Beyond the Monster: Bernie Williams Spurned the Red Sox

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Beyond the Monster is an ongoing series where we take you back in time and look at moments in Red Sox history.

The 1998 offseason for the Boston Red Sox was important for the storied franchise.  That offseason, the face of the franchise at the time, Mo Vaughn, was a free agent and could leave Boston for a lucrative deal with another organization.  When Vaughn had the opportunity to speak with other teams he did and quickly.  Vaughn went on to sign with the then Anaheim Angels on a six-year $80 million dollar deal.  That left a major hole in the Red Sox lineup and general manager Dan Duquette had someone in mind to potentially fill the void left by Vaughn. 

Photo courtesy of DenverPost.com
Duquette turned his attention to the free-agent market and he reached out to New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams.  Coming into that offseason, Williams was expected to be a highly coveted free agent on the market.  Williams was coming off a regular season where he was an All-Star, he hit .339 which was good enough to win the AL batting crown.  He hit 26 home runs and drove in 97.  Williams was set to cash in and the Red Sox were very interested in bringing him from the Bronx to Boston.
The Yankees were trying to sign Williams prior to him hitting the free agent market.  The Bronx Bombers reportedly offered Williams a five-year extension back in 1997 worth $37.5 million, which he turned down. The Scott Boras client similar to many of his clients, tested free agency to try and maximize his value and worth on the open market. 

Shop for New York Yankees fan gear from Nike, Majestic and New Era at Shop.MLB.comThe Yankees began to talk to other free agents as well.  The Yankees were very interested in outfielder Albert Belle.  The slugger Belle could mash at the plate, and he was entering free agency coming off a year where he hit .328, hit 49 home runs and drove in 152 RBI at the plate.  Despite the offensive surge at the plate, he finished eighth in the MVP voting - Texas Rangers Juan Gonzalez won the AL MVP that year. 

When Belle hit the market, then manager Joe Torre let owner George Steinbrenner know he wanted Belle on the Yankees.  Steinbrenner gave general manager Brian Cashman and Torre the green light to go after the slugger.  "Joe really likes him.  He really feels he would fit in," commented Steinbrenner. 

While the Yankees were negotiating with Belle and beginning to think how they could incorporate him into the Yankees family, the Red Sox were negotiating with Williams.  In fact the deal was close, very close to happening.  The Red Sox offered Williams a seven-year, $90 million dollar deal.  Williams would have instantly filled the vacancy left by Vaughn in the lineup.  Williams could have slotted in front of or behind All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.  The unthinkable was about to happen, a nemesis of the Red Sox for the last few years was about to join the Yankees' arch-rival. 

Then the next shoe dropped.  Like any good agent, Boras went back to the Yankees for one last ditch effort to keep his client in New York.  While Boras was back talking to the Yankees, Cashman was told that he was going to lose out on Belle.  The slugging Belle signed with the Baltimore Orioles and agreed to a five-year, $65 million dollar deal.  Orioles owner Peter Angelos wanted Belle in Baltimore, and wasn’t going to stop until his club could land him. 

The Yankees, who now lost out on Belle, offered Williams an opportunity to come back to the Bronx.  The Yankees offered Williams a seven-year, $87.5 million dollar deal.  Williams spurned the Red Sox and returned back to New York. 

Belle would go on to put up solid numbers for the Orioles.  He hit 60 home runs over the lifetime of the deal.  The problem with that was he played only two of the five years he signed due to a degenerative hip condition.  Williams proved to be a great investment for the Yankees.  He hit .298 over the course of the seven years he signed and hit 149 home runs.  The 1999 season proved go be a successful year for Williams as the Yankees won the World Series.  

Williams time in New York was highly successful.  He ended up winning four World Series, he was a five time All-Star, four time Gold Glove winner, and his number 51 was retired.  Williams retired only ever wearing pinstripes. 

Williams in Boston would have been a weird sight.  It is not often an impact player leaves the Yankees in their prime and joins their most hated rivals.  Williams would have been a nice replacement for Vaughn, instead Duquette signed Jose Offerman to a four-year, $26 million dollar deal.  We’ll get into the whole Offerman experience in a future article in our Beyond the Monster series.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Beyond the Monster: Bernie Williams Spurned the Red Sox
Beyond the Monster: Bernie Williams Spurned the Red Sox
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