The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

Bernie Williams at the plate, His Birthday, Se...

Image via Wikipedia

I really hate to do this to Bernie Williams. Although I’m not a Yankee fan, I did happen to like and respect Williams during his tenure with the Yanks.  He always seemed to me to be a man of dignity and  self-respect.  There really wasn’t any reason not to like Bernie Williams.

As a player, along with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, Williams was an important part of the Yankee Championship teams during his era.  A five-time All Star, Williams was a player that any manager would love to have on his team.

Having said all that, Bernie Williams does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Recently, I read an essay by Jim Caple of ESPN arguing that Williams should be elected into The Hall.  I further indulged myself by skimming through the reader responses to Caple’s analysis.  The majority of readers responded in the negative as far as Williams’ Hall worthiness was concerned, but there were several responses  to the effect that Williams is an obvious, slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

I decided to analyze their primary arguments as to why they believe Williams should be elected into the Hall of Fame.  It appears to me that Bernie’s advocates supply three major reasons why they think Williams belongs in The Hall.  Let’s take each reason, one at a time, and examine them more closely.

1)  Bernie Williams compiled excellent career play-off numbers: 

It is certainly true that Williams is among the all-time play-off leaders in games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, walks, home runs, and RBI.  But the primary reason why Williams is generally in the top three in each of these categories is because he played on a lot of excellent Yankee teams, and because there are simply more playoff series now than there were in prior generations.

Bernie Williams was fortunate to play on teams that allowed him to receive 545 plate appearances in playoff games.  That is essentially one regular season’s worth of plate appearances.  Williams triple slash line during the regular season in his career was ..297 / .381 / .477.  His playoff game triple slash line was .275 / .371 / .480.  Overall, not a lot of difference, other than a drop in batting average.

These numbers are about what one would expect considering a generally higher level of competition in playoff games.  Still, is there anything outstanding about that playoff triple slash line?  Williams was the 1996 A.L. ALCS MVP.  Per at bat, Williams numbers are good, but they are not outstanding.

2)  Bernie Williams was a great defensive center fielder:

Bernie Williams won four Gold Gloves, from 1997-2000, during which he accumulated a WAR of -4.1.  Yes folks, that’s a negative sign in front of the 4.  Very early on his Williams career as a full-time center fielder, beginning in 1993, Williams was a half-way decent outfielder.  He was young and quick, and he even accumulated a couple of seasons of positive WAR.

But the fact remains that Williams, who finished his career with a defensive WAR of -12.0, was, by any objective standard of measurement, a below average center fielder who happened to somehow impress Gold Glove voters into making them believe that he was, in fact, a very good outfielder.

It happens.  There are some Gold Glove winners (Keith Hernandez, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith) who really do deserve the award virtually every season they earn it.  There are others, like Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Rafael Palmiero, who earn them despite the fact that their skills eroded more quickly than people noticed.

My theory about this is that fans, managers, baseball announcers, and other  judge a player’s defense by entirely subjective criteria, like how graceful a player looks while playing his position.  Or how dirty his shirt is at the end of a game.  Yet, looks can be deceiving.  Sometimes a player has a dirty shirt because he is slow-footed and often out of position.  Or perhaps he looks as graceful as Nureyev  running across the wide expanse of the outfield, yet a disproportionate number of balls land just out of reach for inning-extending base hits.

Regardless of how well Williams appeared to play the outfield, the fact of the matter is, relatively speaking, he just wasn’t very good at it.

3)  Bernie Williams was an excellent switch-hitter who won a batting title and accumulated impressive career numbers.

Williams did win the A.L. batting title by hitting .339 in 1998.  Perhaps as a result, he also led the A.L. in intentional walks received in 1999, with 17.

Other than that, in Williams entire 16-year career, he never led the A.L. in any other category even once.  Not in at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, or WAR.

Williams finished his career with 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs scored (95th all-time), 449 doubles (96th all-time), 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 147 stolen bases, just over 1,000 walks, and the aforementioned triple slash line of .297 / .381 / .477.  His OPS was .858, and his OPS+ was 125.  His career WAR was 47.3.

There is nothing wrong with any of those numbers.  They are very solid, respectable numbers.  But here’s the problem with these numbers.  If you induct Williams into The Hall with those numbers, then you better be ready to punch the ticket for Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, Will Clark, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and a cast of dozens of other players whose career numbers are right there with Williams.

Finally, it is also reasonable to expect that a Hall of Fame caliber player should have dominated the game to the extent that his dominance was rewarded with an MVP award or a Cy Young award or, at the very least, multiple finishes in the top five or top ten in voting for those awards.

Williams best finish in MVP voting was just 7th place in 1998.  He also finished in 10th place in 2002.

Bernie Williams was an excellent baseball player and a class Yankee who deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

But Bernie Williams does not deserve to be elected into the baseball Hall of Fame.

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7 thoughts on “Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

  1. at first glance, Bernie Williams wouldn’t seem like a hall of fame candidate, but the thing is, the combined regular season and playoff numbers, should get him in. Sure he played on good teams, and got more at bats, but he delivered. It would be hard to say the Yankees would have won all the World Series, or all those games, without Bernie Williams. I know a lot of people think other players made them great, but if you watched Bernie grow, it would actually seem, the team grew around him. he had monster post season series, and was a bigger reason than you would think. I watched almost every game Bernie played in. Players came and went. Bernie remained, and he is a big reason that team won.

    • A solid case can be made for Bernie Williams. Then again, a solid case can be made for many more players not yet in The Hall. While it shouldn’t matter how his career appeared in context to those other players (his numbers should speak for themselves), there’s no getting away from the fact that he just doesn’t necessarily stand head and shoulders above at least a dozen other players not yet in. Until much of that backlog is cleared away, Bernie Williams may never be fully appreciated for his accomplishments.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Bill

  2. If they are going to penalize players like Clemens, Bonds, and Sosa for using steroids, they will need to recognize “clean” players like Williams who put up solid numbers during the steroid era. He has a very strong resume. Just imagine how many more batting/MVP awards he could have won, or how many more hits he could have had if those other players were not using steroids. Either we reward players like Bonds who put up exceptional numbers, or we recognize those clean players who put up great, perhaps not exceptional stats, during the steroid era.

  3. On my own blog I listed my 10 choices for the HofF (they give you ten votes, take ’em) and had Bernie at the bottom. Frankly, I think you’re right, but they do give you 10 votes :-). I think the best we can really say is that Willams is the best of a thin field of new guys added to this year’s ballot. I’ll be interested to see how he does next year when the heavy hitters (and pitchers) start showing up.
    Good analysis.
    v

    • If I had to vote for ten guys, Williams would probably have made my list as well. I agree that he is easily the best in this thin field. But with all the big names coming up in the next few year, I think he might drop off the ballot entirely in the not-too-distant-future. He was a very good player who I respect. But that’s about as far as I can go with him.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving the comment.
      Bill

  4. Pingback: Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame | The On … | topbaseballreview.com

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