Eight years and seven months after he played his final major league game, Bernie Williams signed his official retirement papers. At a press conference on April 24 at Yankee Stadium, Williams explained the delay, “I didn’t think it was so important at the time. It was a process mentally wrestling with [breaking away from baseball] the first two-three years. It was a grieving process like losing your best friend.”
Williams played all 16 years (1991-2006) of his career in the majors with the Yankees. He was the first of the Yankee greats since 1990 who was developed in the minor league system of the Yankee. The Puerto Rican native later became one of the most popular and productive players on the team in the past quarter-century.
The Yankees qualified for the post-season playoffs in each of the final 12 years of Williams’ career. In four of the years (1996, 1998-2000) the Yankees were World Series champions. Not surprisingly to those who recognize the importance of Williams to the organization, those were some of his best seasons. He was chosen as an American League All-Star for each season between 1997-2001; he won the Gold Glove for his fielding excellence in each year between 1997-2000; his .339 batting average won him the American League batting title in 1998.
Despite his importance to the success of the organization in the past 25 years, he was never named as part of the celebrated group of Yankee greats called the Core Four. Williams commented, “I was part of a team that had a great run. We were all part of that run. I’m very proud to have been part of that team.”
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman referred to Williams with high praise, “Bernie is part of the Fab Five. He is one of the building blocks and foundation of the success [in the 1990’s and 2000’s].”
The statistics compiled by the legendary center fielder rank him as one of the all-time greats in the history of the iconic Yankees. He ended his career with a lifetime .297 batting avaerage. e ranks third in doubles, fifth in hits, sixth in games, sixth in runs and seventh in runs batted in. His post-season numbers are even more impressive. He still leads all Yankees in home runs (22) and runs batted in (80). He is second in runs scored, hits and doubles.
One month after Friday’s retirement ceremony, (May 24), Williams’ #51 will join 17 other uniform numbers that will never be worn by a Yankee player again. He will be the 19th Yankee (Berra and Dickey both had #8 retired by the club) to have his number retired.On that date there will also be a plaque in his honor added to the 30 plaques in the crowded Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.
As a prelude to the cheers he will hear on May 24, Williams was roundly cheered after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before the game.
Williams, who has finally come to terms with his retirement from baseball, told the reporters he was a full-time student at the Manhattan School of Music majoring in Jazz Performing.