Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Player Of The Month For February, 2011: Bernie Williams

(I really wish CMC orange scanned better. This card is BLINDINGLY bright. I love it.)

There's really only one way to start a "Player Of The Month" feature, and that's with your favorite player. For me, Bernie Williams is that player. He's one of the few players I like whose entire career I've gotten to enjoy (Mariano Rivera may be the only other one who I've seen as much of), and I didn't just enjoy watching Bernie play, I really enjoyed it.

Bernie's a guy who came from pretty humble beginnings, and at first, it didn't look like he'd be much more than the latest in a long string of underdelivering Yankee prospects. As time went on, though, it became apparent that this guy was working at every aspect of his game, every day, and he went from being the kind of player we thought would underdeliver to the kind of player that we thought the Yankees would trade like idiots (see also: Buhner, Jay). 

There was even a Red Sox scare when his contract first came up, but no, Bernie stayed put, and then he went from being the kind of guy we thought the Yanks would trade to one of the all-time great Yankees. I consider myself really fortunate to have gotten to see so many of his games, more than a few of them in person.

Bernie was a clutch hitter in the truest sense of the word, seemingly always delivering when the chips were down. He took a lot of slack for his fielding later in his career, mostly because his knee problems slowed him considerably, but I've never had more fun watching a guy play center field. He was the undisputed master of the feet-first sliding catch, and he just looked so COOL doing it. Above all, though, when you had everyone carrying on about Jeter's "intangibles", O'Neill's fire and Rivera's near-invincibility, Bernie Williams was quietly leading the Yanks to championship after championship just by going out there and doing his job really, really well, and with the kind of class that few players muster.

(This one's probably my favorite Bernie card, out of what I own so far. Very cool to have a relic. Still need an autograph, working from the assumption that my TTM attempt may never pay off.)

This winter, as everyone was making their annual fuss about the Hall Of Fame, I saw a lot of sportswriters refer to Bernie as a marginal HOF case, for whatever their reasons. Call it anti-Yankee bias, call it the ridiculous hypocrisy of a mindset that's dead set against 'roided-out freaks but asks "Where are the power numbers?", the same types who complain about "compilers" then complain twice as much if a player's career is too short, or call it plain ol' stupidity, but I can't think of too many guys who are as clear-cut a Hall Of Famer as Bernie Williams.

Unfortunately, Bernie and the Yankees had an ugly, ugly split after 16 years, and a totally unnecessary one to boot (especially considering how, since then, they've totally coddled his former teammates like Posada and Jeter). Some of you have probably heard me carry on about how mad I am at the Yankees, and Bernie's unceremonious exit is a big part of that. In my mind, Bernie should've gotten to hang around for as long as he wanted to, just as Don Mattingly should have. (After years of injury struggles, Donnie had finally rediscovered his stroke in the last month of his career, but that's another story for another day.) There was room on the team for him that the Yankee brass deliberately filled up in an attempt to lowball one of their all-time greats (shades of Donnie, again, and also of Reggie Jackson, whose departure killed baseball for a whole generation of kids my age). It might've been old man Steinbrenner's last real pissing contest, and everyone lost in the process.

Since that ugliness went down, Bernie has been back to visit the Yanks, but he hasn't played for another MLB team. He's still stopping short of calling himself "retired", last I heard, and he did make a brief cameo as a member of the Puerto Rican national team in the World Baseball Classic. He's also been keeping busy on the music front. Bernie's a jazz guitarist of some renown these days, and he's  got a few albums out that I really should check out sometime soon. I'm not a big jazz guy, but c'mon, it's Bernie. He's worth at least a listen!

Surprisingly, despite the fact that he's a guy with many, many cards and my favorite player, I actually don't have a ton of Bernie's cards relative to the rest of my collection (I've got way more Winfields, Reggies, Mattinglys and Boggs cards, for instance), and so far, they've been tough to come by in trades. Here's where you guys come in, and here's where the "Player Of The Month" thing becomes a little more than just me waxing poetic about ballplayers I like: for all of February, if you think of trading with me, think first and foremost about trading your spare Bernies to me. While trading can be an inexact science so your mileage may vary just as mine may, I will consider all Bernie cards to be worth double of what I would any other stuff I'd get in trades this month. I'll be making this offer for each Player Of The Month if this first test run works out OK. My Bernie have list is directly below the rookie card of my all-time favorite player. Please, won't you think of the Bernies? Especially the ones of him making sliding catches with his shades on. I don't have any of those.

Bernie Williams (53): 90, 92-94, 96 Topps, 09 Topps Chrome World Baseball Classic, 95, 02 Topps Finest, 02 Topps Gold Label Jersey, 06 Topps Heritage, 99 Topps LCS Highlight, 99 Topps League Leaders, 92 Topps Stadium Club, 05 Topps Total, 06 Topps Turkey Red, 99 Topps World Series ‘98, 97 Fleer Flair Showcase, 02-03 Fleer Tradition, 93 Fleer Ultra, 90, 92-93, 99, 05 Donruss, 90, 98 Bowman, 99 Bowman’s Best, 09 Bowman Chrome Draft, 90, 94, 98 Score, 95 Pacific Collection, 91-92 O-Pee-Chee Premier, 93 Leaf, 97 Leaf Fractal Matrix Gamers Z-Axis Die Cut, 01 Leaf Rookies And Stars, 94-95 Pinnacle, 00 SP Authentic, 01 SP Game Bat Edition, 89-90 ProCards Albany Yankees, 98 Skybox Thunder, 00 Skybox EX, 99 Skybox EX Century, 91, 93-94, 01 Upper Deck, 02 Upper Deck Honor Roll, 02 Upper Deck Piece Of History

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