Lou Gehrig was dubbed the “Iron Horse” for his longevity on the baseball field. Paul O’Neill received the famous “warrior” moniker from his boss, George Steinbrenner. Bernie Williams also has a cool nickname, although many Yankee fans don’t know about it. Its one that the Spanish-speaking media circuits have been calling him for years. They call him, “El Caballo Boricua”, which translated means, “The Puerto Rican Horse.” It is a name that befits the Yankee veteran perfectly, especially in his last two years as a role player and sparkplug for his team of 16 years.
What Bernie Williams brings to the team nowadays is veteran toughness, collectiveness and awareness that are crucial when the team is struggling. The Yankees’ past West Coast road trip is one example. Having just come off a five game road sweep of the Red Sox, the Yankees went into Seattle and lost two out of three, later going to their house of horrors in Anaheim and losing the first two games there. Then came Sunday, a rookie pitcher on the mound and concern creeping in once again. But Bernie showcased his remarkable poise and leadership as he went 4-for-5, belting two homeruns and collecting 6 RBIs. It was exactly the push the Yankees needed as they took the game, 11-8 from the Angels.
Many veterans on the tail-end of their careers are given platoon roles and they struggle as a cause of the adjustment of going from starters to a lesser role. Bernie has done just the opposite, excelling in his role, coming off the bench to provide a spark and filling in for devastating injuries to outfielders this season. In just 110 games this season, Bernie is hitting .286 with 11 homeruns and 55 RBI. He’s had many clutch hits, like the ones in the game against the Angels, and has been shown appreciation by fans at Yankee Stadium all season long. Early in the season, upon seeing numerous curtain calls for Bernie in unspectacular situations, Yankees announcer Michael Kay said, “You just get the feeling this season is going to be one big love-fest for Bernie Williams here at the Stadium.”
While his numbers aren’t remarkable, the support from the fan base reflects the contributions he’s made in the past, leading the team to four world championships. He began to come of age during the first pennant year of 1996, and since then has been a mainstay. He’s never been the most glamorous of the players. You can ask most teenage girls in New York who their favorite Yankees are, and 90% of them will say Derek Jeter, maybe a couple will go for Alex Rodriguez, and most likely, none will mention Bernie Williams. Yet, he’s been a leader that has seen the franchise go from the basement to the top of the world, and he continues to show that.
“Everyone cheers for Bernie,” said Alex Rodriguez on MLB.com after Bernie’s 6 RBI game. Maybe what goes through A-Rod’s mind when he says that is, “Why doesn’t everybody cheer for me?” Therein lies Bernie Williams’ importance to the team. Its because he has a winning attitude. Its not just his numbers, but his smiles, his hustle and his positive way of looking at the game. He shows this to guys like Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina everyday. These men are enormous talents who haven’t won championships and have come to New York to do so. If you want to be a champion, you just look at how Bernie plays the game, and you’re well on your way. That’s when everybody will cheer for you.
In the off-season, Bernie took less money to play a bench/platoon role for the team he’s dedicated so many years to. He could’ve taken a lot more money and bolted to where he’d be playing everyday. Yet, he’s more valuable in a Yankee uniform in this role, than he would be in any other uniform as an everyday player. That’s because his experience and example inspire this team to do well. It evokes memories of the 90s dynasty every time he’s out there. You remember his batting title season of 1998, his game winning homerun in Game 1 against the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS and you remember him getting on his knees in gratefulness after the final out of the World Series that year. Its nostalgic.
Perhaps most important of all is thinking of what the future holds, and what a privilege it is for Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Chien-Ming Wang and other young players on the team to see Bernie in action, to hear him talk in the clubhouse and play his acoustic guitar, and to just be around him. Young people are said to absorb everything around them. If they’re absorbing Bernie, then Yankee fans can feel confident that the team will have success this year and in the years to come.