New York Yankees fans aren’t going to escape this all season as the final member of this group plays his final season. Derek Jeter. Mariano Rivera. Andy Pettitte. Jorge Posada. Great players who have given Yankees fans countless memories.
But one beloved former Yankee has been forgotten throughout the celebration – Bernie Williams. At least they could have had him play the national anthem at the home opener, but the Yankees went with a Broadway actor with no ties to the ball club instead.
Williams spent his entire 16-year career playing for New York, and was there long before the dynasty began. He was just a 22-year-old kid when his career began in 1991 in the Bronx, and it ended less than 10 years ago. However, it seems as though the New York Yankees have gotten his contributions. He still won four World Series with New York and was the foundation of the Yankees and its fan base when New York finally began to win in the Bronx again.
Does one World Series title in 2009 really make a difference between being celebrated on Opening Day?
Williams, who won the batting title in 1998, deserves to be recognized like his former teammates. He never left and went to another team (although he did use the Boston Red Sox as leverage to get a bigger contract). He wanted nothing more than to play for the New York Yankees.
Yet, the Yankees seem to have forgotten so easily all the magical Octobers that Williams give the organization. Like the night he hit a walk off home run against the Baltimore Orioles in 1996 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Game (Jeffery Maier game), or when he hit another walk off home run against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the 1999 ALCS.
Burn, baby, burn. That was time when Yankee fans weren’t sick of John Sterling’s goofy home run calls yet because they came from a place on spontaneity and mirth. Williams contributed to impressive wins. Aaron Boone’s home run doesn’t happen without Bernie.
Even more than his play on the field was the way he interacted with fans that left a lasting impression. He signed autographs, threw balls into the stands and genuinely seemed to enjoy playing in pinstripes.
I had season tickets for the New York Yankees for many years right in the heart of Section 39 of the old Yankee Stadium. Every game I attended in 2003 (about 40), I stood on the bleacher bench while he warmed his arm before first pitch. I shouted his name, and waved my arms wildly. Bernie would point and nod his head. Then, when his warm up throws were over, he would turn and chuck the ball in my direction into the bleachers.
More times than not, Bernie didn’t hit the mark. He would shrug and smile, but still offer a wave. It was a perfect moment as a fan even if I didn’t get a baseball as a souvenir.
Sports Illustrated shouldn’t decide who gets celebrated from the modern-day Yankees. The magazine shouldn’t dictate who the Yankees think should celebrate Jeter’s last home opener. One World Series shouldn’t make a difference.
But it seems the Yankees left Bernie on the outside of the celebration even though he could be considered The One – the one who started it all.