The Core Four — Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter — sat together in memory row next to other special guests on the left side of the infield. But it was really a homegrown Fab Five from those Yankees glory days, including the one who arrived before the four. Bernie Williams stepped up to the microphone off to the right of home plate Sunday night at Yankee Stadium after all the introductions and the video tribute had spun all those large hits, diving catches and stirring testimonials.
“This is unbelievable,” the 46-year-old told the crowd. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought that a skinny little 17-year-old kid from Puerto Rico could be here this day in this celebration.” This day was Bernie Williams Day, the night his No. 51 was retired and his plaque unveiled in Monument Park. It was a night nine years in the making.
Williams played his entire 16-year career with the Yankees, but the last of those years came in 2006. He has been making music as a jazz guitarist ever since. “I miss the game and I wish I could be playing now,” Williams said in his speech. “Well, maybe not. You don’t want the 2015 version of Bernie Williams. This one is more suited for a guitar than a bat.”
Still, he didn’t sign his retirement papers until last month. This night put the exclamation point next to his playing career, the 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series rings, the five All-Star selections, the four Gold Gloves, the .297 average and the major league-record 80 postseason RBIs.
“I really misjudged first of all the sentiment of the fans and in many ways my own sentiment, my own psychological process of putting closure to something that I had been doing for such a long time,” Williams said at a post-ceremony news conference. “I was talking to Joe Girardi, one of my dear teammates, down in the dugout and I felt like this really heavy weight kind of fell off me.”
“I really feel like I’m ready to really move on to the next half of my life, whatever that brings. I really needed to have this chapter of my life closed. It took me nine years, but I finally got it done.” Pettitte said, “Some of the best stories for me is just picturing Bernie on the plane with his guitar.”
Girardi said: “Bernie was a very unassuming star. There was no entourage.” Williams wouldn’t rule out a return someday to impart some of the lessons he learned along the way.