If the Yankees don't offer Bernie Williams a new contract by midnight tonight, his career with the team will be over (they certainly have no plans to go to arbitration with him). Yankee general manager Brian Cashman will reportedly meet again with Williams' agent Scott Boras today. If Williams were to return, it would presumably be in the kind of reserve role that Ruben Sierra has filled for the past several years. Mike Lupica, who is one of the Yankees' most vocal critics, pays tribute to Williams today in the Daily News:
Nothing lasts forever. Joe DiMaggio limped away from center field at the Stadium at the age of 36, a year younger than Bernie is right now. Mickey Mantle limped away. If Williams leaves the Yankees today, he will leave in better shape than either one of them, even if he isn't close to what he used to be. It doesn't change that when you talk about all the center fielders in the history of the New York Yankees, there is DiMaggio, there is Mantle, there is Williams. It is not such a terrible way to run third.
You said it. Although the Yankees long expected great things from Williams, he was scrawny and a late-bloomer, and did not possess the kind of natural baseball instincts that Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter have. But when all was said and done, he was the team's best offensive player during the team's glory years (1996-00), and he put together a near Hall of Fame career. Not bad indeed.
Speaking of which, another unassuming but admirable player, John Olerud is retiring. Olerud was a wonderful first baseman and an excellent hitter. Alex Rodriguez has called him the best teammate he's ever had. Olerud wasn't a great player, but like Williams he was a very, very good one--one that you'd generally love to have on your team. Olerud had a reputation as a hard worker, but for a large man, he was remarkably fluid, from the way he played first, to his uncomplicated swing. In 17 big league seasons, Olerud had a lifetime .295 battting average, .398 on base percentage (1275 career walks to 1016 career whiffs), and .465 slugging percentage.
There was something serene, even removed about Olerud. He had a kind of quiet intensity that is easy to overlook. But I found that quality exceedingly appealing. Of course, he'll probably be best remembered for wearing a batting helmet in the field, but I'll always recall that far-away, but peaceful look he'd have on his face while sitting in the dugout. When I'd watch him like that I always wondered what he was thinking (he almost suggested a benign Travis Bickle at times). Sometimes, my brother once commented, he just looked content, like the wind blowing through his ears. Olerud seemed very comfortable in his own skin, so even though he gave the impression of being internal or distant, he always seemed so grounded and sure that it isn't difficult to see why his teammates loved playing with him.
I loved how he embraced New York when he played for the Mets, even occasionally taking the 7 train to work. Hopefully, there will be some tributes to him around the 'Net in the coming days. I'll make a point of linking to them when they are up.