Thursday, September 12, 2013
I HEARD SOMEBODY SAY, "BERN, BABY, BERN"
"To my surprise, one hundred stories high!"
George Steinbrenner didn’t like Bernie Williams. The lanky player had great speed and held promise of power. But The Boss wanted fast results, and Bernie didn’t fit easily into traditional player roles. Because of this, Williams nearly ended up in Montreal in 1993. Larry Walker would have patrolled center field in his place.
GM Gene Michael ultimately decided to place his faith in Williams, and Buck Showalter shielded him from Steinbrenner after that. The Boss made another attempt to trade Bernie in 1995, to the Giants. Williams, in the middle of a breakout season that year, proved too valuable to move. Trade rumors continued to swirl around Number 51 until the post-season of 1996.
"Folks are screaming, out of control!"
During that post season of 1996, Bernie Williams became a New York sports legend. He single-handedly beat up the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, hitting for an average of .467. He played amazing defense in center, shutting up critics who complained of his gaffes.
In the ‘96 ALCS Bernie brandished a blazing bat, producing an incredible .474 average with two homers. In the World Series his average dropped significantly, but his four RBIs were all huge, and it was Williams who rang up the clutch homer in Game 3 that helped the Yankees move on to their first Championship since 1978.
Astoundingly, trade rumors circled around Bernie once more in 1997, and he was connected to both the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. Yankee fans all over the world made it clear how much they loved Williams. The front office backed off upon the realization that people would storm the Stadium and hang those responsible for trading their beloved Bernie.
"Satisfaction, came in a chain reaction!"
Bernie Williams solidified his legacy as a Yankee icon in 1998. As New York went on their record-setting 114-48 season run, Bernie helped set the pace with a .339 average. He would go on to become the first player to win a batting title, a gold glove, and a World Series ring all in the same year.
As a free agent that off-season, Bernie Williams drew heavy interest. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox made huge offers. The Yankees would let Williams go nowhere, and rewarded him with the biggest contract in baseball at that time, for seven years. New York never missed the playoffs during all that time.
Bernie Williams has only ever played for the Yankees. He IS a Yankee. He returned to the Stadium on September 21, 2008, and received a standing ovation that lasted well over a full minute and a half. Here’s one last tantalizing nugget; he has still not officially acknowledged his retirement from baseball.
"I heard somebody say…"
Number 51 is a musician now. It’s amusing that “Disco Inferno” was associated with him, as his own music is in a much different genre. His Latin-infused jazz and blues album “Moving Forward” was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in 2009. His book, “Rhythms of the Game” was released in 2011, featuring a foreword by Paul Simon.
Fitting. A player famous for his baseball artistry is setting the Arts on fire.
Bern, baby, Bern!
Chad R. MacDonald
BYB Features Writer
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