<
>

Torre plans to call Williams again

TAMPA, Fla. -- Bernie Williams wants a guarantee, not a
maybe, so it appears he won't be with the New York Yankees when
position players start workouts Tuesday.

"I think he's hurt. I don't think there's any question."
-- Joe Torre on Bernie Williams

Manager Joe Torre planned to call Williams again. But catcher
Jorge Posada thinks Williams can't be persuaded to accept a minor
league contract.

"I called him and he hasn't returned my call," Posada said
Sunday. "That just tells me something negative. That just tells me
he won't be here."

After 21 years in the Yankees' organization, including 16 with
the major league team, Williams feels burned and doesn't think he
should have to earn a job. His agent, Scott Boras, said Saturday
that Williams hasn't shown any desire to do that or to play for
another team.

"I think he's hurt. I don't think there's any question," Torre
said. "He's a very proud individual. I know there are a lot of
players in this clubhouse who certainly feel for Bernie. But,
again, unfortunately, it's the nature of the game a lot of times."

Williams' No. 51 remains in storage, his guitars are nowhere to
be seen and pitcher Jose Veras has taken his corner locker in the
Legends Field clubhouse. Williams' absence is as notable as the
presence of any player, a hole in the fabric of the team's last
great era, when the Yankees won four World Series titles from
1996-2000.

Williams is 38 -- one year older than Joe DiMaggio and Mickey
Mantle were when they announced their retirements from the Yankees.

"I no longer have it," DiMaggio said in December 1951.

"I can't hit when I need to," said Mantle in March 1969.

Players stay active into their mid-40s these days, and Williams
thinks he still does have it. He just feels he shouldn't have to
prove it.

"As a 16-year veteran, it's tough to come to spring trying to
earn a job, especially if you're Bernie Williams," Posada said.
"I see his point; I see the Yankees' point. You come to spring
training, you're trying to earn a job. You've done so much. You've
got to see it that way, too. They're not telling him that he's
going to be the 25th guy. To be here and be fighting for a job,
it's really tough to swallow when it comes to Bernie Williams."

A five-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove center fielder, the
1998 AL batting champion and the 1996 AL Championship Series MVP,
Williams has a distinguished if not Hall of Fame resume. He is
beloved by Yankees fans, who chant "Ber-nie! Ber-nie!" to honor
his accomplishments and remind themselves of the championship days.

He could earn a spot on the 25-man roster if he shows during
spring training that having him around to pinch hit would be better
than platooning Josh Phelps or Andy Phillips at first base with
Doug Mientkiewicz, with Jason Giambi shifted to designated hitter.

"As a player, as a teammate, I want him to be here," Mariano
Rivera said. "But I don't know if it's in the best interest for
the Yankees. The Yankees will decide that."

Phillips, in the clubhouse a day ahead of Monday's physicals, is
rooting for Williams, too. He doesn't view it as a competition for
a roster spot.

"I have the utmost respect for Bernie. He's been great for me
and great to me," the 29-year-old said. "You hate to see anything
come to and end at any time for a guy like that because he's been
such a special guy for this place. I want the best for him because
he's been great to me."

Posada understands the space squeeze.

"Giambi can't play first base anymore, so that's the thing. So
we're going to need a first and it really kills Bernie," he said.

Given similar circumstances, Posada would act differently.

"I would have come. I would have been here and shown that I
have a lot left and see what happens," he said. "You give it
another chance. That's the way I see it. Let me try to make the
club, say, `I'm better than this guy."'

Torre would like to see Williams in camp with the other position
players. If Williams arrives late, his chances diminish because he
has to catch up. The manager even invoked one of those Yogi Berra
phrases to describe the situation.

"There are no guidelines anymore," Torre said. "You've just
got to go out there and try to make yourself valuable. Or as Yogi
says: `Make it necessary."'