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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Bernie Williams Day reminds us Yankees' glory days are over

Former New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams waves

Former New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams waves to the fans as Yankees greats look on during a ceremony to retire Williams' No. 51 before a game between the Yankees and the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, May 24, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Yankees used to have a special once-a-year celebration unique to their unmatched history. It was called Old-Timers' Day, and with 27 world championships to draw from, no other franchise in baseball could throw a party that came close.

This season, however, the Yankees essentially will have five Old-Timers' Days, a stretch that began Sunday night with a pregame ceremony to retire Bernie Williams' No. 51. Regardless of how you may feel about the recent traffic jam in Monument Park, this was nice for Bernie, a key piece to the Yankees' dynasty and, coming from someone who covered him, a great guy, too.

But with all this looking backward and so much emphasis on the glory days, how are the Yankees ever supposed to move on? It's like reliving a breakup with your high school sweetheart each month, every year, knowing that the relationship you're currently in isn't as good and never will be.

Joe Torre, manager of four championship teams from 1996-2000, returned to the Bronx for Bernie's day and probably said it best. Torre lost his job because, eventually, he couldn't duplicate his own inimitable success. But what made that dynasty great?

"It was a magical group," Torre said, "that never took time to admire what it had accomplished."

That's the critical component here. The relentless pursuit, the hunger, the grind. The belief that the best World Series is always the next one. Torre couldn't say enough about this trait, the driving force -- along with a hefty dose of homegrown talent.

The flag-bearers for those championships, the Core Four, all showed up Sunday for Bernie. Derek Jeter, who had not been seen in the Bronx since his walk-off single last September, got the loudest ovation, followed soon after by "De-rek Je-ter" chants. If you closed your eyes, it felt like 2014 again.

Problem is, last season really wasn't much fun. Aside from Jeter's farewell tour, which was a welcome distraction, the Yankees missed the playoffs for a second straight year. Saying goodbye to an icon made an 84-win season (and finishing 12 games out) go down more easily.

Along the way, the Yankees minted plaques for Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Goose Gossage. They also retired Torre's No. 6 after his July induction into the Hall of Fame.

The Yankees' tributes for this season include Willie Randolph, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.Those will be fun days. Near sellout crowds, like the one for Williams Sunday, with the feel of a family reunion.

Seeing those favorite players return, and stirring those old emotions from '96 or '98, can transform an otherwise ordinary game into a memorable event.

But to the people who now occupy the clubhouse, the game is what's most important. The Yankees had lost nine of 10 heading into Bernie Williams Night and looked awful doing it.

If that wasn't bad enough, their opening act Sunday was a parade of many of the franchise's most decorated players -- before the stage was turned over to a mercenary roster in search of an identity.

What the current Yankees are experiencing is separation anxiety. With an uncertain, unremarkable future ahead, they can't seem to let go of the past. Hanging a new plaque every once in a while is a worthy hat-tip to the glory days. But too much of a good thing can be suffocating for the 2015 Yankees, even for Joe Girardi, who has the unique perspective of both playing with and managing those icons.

"I think it kind of went to pasture when Derek left," Girardi said, "because it's a whole new group of guys. There's guys that were there in the clubhouse who were part of the 2009 championship. But when the Yankees are talked about, they're talked about from the late '90s and early 2000s. And that group of players is gone. So this group needs to start something themselves."

But the reality is, there will never be an A-Rod Day. Or plaques for CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. One ring isn't enough. Not in the Bronx. And far too often, the Yankees keep reminding everyone that their best days are behind them.

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