Monday, February 27, 2006

The 51st State

Spring Training is slow, and unlike this piece from the Daily News about Bernie Williams, the news that comes out of the mainstream media is often awash with rumor and speculation. Everyone and his mother has a season preview in the works and rosters are getting picked apart for what might happen in the upcoming 162 games, plus playoffs.

I'm sure we'll do our fair share of prognostication here at COH, but I had a sudden urge to use my newfound blogdom to do something I've always wanted to do. I want to thank Bernie Williams and remember him as the champion we had the privilege to watch in centerfield for more than a decade. This is important to me, because soon we will no longer see Bernie Williams roaming the green pasture at Yankee Stadium, but rather Johnny Damon. The Bombers may be better off with Damon in center, but that spot still belongs to Bernie and always will in my mind. The ghost of Bernie past will be there as long as I'm still kicking.

So with no further ado, I present the Canyon of Heroes tribute to our center fielder for life, the 51st State, Bernie Williams.

My memory of Bernie goes way back to his days at Columbus. The clock is about to tick 35 on me in a couple of weeks, and I think back to my early days in college when a plate of stale nachos was a meal fit for a king, and pick up games of basketball occasionally replaced "The Politics of Latin America" on thursday afternoons. Sorry, Dr. Messmer.

Do any of you remember what it was like as a Yankee fan in that era? Donny Baseball straining against the legends of Yankee Stadium to get his team back to the elusive Fall Classic. Lots of lumber but no arms. was bleak. That is, until word that Bernie Williams was on his way up to the bigs to take over for the injured Roberto Kelly.

I'd been following the kid at Columbus since a friend told me we had a 5-tool outfielder waiting in the wings. Classic backup quarterback syndrome. I wanted him playing everday. The future was now....uh...then.

I don't want to get into the long history of Bernie Williams in pinstripes. If you care to look over the official biography at, click the link. Instead, I want to talk about why he means so much to me and many other Yankee fans. I want to put up my own monument to Bernie in the COH monument park. If you love Bernie the way I do, you understand. If you are lukewarm about his place in the pantheon of Yankee greats, this piece may not be for you.

#51 is not a legend in the typical mold. He didn't come up blasting home runs like Kevin Maas or Shane Spencer and he certainly didn't seem like a guy that was going to force open the doors to the postseason and demand entry. Just look at his picture here and tell me this is the guy who would help lead you to 4 World Series titles....I dare you.

Actually, this part of Bernie's persona is what I like most. He plays classical guitar and speaks softly. He saves his passion for those historical moments when a barbaric yawp is due. How many other athletes do we see who save their flair for only the truly big moments?

There's always a lot of talk about the core of homegrown guys that provided the backbone to the Yankee championship run of the 1990s. Bernie, Jeter, Posada, Mariano, and Pettitte. Think about this. If Bernie Williams hadn't inspired confidence in Buck Showalter as a youngster the Yankees couldn't have traded Roberto Kelly to the Reds for Paul O'Neill. Nice assist.

Can this happen again for the Yankees? Is the genie out of the bottle on this kind of patience? The Robinson Cano saga seems to suggest we are back on track with a sensible philosophy regarding our prospects. Chien Ming Wang is still a Yankee. Might we one day see Melky Cabrera fill Bernie's shoes with the same kind of patience we saw 15 years ago?

I'm sure we'll see Bernie Go Boom a few times this year and I'm sure he'll fill in nicely in center when needed. When you see him misjudge a ball in the sun, or fail to chase down a ball over his head, think back. When he strikes out on a weak hack, or grounds into a game ending double play remember what he once was. As fans we owe him that much. We owe him the dignity to go out with a huge ovation and the forgiveness that players in his position are due when they stumble into retirement. Just close your eyes and imagine the sweet sound of his guitar, the soundtrack to an immortal Yankee career.


YankeeBitch said...

Nice "monument," Mike. There's something awesome about being part of a history that is mythic in scale, and watching men become mythic heroes as we go about our daily lives, cheering them on, participating in that history. That's what I love about being a Yankee fan.

Mike Plugh said...

My favorite Yankee growing up was Reggie Jackson, and I'll always feel empty that he didn't retire in pinstripes.

That's the way it goes sometimes in the age of free agency (see: Patrick Ewing) but at least Bernie Williams has taken that route and has been afforded that choice.

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