If anyone has been the pride of the modern Yankees, it's Bernie Williams. The Bronx Bombers originally signed the outfielder as a non-drafted free agent out of Puerto Rico on Sept. 13, 1985, when he was 16 years old.
Williams has seen and done everything in the game as the senior member of the Yankees' core of home-grown stars that includes Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. But long before he was a Yankee, Williams was an avid baseball fan who used baseball cards as one way to follow the game. The four-time World Series champion recently answered some questions for MLBPLAYERS.com:
MLBPLAYERS.com: When did you start collecting cards?
Williams: I was a baseball enthusiast. I remember playing the game when I was 8 years old. I really was involved as a fan when the postseason came. I remember 1978-80 with the great Yankees teams, and when the Pirates won [in 1980]. Once I saw them on baseball cards, I thought, "Whoa, these guys are good."
I got a lot of Yankees cards -- Reggie Jackson, Willie Randolph, Thurman Munson, Bucky Dent, Graig Nettles, Ed Figueroa. It was so thrilling to me at some point in my career to interact with them because I grew up watching them win.
Some of my favorite Pirates cards were Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Phil Garner, Tim Foli, Candy Candelaria, Tony Pena and Kent Tekulve.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Where did you obtain cards in Puerto Rico?
Williams: There were Topps bubblegum packets, where you'd throw the bubblegum away and keep the cards. You could get them at any school-supply store or toy store.
A lot of kids collected cards. It was more about having the quantity of cards instead of quality back then. We used to play them like chips. We'd trade them. I'd try to get some more of the Yankees players.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Since Roberto Clemente is Puerto Rico's hero, did you try to get any of his vintage cards?
Williams: It was very hard back in those days to get them. I really didn't know anybody who had them. I grew up in a small town. Absolutely, I'd like to get one now. I'd frame it in my office.
I had an opportunity to go to Puerto Rico last year, and I was honored with the Roberto Clemente Award. I met his family. Even though I never knew the person Roberto Clemente, I could tell how he was by the way his family has treated me. He set the benchmark for excellence not only for Puerto Ricans but also Latins in general.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Where did you first appear on a card?
Williams: The oldest card of mine that I remember was a Double-A card from Albany, N.Y., probably back in 1989. My first [professional] year was 1986. I got called up to the big leagues in 1991. Terrible pose. I was skinny and had the double-flap helmet. I probably looked like I was 14.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What was your favorite card that features you?
Williams: I collected the double cards with great players, league leaders, maybe me and Manny [Ramirez], or Nomar Garciaparra. I remember one with Derek Jeter. On those cards, you compare yourself with a great player in the game in your generation. Those are the ones I probably enjoy the most. They have me in the same light with the great players in my generation.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.