There was a nostalgic feeling in the air. The old lions of the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s – many of the key players – were on hand.
It brought me back to the days of my childhood and I relished every minute of it.
Bernie Williams Night last Sunday was one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences I’ve had as a Yankee fan. I’d say it was on the same level as the World Series ring ceremony I attended in 2010.
I felt the need to be there, given my past history with this great man.
The great number 51 at long last took his rightful spot in Monument Park behind the wall in centerfield, where he patrolled for 15 years in pinstripes.
Obviously I could go on and on forever talking about Williams’ accomplishments as a New York Yankee. Instead of that, however, I’ll muse about and share some pictures from his special night.
Thank you Bernie
Even before stepping foot into the ballpark, you just knew this night was going to be all about number 51.
Stopping to capture a moment from 1998
While walking to my seat, I happened to stumble across this picture in the concourse of Williams high-fiving third base coach Willie Randolph in a home run trot. Even though I’ve seen it before, having been to the stadium countless times, I had to pause and capture a picture. What with it being his night, I felt it necessary.
Little did I know Randolph would later appear as part of the pregame festivities.
On a side note, in 1998 Williams high-fived Randolph 26 times during the regular season and three more times in the postseason, rounding third in home run trots.
All fans received this neat collectible card after making their way through the turnstiles.
They brought the good guys.
Roy White, Williams’ first base coach for a huge chunk of his career. He was there.
Gene “Stick” Michael, who became the Yankees’ General Manager the same year Williams made his Major League Baseball debut, 1991. He was there.
Joe Torre, Williams’ only manager throughout his career. He was there.
Randolph, and former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez. They were all there.
David Cone, Williams’ teammate from 1995-2000 and Yankee Yapping shout out artist. He was there.
The great closer, Mariano Rivera, made the drive in from New Rochelle.
And the Yankees saved the biggest surprise for last.
The return of the Captain
I still kick myself to this day. Sure the tickets were criminally expensive. Of course they would be. It was Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25 of last year.
The price of admission would have been worth it given the way that game ended. Jeter heroically, as he had done many times before, won the game with a clutch hit.
Understandably, I was disappointed I wasn’t there to witness it live. And I was saddened I would never see Jeter at Yankee Stadium again.
But lo and behold, the last guest at Bernie Williams night was Jeter. The captain incarnate. Admittedly, I did not think Jeter would make an appearance so soon after retiring, for that very reason – it was too soon. Jeter always struck me as the type who would wait awhile to return to big ballpark in the Bronx for a special night of this kind.
But, I was wrong. Not only was Jeter there, he strutted out like he owned the place. With the top couple buttons of his shirt unbuttoned underneath his sport coat, he looked like a million bucks.
What made it better, I thought, was the comment from a fan behind me, once Jeter was announced:
“Suit ‘em up!!!!!” the fan yelled, loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear.
Not a bad idea, considering his heir at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had six errors on the season entering Saturday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.
Overall it was such a wonderful, indescribable feeling, seeing Jeter at the game. I may not have been there for his last hurrah, but I can say I was there when he made his triumphant return to New York to pay respect to his old friend.
It was outstanding; maybe the best speech from any of the players that have been honored since 2013, when the Yankees reintroduced retiring numbers and nailing plaques to the hallowed Monument Park walls.
He was sure to thank everyone and spoke directly from the heart.
Williams tossed out the honorary first pitch – a pretty good throw – to boisterous cheers from the crowd.
Unfortunately no magic from number 51 rubbed off on the Yankees. The visiting Texas Rangers had their way with starter Chris Capuano. Texas touched him up for three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. Capuano finished with four strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter – but also didn’t impress anyone.
The Yanks only plated two runs, both of which came off the bat of catcher Brian McCann. In the bottom of the first McCann singled home Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, but that was all the offense the Yankees could muster.
It continued. You know the trend I’m talking about.
The Yankees losing on special days. At the end of 2013, the San Francisco Giants beat the Yankees on a day the pinstripers exalted their own Mariano Rivera.
Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill suffered the same fate in 2014. They were honored with heartwarming pregame ceremonies and Monument Park plaques, but the team just could not finish the job. The Yankees lost each of those games, most of the time without putting up an offensive fight.
The trend was bucked on Aug. 23 of last year when Joe Torre had his day. The Yanks put an end to the special day losing streak, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3.
But on Sept. 7 – Jeter’s big day – they went right back to losing. The Kansas City Royals came in and put up two runs.
Two. The same number Jeter wore on his back his entire career. And the same amount of runs it took the Royals to beat the Bronx Bombers. It ended 2-0.
With special days lined up for Jorge Posada (Aug. 22 vs. Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Aug. 23 vs. Cleveland) and Willie Randolph (June 20 vs. Detroit, also Old Timers’ Day), the Yankees at least have the chance to turn the tables.
But the offense will have to wake up in order for that to happen.
The Yankees have been outscored 29-9 on special days from Rivera’s day in 2013 up to Williams’ day last weekend.
The final thought
Was it disappointing the Yankees lost on Bernie Williams Night?
No doubt. It would have been nice to see a win.
Is it the end of the world for the 2015 Yankees as we know it?
Not at all.
The Yankees are lucky. Fortunate in the sense that the American League Eastern Division is so poor, that even with a record that barely hangs above .500, they’re in first place. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays all have problems.
Each team is struggling, and into the month of June it’ll be interesting to see which team – if any – heats up and pulls ahead in the race.
In the meantime, as I sat in the bleachers and watched the Rangers beat the Yankees after Williams’ nice ceremony, I had this image in my head.
Almost a clear vision.
I pictured the old Yankees who were in attendance. Jeter, O’Neill, Martinez, Cone, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and even Torre. All of the dynasty players and their skipper, I imagined, in a luxury suite, watching the current Yankees.
Watching the current Yankees, and laughing. Laughing at how bad they are. Snickering to one another and saying,
“Can you believe they can’t beat these guys? We would’ve won this game in the first inning.”
Which is true. They certainly would have beaten the Rangers down. The Rangers came in at 20-23, and the Yankees of my youth generally never lost to a team of that below .500 caliber.
Then again, the dynasty Yankees could likely have taken down the 2015 Yankees, had they been matched up against one another. In fact, they probably could have beaten any team currently in the league.
They were that good. It was nice to relive those glory days for a night.
News broke this afternoon that Joe Girardi, Yankee skipper since 2008, signed a new four-year contract to return as manager of the Bronx Bombers. The pact is worth $16 million with postseason bonuses, and it quells all the rumors of him leaving the team – rumors that have been swirling since the Yankees’ season ended on Sept. 29 in Houston.
Sources said the Chicago Cubs were prepared to offer Girardi a lot of dough to lead their fledgling ballclub in 2014. This writer, however, can forgive Girardi if he wasn’t ready to accept a pool filled with dollar bills in exchange for leading a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908.
Cubs fans should forgive him too.
Girardi is 564-408 as Yankee manager, and will unquestionably pick up a lot more wins by the time his new deal is done at the conclusion of the 2017 MLB season.
Had Girardi not re-signed, there were only three individuals, realistically, in mind to succeed him. The first choice would have been the obvious choice: bench coach Tony Pena.
With experience managing not only the Kansas City Royals from 2002-05, Pena was at the helm of the 2013 Dominican Republic team that won the World Baseball Classic.
The next possible choice was Willie Randolph, who, although has never won a title as manager, led the New York Mets to a near World Series berth in 2006 and a league-best 97-65 record. Randolph also served as a Yankee third base coach and bench coach from 1994-2004 – and despite not possessing any World Series jewelry as a skipper, owns six rings as both a Yankee player and a coach. What’s more, Randolph has been a part of the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles coaching staff in recent years.
The last prospective successor to Girardi was Don Mattingly, but the former Yankee first baseman is currently in the middle of a hunt for a ring at the helm of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Donnie Baseball quickly shot down any notion of managing the Yankees, saying he had no interest in being Yankee skipper just six days ago. Mattingly’s contract is up for expiration at the end of this season, but given the huge turnaround the Dodgers have had, it’s likely he’ll be staying put in LA-LA Land.
Of course winning a ring this year can’t hurt his odds at a return as manager of the big blue team out west, as well.
On a personal note, I’ll probably remember this day not just for the announcement of Girardi’s return, but for my little anecdote about the whole deal.
At the risk of keeping all readers guessing, I’ll explain.
Exactly 17 minutes after the news broke of the Yankee skipper’s new contract, my dad sent me a text message that engulfed me with envy:
“I was doing some work here at our deli in Purchase and I just met Joe Girardi! … He went next door to the restaurant with his two kids. I told him to stay and that #28 was next year! He just smiled and said thanks. And I shook his hand!”
Even typing that, the jealousy continues to envelope me. The day Girardi gets the big contract, my dad meets him. What a story. With that, it’s possible my dad was the first person to congratulate Girardi – or at least acknowledge him remaining in pinstripes the day the news broke of his deal.
You cannot script Yankee Yapping.
Girardi’s name is now added to list of sports figures my dad has met while working; now it’s up there with Vernon Wells (who my dad saw while working the day after Opening Day this past April) and Lawrence Taylor, whom he met working at the Westchester Airport this year.
And hopefully someday (soon) I’ll get to meet, or at least interview, a lot more famous athletes.