Thursday, August 11, 2005

What about the Bern?

God, they freaking HAD it. They played their butts off, but as that ball hit by Uribe landed 15 feet in front of Bernie in the outfield, I thought, oh wow. This may really not happen this year. And since the All-Star Break, not from lack of trying.

Watching Posednik, Rowand, and Dye tear up the Yankee Stadium outfield got me to thinking about Bernie Williams. What Yankee fan doesn’t love the Bern? A quiet, classy guy who has spent the last 15 years making it happen for the Yankees defensively and offensively by being fast, agile, and smart.

But this year has been something else. Letting balls fall out of his glove, striking out at key moments, not getting there in time to make the play. The Yankees didn’t pick up his option for next year, and nobody seemed all that surprised. They put Tony Womack out there to give Bernie a break, but Tony Womack is a second baseman. Surprising to no-one, aside from being really fast, he has a really hard time out there.

Bernie’s biggest crime? He didn’t read the memo. Everyone in their 30’s knows about the memo – it’s the communication your body sends your brain “hey, no, not happening”. Mortality’s first shot across the bow. You get hurt easier, and once you’re hurt it hurts a whole lot longer. “Playing through it” becomes impossible, and there begin to be things you can’t do at all.

I’m not much of a television yeller, but yesterday when that ball dropped, I couldn’t believe it. “NO! NO WAY!” No to the season, no to Bernie being almost done, no to the whole damn thing. Heartbreaking.

So what do the Yankees do with Bernie? Do they dump him? Do they ask somebody like Paul O’Neil to pull him aside and say, hey I thought leaving baseball would kill me too, but I’m still here? Do they let him stumble into an ignominious end, letting Yankee fans boo him out of the stadium instead of chanting his name like he deserves? Unfortunately, I can’t assume that the Yankees will do right by him – God, they sent even the Babe to play for the Boston Braves.

I hope, I hope, that Bernie leaves the game at the end of this season as a player, but I would be thrilled to see him on the Yankees bench as a coach if that’s what he wants to do. It would be hard for me to imagine the team without him.