Yankees’ Bernie Williams faced similar free-agency situation as Aaron Judge

Yankees' Bernie Williams faced similar free-agency situation as Aaron Judge

Amid Aaron Judge’s legendary season and his murky future in New York, a Yankees legend who once wore similar shoes has offered his two cents.

Moments before the 74th Yankees Alumni Day Ceremony Saturday afternoon — the alumni game was canceled due to injuries and vaccination statuses, the Yankees said — Bernie Williams spoke to other honorees at Monument Park, where his retired No. 51 and his placard are proudly displayed. Although the star center back spent his entire 16-year MLB career with the Yankees, his divorce from the team seemed almost inevitable after the 1998 season.

After winning the American League batting title and a World Series championship — the second of his young four-year career — Williams entered this offseason expecting to be paid with the best of them. A few months earlier, he had turned down a five-year extension worth $37.5 million. His then-general manager Bob Watson did not appreciate the rejection, saying, “That’s star money for a non-star player.”

Aaron Judge and Bernie Williams
Robert Sabo (2)

When the rival Red Sox offered Williams a seven-year contract worth $91.5 million – more than $30 million more and two years longer than the Yankees’ best offer – it looked like Williams’ days in New York were over. In a last gasp of desperation, however, outfielder Gold Glove requested a meeting with owner George Steinbrenner the day before Thanksgiving to express his desire to remain a Yankee. Shortly after, the club announced Williams’ seven-year, $87.5 million contract.

Much like Williams, Judge wants the respect of his team and would like to see that reflected in the form of a monster salary. After rejecting the Yankees’ $213.5 million seven-year extension offer in April, the 30-year-old judge threw 41 homers in the first 101 games of the season, putting him on pace for 66 homers. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing since the All-Star break either, with a 0.417/0.500/0.1139 nine-game slash entering Saturday.

As Judge continues to dominate and offseason contract talks loom, Williams said he thinks the outfielder should enjoy the game he loves and let his bat do the talking.

“The moments he has now to play the game … are his distraction from this whole storyline that’s going on,” Williams said before the Yankees win 8-2 over Royals. “I know that he, like me, bet on himself to have a good year, to put himself in a good position to have leverage to negotiate a good deal. But that should never and will never take precedence over playing the game.

“You know, playing the game is why everyone is here. If you play well and take care of yourself, you’ll be here long enough, you’ll get paid, because the talent is there. But I don’t think that should be a priority for him, because the moments he has now playing the game are moments that come and go, and he’ll never get to experience those things again, so he should have as much fun playing the game as possible right now. Let the business of the game take care of itself by what it does on the pitch.

Tino Martinez, another Old-Timer’s Day winner, believes Judge’s reign with the team is far from over.

“Everyone knows their heart is in New York,” Martinez said. “He loves the New York Yankees. So we’ll go from there.

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