- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- In addition to deciding which team takes on the White Sox in the American League Championship Series, whether the Yankees win tonight's Game 5 will determine whether Bernie Williams played his final home game in Yankee Stadium on Sunday night.
Asked whether he did anything special in case Sunday's Game 4 was his final game in pinstripes or at Yankee Stadium, Williams gave a one word response: "No," indicating that he clearly plans on being back here for the ALCS. The Angels have a lot of say in that while the winter will determine whether he's back come April.
Williams is a free agent this winter and though he has said he would like to return to the Yankees, the question is whether New York will want him in what probably would be only a backup role. Williams turned 37 last month; he has lost at least a step, and his average fell to .249 (dropping him below .300 for his career) with just 64 RBI and 53 runs this season.
Even though he began Sunday's game as the designated hitter, the bleacher fans paid tribute to Williams during their roll call ritual by chanting his name in addition to those of the position players. They repeated the chants when he took over in center field in the top of the eighth inning. The entire crowd chanted his name repeatedly after he flied out in the bottom of the inning, forcing him to give a quick curtain call.
As he stepped into the box for that at-bat, did he stop to think about it possibly being his last in the Bronx? "I was just thinking about getting a hit."
While Derek Jeter is the captain who has helped his team to nothing but success in New York -- a postseason appearance every year he's been in pinstripes -- Williams dates back to before the latest Yankees era, back when they were losers (ah, those were the days). He is one of the few players to both win a World Series and finish in last place with the Yankees. He played for Stump Merrill, for crying out loud.
And if tonight's Division Series finale in Anaheim is his final game as a Yankee, he's made his mark with the team.
He appeared on Seinfeld -- "Are you the guy who put us in that Ramada in Milwaukee?" -- and released an album of Latin guitar music. The president's press secretary used his name as a pseudonym when checking into hotels. And oh, yes, he played in six World Series, winning four of them. He's also hit more postseason home runs (22) than anyone else, playing in 119 postseason games.
And if the Yankees can win tonight, he'll add to those marks.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.
If the Yankees want Bernie Williams to return in '06, it probably would be only as a backup.