or so to get their old command back, he probably won’t be ready and effective until Opening Day 2012. I’d pass unless he’s willing to play for dirt cheap, though I suspect he just won’t be ready in time to make a meaningful contribution.

Sheepmeister asks: Do you think Orlando Cabrera or David Eckstein would be worth looking at for the utility inf position at a cheap price?

Nope, both are just names. Cabrera hasn’t topped a .316 wOBA in any of the last three years, and he’s never played a position other than shortstop in the big leagues. Eckstein is slightly worse, topping out at .313 wOBA over the last three years (.296 over the last two years) and being relegated to second base because he literally can’t make the throw from shortstop anymore. I have little faith in Eduardo Nunez, but seriously, he could outperform these two next year.

Michael asks: How did you guys start this blog/know each other and how did you get in on the YES Network.com?

Before RAB, the three of us were blogging at our own sites scattered across the web. I knew who Ben and Joe were but we weren’t anything more than casual acquaintances, exchanging the occasional email. Eventually we all ended up writing at the now defunct MVP, me on the minor league side and them on the big league side, and then one day I got an email from Ben saying the he and Joe were starting a site and asking if I wanted to come along. The rest, as they say, is history.

As far as YES, then contacted us about two years ago about a potential partnership, and it was a pretty easy decision on our part to tag along. That’s pretty much it, they link to our stuff from time to time and we retain full editorial control of the site. We wouldn’t have partnered up without that last part.

A Torrid Love Affair

AP Images/Kathy Willens

Well, it’s done. The Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano for three years and $35 million dollars. Given that Cashman said he was not interested in giving up the first round pick, it came as a bit of a surprise. In retrospect, though, everyone should have expected this.

Two words: Scott Boras. Boras and the New York Yankees have a long history, tied together by big numbers made by superstar players. This isn’t the first time Boras (with some help from the Yankees ownership) has managed to wiggle his grubby little hands deep into pinstriped pockets. As a matter of fact, it’s happened over and over. It makes perfect sense that the team with enormous financial power spends a lot of time dealing with the agent known for record-breaking contracts. Two powerhouses with complementary results should go hand-in-hand, but most of the time, both sides can’t win in a negotiation.

Exhibit A: In 1998, Bernie Williams was coming off a .328/.408/.544 season where he banged 21 homers and 100 RBIs. The offseason started off pretty bleak, though: George Steinbrenner had made it quite clear that his highest offer for the beloved center fielder was five years and $60M and not a dime more. Boras insisted that he had seven- and eight-year offers from mystery teams. There were plenty of people who thought this was a load of bull, but Boras held his ground, so the Yankees eyed Albert Belle instead. But Boras fought. He brought up meetings with both the Diamondbacks and the much-hated Boston Red Sox, who had were rumored to offer our dear Bernie seven years and $90M. When Belle signed with the Orioles, Boras pounced, and before anyone knew it, Williams was a Yankee to the tune of seven years and $87.5M, way above what Steinbrenner originally wanted to pay. In the end, the contract was a pretty good one: Belle suffered hip issues that knocked him out of baseball just two years later, and Bernie hit .298/.386/.480 and signed on for one last year in 2006.

Exhibit B: Alex Rodriguez. People could write books about the Rodriguez-Boras relationship, to say the least. In another example of shrewd Boras negotiating, Alex Rodriguez snapped himself up a 10-year, $252M contract from the Rangers. The franchise seemed to have forgotten they actually had to have that money to pay it, and began searching for trade options. In 2003, there was an attempt to trade Rodriguez to the Red Sox, but the complicated negotiation would have involved losing $30M. Interestingly enough, the trade fell through not because of Boras (who was fine with Rodriguez losing the cash), but the MLBPA, who felt that losing guaranteed contract money set a bad precedent. As per usual though, Red Sox loss was Yankee gain, and the Yankees acquired Rodriguez in February of 2004. But where Boras really showed off his skills was when Rodriguez opted out of the remaining three years and $72M of his contract in 2007 in favor of renegotiation. This decision, as I’m sure you all remember, was leaked during the 2007 World Series and I bet the New York Post had some really, really good front covers discussing the matter in their, ah, unique way. To calm the storm of New York rage, Rodriguez tried to soothe things by contacting the Yankees office directly, at the advice of Warren Buffet. As Rodriguez attempted to repair his public image (never his strong front) Boras took advantage of the fluctuations of the Yankees front office to secure the absolutely insanely absurd 10 year/$275M contract Rodriguez plays under today. He had a bigger hand in the incentives: each time Rodriguez passes a person on the all-time home run list, it’s an additional $6M in his pocket. If Rodriguez becomes the all-time home run leader, his contract will exceed $300M, the first ever in professional sports. I’m sure I’m not the only one who grimaces and tries to ignore how much we’re paying A-Rod in favor of the numbers he puts up, but Boras will be Boras. Truly the best worst contract ever.

I’m glad to say that the story for Johnny Damon is much shorter and sweeter. It was December 2005 and the Boston Red Sox  refused to budge on their 3-year contract offer for their center fielder, the caveman-like Johnny Damon. Damon, who had already admitted that he doesn’t want to be a Yankee, was looking for more than three years, and the Sox would not negotiate down from Boras‘ five-year plan. Boras even tried to get in contact with the Sox’s owner, Larry Luchino, but to no avail, and soon enough, Damon was a Yankee to the tune of four years and $52M. He would go on to hit .285/.363/.458 in the pinstripes and looked significantly less like a yeti, both great things about his tenure in the Bronx. I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember his 2009 double steal against the Phillies. The story has a sad note for everyone who loved Damon as a Yankee, though, and for once Boras’ demand for cash came back to bite his client. Damon demanded no less than the $13M he was paid for any further deals, and the Yankees said no. When they refused to budge, Damon was forced to take a one year, $8M offer for the Tigers. He’s a free agent now, so we’ll have to see how that ends up.

The story continues. In 2008-09 offseason, the Yankees were coming off their first season without October baseball since the strike, and they were out for blood. What do you do when you’re the New York Yankees and you want to win? You use your biggest advantage: in a mindboggling display of financial might, the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett. Teixeira, another Boras client, picked up the record for highest paid first baseman with an eight year, $180M contract of his own. While Teixeira’s 2009 numbers were strong (he lead the league in RBIs and home runs), his glacially slow start in 2010 contributed to a down season. Here’s hoping that he’ll be make himself close to worth the $22.5M he’ll be getting in 2011.

Soriano is only another chapter in the long story between Boras and the Yankees. “Like Williams and Rodriguez, he secured himself an exorbitant amount of money; his numbers from the previous year were stellar enough to pretend to justify both the years and the cost, at least for the Yankees. think it’s safe to say that Soriano and his three year, $35M contract won’t be the last time these two powerhouses meet. Andrew Brackman, for example, is a Boras client, and I’m interested to see how he develops as a pitcher and what Boras can do for him. While Boras clients almost never completely live up to their contracts, there is no doubt many of his clients have been incredibly important and still quite valuable to the current Yankees and those of the recent past. Let’s hope Soriano continues this trend.

Food For Thought: Bernie Williams

Murphy received 73 votes for the Hall of Fame this year, just 12.6% of the total, so he was well short of induction. Bernie will jump on the ballot for the first time next year, and as you can see, his overall career path was very similar to Murphy’s. Both fell off considerably at age 32-33, and both had absurd peaks: Murphy hit .290/.383/.536 from ’83-’87, Bernie hit .324/.410/.551 from ’96-’00. The former can’t match the latter’s postseason exploits and World Series rings, but the latter can’t match the former’s two MVP awards. How do you think Bernie will fare in the voting ext year?

(related graphs) (h/t Jonathan Mitchell)

From the archives: When Bernie Williams nearly left New York

Bernie goes boom against the Padres in the 1998 World Series. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

On this date in Yankee history in 1998, the Yankees signed Bernie Williams to a seven-year, $87.5-million. The deal was a surprise as it was the largest in Yankee history at the time, and it had appeared as though the team and Williams would head in different directions. The Yanks were on the verge of signing Albert Belle, and Williams was all but Boston-bound before he and the Boss had a conversation.

As a young fan, I idolized Bernie’s calm demeanor and steady play. I was crushed as the Yanks prepared to move forward without him, and I returned home from a pre-Thanksgiving party on the night of Wednesday, November 25, 1998 to a note from my parents. It simply said that the Yanks had signed Bernie. My disappointment quickly turned to elation, and Number 51 stayed in pinstripes for the rest of his career. What follows is a post I wrote in 2008 about the Bernie machinations. It all went down 12 years ago today…

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 TimesJack 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 faded by the end of his career and had a tough time coming to grips with the end of his playing career, keeping Bernie out of Boston was a sage move indeed.

Bernie Williams talks baseball, music, Steinbrenner

It’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to talk baseball with a Yankee great. So when Don Povia of HHR Media Group and Taylor PR invited me, along with a number of other bloggers, to speak to Bernie Williams, I couldn’t say yes faster. The roundtable discussion was sponsored by MasterCard, which is currently running a Reserved by MasterCard promo. Just go to Facebook.com/mastercard to find out more.*

A big thanks to Hugging Harold Reynolds, which has a video of Bernie talking about the Yanks-Sox rivalry.

With Bernie Williams it would seem that two topics are appropriate. We were all there because of Bernie the Yankee, but there is also Bernie the musician. He’s had no modest music career — last year he was nominated for a Latin Grammy. Those were the two obvious discussion points, and for much of the time our questions centered on those topics. But towards the end we hit on a related topic, George Steinbrenner. While Bernie was comfortable and affable the entire time, he really shined when discussing Mr. Steinbrenner. You could tell he meant a lot to Bernie, not necessarily by the content of the stories, but by how animated he became when telling them.

Music

One of the bloggers started the afternoon’s discussion with a question about Bernie’s music career, asking him how he’s handling the change from baseball. As he did with every question Bernie gave a thoughtful response. I was impressed by his humbleness. He admitted, without prompt, that he isn’t as skilled as many other popular recording artists. But it seemed more like he was expressing a desire to continue improving. He was also honest about how audiences receive him. Yet he’s not just some ballplayer who used his fame to start a different career. That plays into it, of course, but unbeknownst to me until yesterday afternoon, Bernie attended a performing arts high school.

Still, as interesting as Bernie has made his musical career, I was more interested in his amateur efforts. In the late 90s I remember reading in the papers that Bernie and Paul O’Neill used to jam in the clubhouse. O’Neill played drums, so it was only natural that the two would get together and pass the time playing their instruments. I was kind of skeptical — did they really jam? — but Bernie took right to the topic. They jammed plenty, he said: after batting practice, in rain delays, and even after games. Sometimes O’Neill would bring in some of his buddies and they’d jam with four, five instruments going.

O’Neill wasn’t the first Yankee to hammer at the skins. The kit he used, according to Bernie, was actually Ron Guidry’s. It was set up in a storage closet near the clubhouse, making for easy access. Bernie did mention that he developed an affinity for rock and the blues in high school, which I’m sure helped him meet O’Neill stylistically — I can’t imagine O’Neill being into the kind of music Bernie enjoys now. But it’s clear that Bernie has a passion for music. It makes me glad that he was able to find his niche in the industry following his baseball career.

Baseball

Bernie might talk about passion in music, but he really shows it when he talks about his upbringing with the New York Yankees. This was a topic that always interested me because, in the same way as many other Yankee fans at the time, I didn’t warm to Bernie at first. He came up as an injury replacement for Roberto Kelly, at the time one of my favorite players, and he did’t exactly hit well in his stead. Bernie, though, says he was just happy for the opportunity, and didn’t feel the additional pressure of filling in for a popular player. It’s not like he had many fans in the Stadium to impress.

He was surprised, he said, when the Yankees ended up trading Kelly. He thought he was the one to be traded. That’s an understandable position, given how the Yankees operated in the 80s. They routinely traded young talent for established veterans. But when they traded Kelly and decided to keep Bernie, he thought they were changing philosophy; and they were. The decision to hang onto Bernie came when George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball, a period when the Yankees hung onto a number of young players who would become the core of their championship teams.

The other major point he hit on, one that we discuss frequently in the comments, is the ability to succeed in New York. It’s true, he said. Some people have an attitude conducive to surviving and succeeding in New York. He described it as even-keeled — the ability to weather some bad play and realize that when you’re yourself and performing well, the fans will love you. Bernie clearly has that attitude himself. I did ask, without getting names or specifics, if Bernie had come across a player or two who had the requisite attitude but just had a few bad years in the city. He clearly wanted to bring up an example, but held back. His response, though, led to the Yankee Attitude Matrix, which we’ll debut later today.

George Steinbrenner

Towards the end of our time together we started asking questions about Bernie’s relationship with George Steinbrenner. He had two stories that illustrated what the Boss meant to him, and both were his most elaborate moments of the afternoon.

The first involved his contract negotiations after the 1998 season. After being tied to the Yankees for so long, he said, he wanted to test the market. He received interest from a number of teams and, as we know, a large offer from the Red Sox. His agent, Scott Boras, and Brian Cashman were talking about a deal, but Bernie didn’t feel they were getting it done the way he wanted it to be. So he reached out to Mr. Steinbrenner.

Bernie recalls that he called Mr. Steinbrenner and told him that he wanted to remain a Yankee. That, apparently, is what Steinbrenner wanted to hear. His response, according to Bernie, was, “OK. What do you want?” Bernie mentioned Mike Piazza’s seven-year, $91 million contract, and George said he’d do what he could. This was at a time, remember, when the Yankees were looking at Albert Belle — wining and dining, Bernie said. But George came back hours later with a seven-year, $87.5 million offer. That got the deal done.

At some point during his tenure in pinstripes, though he can’t remember which year, the team apparently cancelled a family day for the players. This is when they can bring their kids to the park and let them play on the field. This dismayed Bernie, but more importantly it dismayed his wife. He called up Mr. Steinbrenner and asked him to reconsider family day, saying how important it had become for his kids. The answer, “I’ll think about it,” turned into a yes later that day. Bernie thinks it’s because the Yankees won. I don’t doubt that.

The afternoon was nothing but enjoyable. How could it not be? It was a bunch of fans sitting around and asking questions of a guy who helped deliver four World Series titles. Bernie had plenty to say, and he certainly gave us elaborate answers to each question. Major thanks go to him, Taylor, and MasterCard for hosting the afternoon. If you want a different angle on the event, you can check out Emma Span’s write-up at Bronx Banter. Amanda Rykoff at The OCD Chick will have a comprehensive recap up later in the day. Which is good, because I surely didn’t get in everything.

* Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.

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.