Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-04-08 07:36
by Alex Belth


Each and every baseball season has its share of satisfactions and disillusionment, its thrills and despair...The professional life, moreover, grinds and polishes the emotions to a fine, hard core---of athletic spirit. The professional player has more skill and needs no false hustle to do his job. A player who loves his craft and has the patient determination to do the best job he can creates a personal efficiency that is as much a pleasure to watch as it is a help in winning ball games. Running full speed with his mouth open does not always contribute to a player's success. The professional stores up, treasures, that wining spirit, for there are many long days in the baseball year.

Jim Brosnan, from "The Long Season." (1960)

I came along this passage recently, and one sentence particularly struck me as a fitting description of Bernie Williams: "A player who loves his craft and has the patient determination to do the best job he can creates a personal efficiency that is as much a pleasure to watch as it is a help in winning ball games." Bernie does love his craft I think, even though I've always gotten the sense from him that there is something he does even better than playing baseball. Baseball is just how he happens to make a living. The game doesn't seem natural for him, and that's part of what has made his career rewarding to follow. He's become a terrific player, though his baseball instincts have never been much to write home about, through his dedication to improvement, and an impressive work ethic.

I think Bernie is a musician by nature. Watching him do just about anything on the ballfield, from swinging a bat, to tracking a ball down, to hitting the cut-off man, is like watching a musician, let's say a guitarist in this case, practicing his scales. Discipline is very important to Williams' game. My cousin and I were talking about this over the weekend and he said, "Bernie always looks like he's practicing. Which isn't to say he isn't trying hard, or competing."

I agree. But there is a rhythm to his movements, a gracefulness, that has always been aesthetically pleasing, but I never lose sight of the fact that baseball looks like hard work for him. Watch Williams in an at-bat. Watch how he follows through on a pitch. He goes through the same routine no matter what the results are. The long-follow through, skipping back out of the box, with a comic gesture. I'm always aware of the game-within-the-game with Williams. There is always something going on upstairs with him, the wheels are always turning, even though Bernie usally appears placid and emotionless. If you watch him throughout an entire season, you can witness the small pleasures he seems to take when he makes a nifty slide into second. There is an extra flourish, almost like something out of a Buster Keaton movie, that distinguishes Bernie from his teammates. It is his stillness, I think. I also think Bernie likes running as much as anything else in baseball. Again, his intincts aren't the greatest, but you can see that loves stretching those legs and turning it on (he was a track star as a kid).

It may not show up in the boxscore, but if you look closely enough, you too can share the enjoyment of Bernie's private ballet.

Williams' has achieved far more in his career than I ever expected he would when he came up in the early '90s. It is great to hear that he hasn't stopped busting his ass. Peter Gammons reports in his latest column:

"[The Yankees] are better than they were last year," Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "They're so deep. And (Jason) Giambi and Bernie Williams seem to get better every year. It's good for young teams like ours to play them because they are an example as to how to win."

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