Bernie Williams played his entire career for the New York Yankees . But there was one time in particular that it almos didn’t end that way.
Williams had become the regular Yankees center fielder by 1993. However, Williams got off to a slow start that season, and Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner, impatient with Williams, insisted that Gene Michael, the team’s general manager, trade him. Michael discussed trading Williams for Larry Walker with the Montreal Expos, but did not make the trade. In his first full season with the Yankees, Williams had a .268 batting average.
Buck Showalter helped keep him with the Yankees through 1995, when George Steinbrenner sought to trade him. Steinbrenner was frustrated by the team’s difficulty in placing him in any of the traditional baseball player molds. He had good speed, but rarely stole bases. In center, he was highly capable at tracking down fly balls and line drives, but had a weak throwing arm. He was a consistent hitter, but only had mild home run power. Throughout the early 1990s he hit in the middle of the order as management tried to figure out where his best fit was.
In 1995, Steinbrenner again considered trading Williams, this time to the San Francisco Giants for Darren Lewis. The Yankees kept Williams, who had a breakout season. He hit 18 home runs and led the team in runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases. Williams continued his hot hitting into the postseason, leading the Yankees with a .429 batting average in the 1995 American League Division Series (ALDS) against the Seattle Mariners.
After continuing to improve in 1996, Williams again showcased his skills to the baseball world in the postseason. He batted .467 in the ALDS against Texas and played a sparkling center field. He picked up where he left off in the ALCS against Baltimore, belting an 11th-inning walk-off homer in Game 1. Ending with a .474 ALCS average and two homers, he was named the ALCS MVP. Williams collected just four hits in the 1996 World Seriesbut his 4 RBI led the Yankees and a clutch homer in the eighth inning of Game 3 helped capture the team’s first championship since 1978.
Following the 1997 season, Williams again was the subject of trade rumors, this time involving the Detroit Tigers. According to The New York Timessportswriter Murray Chass, Williams was nearly dealt to the Tigers for a package of young pitchers including Roberto Durán and first round draft pick Mike Drumright. Tigers general manager Randy Smith believed a deal had been reached and an official announcement was close, but Yankees general manager Bob Watson denied that was the case, and Williams remained a Yankee. Watson also discussed Williams with the Chicago Cubs in a potential trade involving Lance Johnson.
During the 1998 season, in which the Yankees went 114–48 to set a then American League regular season record, Williams finished with a .339 average, becoming the first player to win a batting title, Gold Glove award, and World Series ring in the same year.
Though he would not appear in a Major League Baseball game after 2006, Williams did not officially retire until 2015. At the February 2011 retirement press conference for Andy Pettitte, Williams acknowledged that his career was over and stated that he would officially announce his retirement soon thereafter. On April 22, 2015, it was announced that Williams would officially retire on April 24, 2015, with the Yankees.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday spotlights…Bernie Williams.