Bernie Williams' baseball career ended under circumstances that seemed mysterious to some individuals, but not to those who know him.
Williams has basic values he will always honor. His parents taught him to treat others the way he wanted to be treated, and all he asks is that others provide him the same respect he gives them.
Bernie Does Not Reveal His Feelings
Williams has never felt completely at ease with other people and never reveals his feelings easily, if at all.
As a child growing up in Puerto Rico, he was always quiet.
"I was always afraid of rejection."
He learned to play the guitar on his own at his parents' home. Williams is at ease only when he is playing the guitar and friends gather around to listen.
However, Williams never sings. He never initiates a conversation, but David Cone once said, "You can approach him with a topic that interests him and he'll surprise you."
Star Money for a Non-Star Player?
Williams had his first memorable season with the Yankees in 1995, when he hit .307 and smacked 18 home runs. The next season, he batted .305 with 29 home runs and 102 RBI, as the Yankees won the World Series.
In 1998, Williams won the American League batting title with a .339 average and helped the Yankees to yet another world title.
After the World Series he became a free agent, but months earlier, Williams had turned down a $37.5 million, five-year deal. Then Yankees' general manager Bob Watson commented, "This is star money for a non-star player."
It was hurtful, especially to someone who wanted others to respect him as he respected them.
Then on November 23, 1998, the rival Boston Red Sox offered Williams a seven-year, $91.5 contract that dwarfed the Yankees' five-year, $60 million offer.
Bernie Wanted to Remain a Yankee
Bosotn has a long baseball tradition, and the contract the Red Sox offered was more than generous. But for Williams, it would be difficult to sign with the Sox because he was a Yankee.
Although Williams acknowledged that he could have played at Fenway Park, it was something that he didn't want to do. Instead, he wanted the Yankees to respect him, to pay him competitively, and to validate his status as a star player.
A Pivotal Meeting
Scott Boras, Williams' agent, arranged a meeting with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner in the late-afternoon of November 24.
Williams told the Yankees how he felt. He told them how much it meant to him to play for the team, and how he wanted to remain a part of the Yankee tradition.
After the meeting, Steinbrenner told reporters, "I understood this was a young man who truly wanted to remain a Yankee, and he didn't like the idea of going to another team."
But these are the Yankees and this was George Steinbrenner.
Joe Torre Wanted Albert Belle
Later that November day, the Yankees offered Albert Belle a five year, $60 million contract. Manager Joe Torre had lobbied hard to get the temperamental slugger.
Steinbrenner approved the deal. It seemed Williams was gone, but at the last minute, Belle backed out of the deal and signed with Baltimore instead.
Faced with their divisional rivals the Orioles getting Belle and the Red Sox getting Williams, the Yankees offered Williams $89.7 million for seven years. Not only did Williams become the highest-paid Yankee of that time, it cemented his place in team history and guaranteed that he would retire from the game a Yankee.
Bernie's Last Season
Williams was forced to retire following the 2006 season, and while re-signing him proved to be the right baseball move, the Yankees did offer him an invitation in 2007 as a non-roster player.
However, Williams thought he was being disrespected and politely refused.
On Sept. 21, 2008, Williams returned to Yankee Stadium for the final game at Yankee Stadium, where the team honored Williams as the greatest center fielder in the team's history.
Williams was the last player to be introduced during the ceremonies. He received a standing ovation that lasted a minute and 42 seconds.
Olney, Buster. "Bernie Williams, Baseball's Shyest Superstar." New York Times . 15 July 1999, p.D1.
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