BOSTON — In this age of media overkill, it's hard to imagine how Bernie Williams has kept such a low profile up to now, especially in New York.
Maybe it's because Williams, who roams centerfield for the World Series-bound Yankees, is so reserved and quiet. Or maybe it's because when he steps out of uniform it's like a Clark Kent experience, in which the addition of wire-rim glasses and a talent for playing classical guitar transform him. He could easily be mistaken for a Columbia University student when he leaves the ballpark.
In uniform, however, the San Juan, Puerto Rico, native has begun to emerge as one of the best clutch players in baseball, a guy his teammates say has elevated his game to another level during the last month or so.
His statistical contributions during the first two rounds of the playoffs, in which New York eliminated Texas and Baltimore, speak for themselves: .471 batting average (16 for 34), five home runs, 11 runs batted in, and a satchel of fielding gems. He hit an 11th-inning homer to win the first game of the Baltimore series; used alert baserunning to score the go-ahead run in Game 3, when Todd Zeile's faked throw got away from him; and put the Yankees ahead to stay in Game 4 with a two-run, first-inning homer.
Is it any wonder that he won the American League Championship Series' Most Valuable Player award, or that his manager, Joe Torre, says, "Williams keeps getting invitations for Thanksgiving dinner from me"?
"I would pay to watch Bernie Williams play baseball," Torre has said of his red-hot centerfielder, whose grace reminds him of tennis player Arthur Ashe.
The chants of "Ber-nie, Ber-nie" have grown louder and louder in Yankee Stadium, and the media's attention has turned white hot, yet Williams has gained a reputation as a reluctant superstar.
Unlike Reggie Jackson, who seemed almost aggressive in his pursuit of the Big Apple's limelight, Williams is passive. "I know how things work in New York," he says. "If you do good things, you will be noticed."
Contributing to Williams's modesty may be his sense of responsibility. Playing centerfield for the Yankees has always been a tall order, ever since Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle patrolled there.