Just a little time ago here in Miami, a group of New York media reporters were talking about which great Yankee player should be next to have his uniform number retired.
The immediate answer was No. 2 Derek Jeter.
The quick response is understandable. For 14 seasons, the nine-time All-Star shortstop has been consistently great and his long list mark of honors and accolades are not doubt Hall-of-Fame bound. Not counting, besides being Mr. Yankee Captain since 2003, he has been twice Mr. Captain of Team USA in both editions of the World Baseball Classic.
Sixteen pages of Jeter biography in the 2009 Yankee Media Guide tells it all.
Moreover, his No. 2 is at present time, the only number from one through nine not yet retired at Yankee Stadium Monument Park.
What about 51? Yes, Bernie Williams.
The reaction from the group was something like, "deserves it but we totally forgot about him."
In The Big Apple who should have forgotten whom in 16 seasons was a Mr. Yankee. He racked up the stats from 1991-2006, batting .297 with 287 homers and 1,257 runs batted in. Williams is among the top 15 Yankee career batting leaders in 10 offensive categories. He was also a five-time All-Star, has four Gold Gloves, was the 1996 American League Championship Series MVP and 1998 American League batting king.
Who have forgotten when Williams and catcher Jorge Posada each hit home runs from both sides of the plate in 2000 in a win at Toronto. It was the only time in history that two players have hit switch-home runs in the same game.
Back in March, after the last Puerto Rico game in the World Baseball Classic the always amiable Williams gave us this wrap-up response in South Florida.
“I felt really good about playing,” Williams said. “I am my worst critic and I did not feel very bad about it. It took me a while to get acclimated. But after a while, I felt very encouraged. I can still play.”
“At this point, I do not want to be the guy that tries to come back and goes to the independent leagues or the minor leagues for a couple [of] weeks,” Williams said. “I would certainly welcome the opportunity to play in the big leagues at some point, even though the window is very short right now.”
The window never open. And even though he never said it if he’d play for another team than the Yankees, we knew he would have only played for the Yankees.
Nowadays Williams, 40, is on the road on his “Moving Forward” second-album jazz tour. And we know he still thinks he could have been in the pinstripes uniform one more time.
Just a suggestion to the Yankees organization. Next time you invite him to play a national anthem give him finally a Bernie Williams Day like any other Yankee greats and retire his No. 51 forever. He would be the first Latino to be in Monument Park.
Jeter can join him later.
As an extra note, if this column is read in Seattle, the Mariners should retire the No. 11 of Edgar Martinez next year. His honors are very long. Then someday another Mariner, Ichiro Suzuki, can have his No. 11 retired.
Just a thought. But in all honesty, Williams' No. 51 should go up next to all the other great Yankee numbers.
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