Bill Kostroun
April 24, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) Former New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams has officially retired - finally.

The four-time World Series champion last played in 2006 and has already appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot and been dropped for a lack of votes. He agreed to a minor league contract Friday, then signed retirement papers during a ceremony at Yankee Stadium before the Subway Series opener against the Mets.

Not offered a major league contract by the Yankees after the 2006 season, the switch-hitter did not pursue a deal with other teams and turned down New York's offer to go to spring training with a minor league contract. Williams has joked with former teammates for years that he was still not retired, even though for nearly a decade he has had a successful music career that includes a Latin Grammy Award nomination.

''I don't think it was that important to me at the time,'' said Williams, who is pursuing a jazz performance degree at the Manhattan of School of Music. ''I think that it was funny to not have that chapter closed in my life, and just keep doing the things that I was doing, and not really thinking about retiring. I think it became some sort of a quote, I guess.''

Williams, who played his entire 16-year big league career in the Bronx, threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday night, and the Yankees will retire the four-time Gold Glove outfielder's No. 51 in a ceremony May 24. The team also unveiled a logo for Williams Day.

A five-time All-Star, Williams was called up in 1991 at 22 and played on the last Yankees team to have a losing record, in 1992. He played nearly all of his 1,924 games in the outfield in center field and was the first piece of the heart of the club that would win four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000 - reaching the Fall Classic six times in eight seasons.

''I think he was as important as anyone in the success the Yankees had because of his presence in our lineup being a switch-hitter and breaking up the left-handers, his ability to run and his ability to play defense,'' said manager Joe Girardi, a teammate of Williams. ''He was as important as any of those guys.''

Those guys Girardi was referring to were the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada that followed Williams' rise from the Yankees minor league system.

''To set the record straight, Bernie is a member of the `Fab Five,''' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. ''He is a member of that fabulous five that got produced from our system that led to many of these championships.''

Williams won a batting title in 1998 and was a clutch postseason performer, earning the AL Championship Series MVP in 1996. His 80 postseason RBIs are most in major league history, and he leads the Yankees with 22 postseason home runs.

Overall, Williams batted .297 with 2,336 hits, 287 homers and 1,257 RBIs in 2,076 games.

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AP freelance writer Scott Orgera contributed to this report.

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