Veteran players often say they will keep playing until, “they rip the uniform off my back.” Baseball offers the kind of money, lifestyle and attention they can’t get someplace else.
Bernie Williams never seemed like one of those guys. He was always the first player to leave after a game and quite often the last one to show up before. He also was that rare athlete with a fallback career.
His passion for the Yankees is such, however, that Williams doesn’t want to retire even though now seems like the right time. You have to admire that. But that doesn’t mean he should get a contract.
“I just don’t have a spot,” Brian Cashman said last night. “I respect Bernie’s decision not to want to come to camp without any guarantees. Our team has changed.”
The simple fact is that at age 38, Bernie is not suited to come off the bench. And he does not have the instincts or skills to play first base. This has nothing to do with Andy Phillips or Doug Mientkiewicz.
If there were 400 at-bats to be had, Bernie could probably produce another 60 RBI and some clutch hits. But there are not. The Yankees need bench players who can pinch hit, play defense, steal a base or lay down a bunt.
He was a great Yankee but that’s not what Bernie does. Look at his statistics in September when he played sporadically (.236/.300/.327). That is what you would get.
The fans, as always, know. They have been cheering Bernie wildly at the Stadium for two years now. It was a sign of respect. But it also was a gentle nudge.
There is no easy way to do this. If the Yankees wanted to, they could carry one less pitcher in April because of the schedule and keep Bernie around. But they will need the extra pitcher at some point, they always do. Nobody, especially Joe Torre, wants to call Bernie into the office and send him home.
Let the sting fade and plan Bernie Williams Day. Retire No. 51 and let John Sterling yell “Bern, baby, Bern” one more time.
Rip the uniform off his back.