Bernie Williams will be in the house at Yankee Stadium Thursday night, playing the National Anthem ahead of the team’s opener with the Red Sox – but it’s not scheduled just for Aaron Judge's chase of history or for the rivalry game, but a deeper purpose.
“We are launching a great campaign called Tune In to Lung Health, a campaign I’ve been involved with to raise awareness of Interstitial Lung Disease,” Williams said, revealing how his father suffered with and passed away from a type or Interstitial Lung Disease. “There are about 200 types of these diseases, and we have about 140,000 people living with these in the United States, and since it touched me in a very profound way, I’m paying tribute to my father’s life and all he did for me.”
And yes, Judge was eventually the big topic discussion, and from one former Yankees outfielder to another, Bernie is most impressed with Judge’s team mentality.
“The fact that he’s doing everything while being aware of the historical context he’s in and being able to put his stamp on it…the thing that impresses me is that he’s not making it the focus of his season,” Bernie said of Judge. “He’s so committed to the team itself winning a championship that all these accolades are almost like a burden – they’re just on the way to him doing what he needs to focus on, the Yankees winning a championship. That’s a commendable thing in this day and age.”
Judge isn’t just chasing the home run record, he’s currently the AL leader in all three Triple Crown categories – and Bernie was both amazed at what Judge has done after betting on himself by not signing the long-term deal offered this spring, and what he continues to do as crunch time comes.
“He’s putting together a season for the ages, and he’ll have some great leverage to negotiate a new deal,” Williams said. “He’s putting everything together at the right time, in the right place, in the right city – he’s living the dream!”
Oh, and yes, Judge is putting together a Gold Glove-caliber defense in both right and center fields, something Williams feels he doesn’t get enough credit for.
“Aaron deserves a lot of credit for his defense. He’s very underrated on defense because he’s so great offensively, but it’s really important to mention that he’s a great all-around player,” Bernie said. “He’s also a good baserunner, and more important than anything else, he’s just a great presence in that clubhouse.”
Bernie got the chance to talk to the clubhouse while he was at Paul O’Neill’s number retirement ceremony, and noted that Judge is becoming a clubhouse leader, too, which might be just as big a loss to the Yankees if Judge leaves town after this year.
He knows first-hand what it’s like to almost leave the Yankees, as it’s widely-publicized that he almost bolted to the Boston Red Sox after the 1998 season – but he didn’t, and he may be biased, but he hopes Judge doesn’t, either.
“I’ve learned to understand that nothing is for granted in this game, and the burden is on him to get himself into the best situation for him and maximize his market value, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up on another team,” William said. “People are always looking for better situations for their families, and I think one thing that might work against him is that he’s 30, but I think the Yankees would miss a great opportunity if they don’t sign him, because he’s about to give the best years of his career.”
And while watching Judge have this monster season, Bernie can only wonder what the Yankees’ dynasty might have been like if they had anyone who had a similar season at any point.
“One of the things that makes the teams of my era a little more special is that we never had that one person who ; the team had the mentality that everyone in the lineup was a threat, with no holes,” Williams said. “I think that particular aspect was our strength, as we did a great job leaning on each other, and then we had the best closer in history to finish out for us.”
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