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.
- Bernie ballot ball (timesunion.com)
- Next week’s Cooperstown election results today (hardballtimes.com)
- Hall announcement show set for Monday (mlb.mlb.com)
- Baseball Hall of Fame 2012: No, Bernie Williams Isn’t a Hall of Fame Player (bleacherreport.com)