Former New York Yankee Bernie Williams became “former New York Yankee Bernie Williams” two years ago. Coming off of a season in which he played more than expected, the contract offer he expected never came. Instead of a 1-year deal, he was offered an invitation to spring training with no guarantee of a job. After 16 years in the big leagues, all with the Yankees, he felt he deserved better. He didn’t get it. He quit.
But here’s the thing: He never really quit.
Bernie never held a press conference and told the world, “I have retired from baseball.” He never had some “family spokesperson” speak for him, never issued a statement from behind “The Williams Compound” walls that he was out for good. Until a player does that, he always has that little bit of Nolan Ryan in him, a little Roger Clemens; the part that is 99.9% sure it’s over. The end of a baseball career is the only time when a .1% outweighs the rest; when you still have a part of you that wants to come back for one more season.
PROS & CONS
If you’re in Bernie’s shoes and you stop playing at 38 years old, and not necessarily voluntarily, you keep wondering if you can make it back. You put together lists in your head of why you should even consider playing again. It’s a Pros & Cons list, with the Pros being reasons to try to play again. Since it’s your list and comes from your head and is biased because of the .1%, the Pros usually outnumber the Cons. For example:
CONS: Being away from my kids for long stretches, being away from my wife for long stretches (for some this is a Pro, I know), can sit home and play guitar all day, can come and go as you please with no manager or coach or agent screaming at you to wear a jock even though you’re sick of the chafing.
I could go on, but there aren’t any more major Cons. Let’s look at the Pros:
PROS: Money, pride, desire to stay young, desire to be with the guys again in the clubhouse, the need to satisfy your competitive mojo, faith in yourself that you can still play, wanting to prove to everyone who thought you were done that you weren’t, the cheering sound of a 50,000-person crowd, love of the game, the feel of the bat in your palms, the glove on your hand, the ball traveling from your fingertips to a cutoff man who may possibly be named Derek Jeter, a manager or coach or agent screaming at you to wear a jock, playing guitar in the clubhouse or the hotel or the airplane every free moment, being a good example for your kids never to give up, showing your wife she married a M-A-N.
It’s possible to come up with more Pros, but you get the idea. If a guy like Bernie really wants to come back, it’s never hard to justify it to yourself.
Once you’ve made the commitment to give it one more shot at 40 years old, the hardest part isn’t stepping onto the field. The hardest part is staying there.
You don’t realize what two years of inactivity does to you. You don’t realize what two years of others improving, of the game going on without your contributions, means until you face that first pitch and think, very quietly, “I don’t remember balls traveling that fast from pitcher to catcher before.” You’re two steps slower. Your arm is two years older. Your body at 40 isn’t the body of a svelte 20 year old. But you don’t care. All that matters is the grass under your cleats and the uniform over your shoulders. You’re playing again. The Cons at this point never seemed to exist.
Bernie felt this in Puerto Rico this year. He went down to his native domicile to play in the Puerto Rican winter league and got a hit in his first at bat. You know how that feels? Joy. That’s what that is.
Then he hit a snag. He didn’t get a hit in his next 5 at bats. Then he got hurt, straining his right quad. If you’ve never strained your right quad, be very happy. It’s not fun. It’s not pleasant. And it takes a while to heal.
There are guys who would take that 1 for 6, suffer the strain, and say to themselves, “I gave it my best shot.” Then they’d go home. Would they be satisfied? Yes, they tried. Yes, they made it back onto the field. But is 1 for 6 enough? Depending upon how the guy justifies it in his head, maybe. Or maybe not.
For Bernie, it looks like a “maybe not.” He has been added to the provisional 45-man roster for the Puerto Rican team participating in this year’s World Baseball Classic. That’s a big step. He has until February 22nd to heal up his leg and catch up to fastballs and curveballs and the occasional circle change. On that day, the team’s roster is cut to the final 28.
Bernie Williams fans can circle 2/22 on their calendars. That will be a big day for him, when all of the Pros and the mental justifications are either satisfied and celebrated or wiped away with one quick Con. Make the team and your journey back continues. Get cut and get out for good. It’s a time when that 99.9% finally equals 100%. And maybe the big press conference will follow soon after that.
Or maybe not.
Meanwhile, you can see Bernie Williams this Saturday, January 24th at the Hillside Food Outreach 7th Annual Neighbors Helping Neighbors event. Bernie is hosting the event, with special guest Robinson Cano, in Thornwood, New York.
Bernie’s going to play guitar and make it worth your time. Ticket prices range from $275 to $1500.
What is Hillside Food Outreach? “Hillside Food Outreach exists to provide food to those in need throughout Westchester and Putnam Counties. It is our Mission to deliver food to people who are, for whatever reason, unable to access local food pantries. We also provide food bags for special needs diets, such as diabetes.
“It is our objective to meet the needs of the poor and destitute of Westchester and Putnam Counties by delivering food and friendships.”
If you can, go see Bernie on the 24th. And say hey to Robbie for me.
Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of. You can hear a new interview every Monday morning with a current or ex-MLB player, agent, or wife on Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight. Go to www.jimmyscottshighandtight.com and listen.