Bernie Williams, an Improbable Star in Center Field for the New York Yankees, is Immortalized Just Beyond It

Bernie Williams, who won four World Series titles with the Yankees, with catcher Brian McCann after throwing a ceremonial pitch in the Bronx on May 24. (BILL KOSTROUN / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bernie Williams, who won four World Series titles with the Yankees, with catcher Brian McCann after throwing a ceremonial pitch in the Bronx on May 24. (BILL KOSTROUN / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On July 5, 1991, Cal Ripken Jr. drove a pitch from the Yankees’ Tim Leary to the center-field wall at the old Yankee Stadium. Roberto Kelly chased after it, crashed into the fence and sprained his right wrist. Two days later, Bernie Williams was roaming center field in the Bronx.

This is how it often happens, an emergency leading to the realization of a dream. Williams’s career unfolded in ways he never could have imagined, with four championships, five All-Star selections and $103 million in career earnings. He never left the Yankees, and on May 24th, the team retired his No. 51.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a skinny little 17-year-old kid from Puerto Rico could be here this day, in this celebration,” Williams said in his speech, before the Yankees fell to Texas, 5-2, for their 10th loss in 11 games. “I am overwhelmed.”

Williams thanked George M. Steinbrenner, the principal owner who died in 2010, for making him a Yankee and keeping him here. Hal Steinbrenner presented Williams with a custom-made ring, No. 51 surrounded by diamonds on the face.

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