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Yankees honor Bernie Williams, Jeter returns to stadium

The Core Four — including Derek Jeter in his first post-retirement visit — was on hand at Yankee Stadium Sunday night to officially send Bernie Williams into retirement. But to Andy Pettitte, the Yankees should have a Fab Five instead, with Williams a big part of it.

“Oh there’s no doubt about it (that he belongs in the group that includes the Core Four),” Pettitte said Sunday night before the Yankees retired Williams’ No. 51. “I mean, he just missed one, the 2009 (World Series) so I think, and again, I’m not sure, I think that whole Core Four was brought up after Bernie had left so I think that’s probably why it stuck. But man, Bernie was a huge part. I mean, he was here before any of us, roaming center field, and he did it for so many years.

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“What a great player, so for sure. We couldn’t have won those championships without Bernie right in the thick of things,” said Pettitte, who along with Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada are considered the Core Four.

But Williams was a huge part of the Yankees’ run of four rings in five years from 1996-2000.

Williams had a career average of .297, and ranks third in franchise history in doubles (449), fifth in hits (2,336), sixth in games played and runs scored (1,366) and seventh in home runs (287) and RBI (1,257) in 16 seasons and 2,076 games with the Yankees.

He was a five-time American League All-Star (1997-2001) and a four-time Gold Glove winner (1997-2000). Williams also won the American League batting title in 1998 with a .339 batting average.

Bernie Williams becomes immortalized in Monument Park. Al Bello/Getty Images

Bernie Williams becomes immortalized in Monument Park. 

Former Yankee greats join Bernie Williams as he is honored at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night. Bryan R. Smith

Former Yankee greats join Bernie Williams as he is honored at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night. 

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiCorey Sipkin/New York Daily News

The fans recognize Bernie Williams as they guy who started it all for the Yankees’ dynasty. 

Bernie Williams tosses the first pitch before the Yankees play the Texas Rangers on Sunday. Bryan R. Smith

Bernie Williams tosses the first pitch before the Yankees play the Texas Rangers on Sunday. 

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But Williams seemed to save his best moments for the postseason. He is the Yankees’ all-time playoff leader in home runs (22) and RBI (80) and he ranks second in postseason runs scored (83), hits (128) and doubles (29).

Williams just signed his retirement papers last month, and joked Sunday night that he recently signed a minor league contract in order to retire and in that moment he briefly entertained playing again.

“You don’t want the 2015 version of Bernie Williams,” he said near the pitcher’s mound during his ceremony. “It’s more suited for a guitar than for a bat.”

Standing in Monument Park and waving to the crowd, Williams tore away a dark blue Yankee covering to reveal his No. 51 on the stone panel.

Joe Torre, Bernie William's manager from 1996-06, shares his memories of Bernie prior to the ceremony. Bryan R. Smith/Bryan R. Smith

Joe Torre, Bernie William’s manager from 1996-06, shares his memories of Bernie prior to the ceremony. 

“It took a long time (to retire),” Williams said after the ceremony. “I think I sort of misunderstood my own feelings in my own emotions. The first three or four years (after I stopped playing) I was really making sure that I wasn’t going back. After the fifth or sixth year I started putting it on the shelf. I was like, ‘Well, this is not that important.’ I think to me, I was moving on to other things. I really needed to have this chapter of my life closed. It took me nine years but I finally got it done.”

Among the guests at the Stadium were Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Joe Torre, Pettitte, Posada, Rivera and Jeter, who was announced last and received a long ovation. Williams said the sight of Jeter out of uniform wasn’t as strange as it would seem.

“I think he’s very at peace with where he is right now in his life and I am so happy with him,” said Williams, who wouldn’t “rule out” coming back as an instructor in some capacity with the team. “I think a very important part of players when they retire is to try to make that transition from going a 1,000 miles an hour to more of a normal kind of pace and he seems to be handling it pretty good. So I’m really happy for him.”

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