The Yankees’ Bernie Williams faced a similar free hand situation as Aaron Judge

The Yankees’ Bernie Williams faced a similar free hand situation as Aaron Judge

In the midst of Aaron Judge’s legendary season and bleak future in New York, a Yankees legend who was once in similar shoes offered his two cents.

Just before Saturday afternoon’s 74th Yankees Classic Car Day ceremony — the classic car game was canceled due to injuries and immunization status, the Yankees said — Bernie Williams chatted with fellow honorees at Monument Park, where his retired No. 51 and placards are proudly presented. Though the star centerfielder spent his entire 16-year MLB career with the Yankees, his departure from the team after the 1998 season seemed all but inevitable.

Shortly after winning the American League batting title and a World Series championship — the second of his fledgling four-year career — Williams entered the offseason expecting to get paid with the best of them. Just months earlier, he had turned down a five-year extension worth $37.5 million. His general manager at the time, Bob Watson, didn’t take the rejection well, claiming, “That’s Star money for a non-Star player.”

Aaron Judge and Bernie WilliamsAaron Judge and Bernie Williams Robert Sabo (2)

When rival Red Sox offered Williams a seven-year contract worth $91.5 million – more than $30 million more and two years longer than the Yankees’ best offer – it looked like Williams’ days in New York were over . In a last-ditch move, however, the Gold Glove outfielder requested a meeting with owner George Steinbrenner on Thanksgiving Eve to express his desire to remain a Yankee. Shortly thereafter, the club announced Williams’ seven-year, $87.5 million contract.

Much like Williams, Judge wants his team’s respect and wants that to be reflected in the form of a monster payday. After the 30-year-old Judge saw the Yankees’ seven-year extension offer of 213.5 million in April, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing since the All-Star break either, with a slash of .417/.500/.1139 over nine Games starting on Saturday.

With Judge continuing to dominate and off-season contract talks looming, Williams said he believes the hitting outfielder should enjoy the game he loves and let his racquet do the talking.

“The moments he has now playing the game … take his mind off this whole scenario,” Williams said ahead of the Yankees’ 8-2 win over the Royals. “I know like me he was betting on having a great year and putting himself in a good position to have a good negotiating maneuver. But that shouldn’t and never will take precedence over actual gaming.

“You know, playing the game is what everyone is here for. If you play well and take care of yourself you’ll be here long enough, you’ll get paid because the talent is there. But I don’t think that should be a priority for him because his moments that he’s having playing now are moments that will come and go and he’ll never have the opportunity to experience those things again, so he should have as much fun as possible while playing the game. Let him do the business of the game himself, what he does on the field.”

Tino Martinez, another Classic Car Day honoree, believes Judge’s tenure with the team is far from over.

“Everyone knows their heart is in New York,” Martinez said. “He loves the New York Yankees. So let’s go from there.”