The Case for Cooperstown: Bernie Williams

With the release of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Waiver Wire writer Greg Kaplan will explore the candidacy of numerous names on the ballot. Points for and against induction will be presented, and we’re forcing him to make a decision at the end of each post to decide if that player should be placed alongside the immortals that have played baseball throughout history.

Previous Cases – Jack Morris – Jeff Bagwell – Lee Smith – Tim Raines – Alan Trammell– Edgar Martinez – Fred McGriff – Larry Walker – Mark McGwire - Don Mattingly - Dale Murphy - Rafael Palmeiro

BYB-Bernie#4Bernie Williams

Year(s) on ballot – 2nd (received 9.6% of vote last year)

Credentials – 16 years in MLB (all with New York Yankees), career .297/.381/.477, 287HRs, 1,257RBI, 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs, five-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, 2002 Silver Slugger, 1998 American League batting champion, four-time World Series champion, 1996 ALCS MVP

The Case For -

Bernie Williams was a mainstay in the middle of the New York Yankees line-up during what may have been baseball’s last true dynasty. Williams was just as reliable for the Bronx Bombers as Derek  Jeter or Mariano Rivera during their dominance.

When the Yankees came to Spring Training each year, fans and team leaders knew exactly what they would be getting from Bernie Williams. You were going to get around 20 home runs, around 90 RBI, he’ll flirt with a .300 batting average and he’ll play a solid center field. There is inherent value when you can build those numbers into your line-up with regularity, and that’s who Williams was throughout his career. 

The Case Against -

Well, the case for is really an extension of the case against. Bernie Williams was as regular as a morning piss, but none of his numbers really stand out and make him an all-time great. Yes, Williams averaged 22 home runs and 98 runs batted in (he did have five 100+ RBI seasons), but he also averaged an OPS+ of 125, only once in his career (1998) did he break 150.

In fact, Bernie Williams only led the league in any statistical category once, when he won the American League batting title, finishing with a .339 average. He never finished higher than seventh in any MVP voting, and was never the most important Yankee on a championship team.

A lot of the argument for Bernie Williams getting into the Hall of Fame revolves around his gaudy post-season numbers. Williams is third all-time in games played (121), second in at bats (465), second in runs scored (83), second in hits (128), tied for second in total bases (223), second in home runs (22) and first in RBI (80), among other stats he’s at-or-near the top of.

However, remember that Williams played in the new Expansion Era playoffs that, for the first time in playoff history, included three series including the World Series. In essence, yes, it was impressive that Williams went to the postseason 12 of the 16 years he played in the league. Yes, he found relative success in the postseason throughout his career, but he was never the best player on those great teams.

Also, from what I can remember about Bernie Williams the player growing up, he wasn’t anything more than an average defensive outfielder that won Gold Gloves because he was on the Yankees. He never had a strong-arm (think Johnny Damon-level), but was able to track down balls in the gaps in his prime. I don’t think that necessarily makes someone a great defender by virtue, but he was a recognizable name that people associated with center field. That’s how he won those Gold Gloves.

Bernie Williams was a very good player on all-time great teams. However, that doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer. The Yankees can give retire his number, put a plaque out in Monument Park and give him another Yankeeography. 

But, there’s no reason to put Bernie Williams into Cooperstown.