A Statistically Sentimental Reflection on Bernie Williams

DotF: Sanchez homers in AA; Montgomery dominates in Low-A
Sunday Links: A-Rod Promo, Eddy Julio Martinez, Drew

I’ve always consumed baseball in some form for as long as I can remember. I played it growing up (and still play slow-pitch softball today) and my family always made an annual excursion to Yankee Stadium; given the time period–the late 90’s–it seemed like they won every time we went to games. And in this great stretch, despite being too young to fully appreciate what those teams were doing, I obviously enjoyed rooting for the team and the players. And my favorite player among them was Bernie Williams.

Bernie’s glory days with the Yankees were marked by incredible consistency by both him and the team. Once he started rolling and before his precipitous drop-off at the end of his career, Williams was guaranteed to hit near .300; OBP near .400; slug 20 homers; hit 25-35 doubles; and drive in around 100. From 1994-2002, his peak performance, Williams hit .319/.404/.525/.929, averaging 38 doubles, 27 homers, and 90 walks per 162 games. Among outfielders in that time period, his 141 wRC+ tied him with Sammy Sosa for 10th place in the Majors, just ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr. (140). He was 5th in fWAR (43.0), too, just ahead of Manny Ramirez (41.6) and just behind Larry Walker (43.9); everyone trailed Barry Bonds (76.4) by a whole lot.

His finest season came in 1998, when he won the batting title with a .339 average. In addition to that, he also posted a .422 OBP and a career high .575 SLG. He knocked 26 homers and 30 doubles despite playing in only 128 games (578 PA/499 AB). All told, Williams hit .297/.381/.477/.858 for his career, notching a 125 OPS+; a .373 wOBA; and a 126 wRC+. He hit .300 or better eight times; he OBPed .400 or better four times; he slugged at least .500 six times; and he hit .300/.400/.500 or better three times, all in a row from 1997-1999. He now sits in 10th place on the Yankees’ all time bWAR list (49.4); 6th on the Offensive WAR list (62.6); 6th on the games played list (2076); 6th on the runs list (1366); 5th on the hits list (2336); 6th on the total bases list (3756); 3rd on the doubles list (449); 7th on the home run list (287) and the RBI list (1257); and 5th on the walk list (1069). Bern, baby, Bern, indeed.

This all ignores the fact that Williams also shined in the playoffs, smacking 22 homers in 465 postseason at bats (545 PA) and posting a line of .275/.371/.480 with 71 walks, all remarkably similar to his regular season career line. He was the 1996 ALCS MVP, crushing the Orioles to the tune of .474/.583/.947/1.531 with two home runs and three doubles. The ALCS is when Bernie did his most playoff damage, posting a .962 OPS in 41 games.

Those are the statistics and in some ways, for me at least, they represent the sentiment. The teams Bernie played on were some of the best in Yankee history and I was there to watch them and he was my favorite to watch. I even went as far as to model my batting stance after him, his slightly crouched positioning speaking to me more than Paul O’Neill’s, Derek Jeter‘s, and Tino Martinez’s upright stances. Things obviously worked out a lot better for Bernie with that stance than they did for me. Imitation is how I appreciated Bernie and the rest of the team during that time. Now as an adult, a more well-rounded and educated fan, I can look back at these numbers and realize just how damn good Bernie was at hitting.

DotF: Sanchez homers in AA; Montgomery dominates in Low-A
Sunday Links: A-Rod Promo, Eddy Julio Martinez, Drew
  • Eric S.

    Can he suit up?

  • blake

    As I’ve said before many times….I don’t necessarily think Bernie is a HOFer….at least by the standard I would have if I had a vote.

    However….if you go by the players that are in….then Bernie stacks up fairly well to some of them…..including a first ballot guy like Puckett. So at the very least he should still be on the ballot…..the fact that he’s not is kinda a joke

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      It might have helped if he had retired when he left the game.
      I wonder, despite his gaudy post season stats, if he would have had a better chance if he played for another team. Maybe where there weren’t as many high profile stars.

      • blake

        I don’t think so because part of Bernies greatness is that he was the best hitter on one of the best teams of all time

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          They seem to downgrade your performance if you played for the Yankees tho. For some reason there seems to be a bias.

    • 86w183

      Completely agree. I never understood Puckett being a first ballot guy with his numbers. He was a very good player, but a 124 OPS+ is hardly spectacular. 2,304 hits, 207 HR, 1085 RBI isn’t great.

      Bernie by comparison 125 OPS+, 2,366 Hits, 287 HR, 1,257 RBI. Kirby had a higher BA, but the same OBP.

      Bernie won four Gold Gloves, Kirby six. Virtually identical careers and yet Puckett is a first ballot Hall of Famer and Bernie drops off the ballot in a heartbeat…… strange

      • whileaway

        “After being forced to retire at age 35 due to loss of vision in one eye from a central retinal vein occlusion, Puckett was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, his first year of eligibility.“
        He was a great player but his career was cut short by his vision loss. One could say he got in on a sympathy vote ?

        • 86w183

          That and the fact that he was so gregarious with the media made him lots of friends among those who vote.

          Bernie played about 300 more games than Kirby…. had he not played those two less than mediocre seasons his stats would compare even more favorably. He would have had a .301 career BA rather than .297. Not a big difference, but there’s something special about a “career .300 hitter”.

          .

        • hansdee

          Yes. Plus he was quite friendly with the writers who vote.

  • John in Forest

    IMO Bernie’s finest defensive moment came on 9/2/1996. David Cone made his first start after arm surgery earlier in the season and took a no-hitter into the 7th inning at Oakland. With two outs Geronimo Berroa hit a ball over the center field fence; but Bernie got there just before the ball and pulled it back in to keep the no-hitter alive. The Yankees won 5-0, but Mariano gave up an infield single to deep short in the bottom of the ninth. Girardi caught and went 3 for 3.

  • joeman

    congrats to Bernie beautiful day for a great person

  • joeman

    look at the ex players that show up today for BW and look at the present state of the Yankees….

    • Y’s Guy

      It’s not as bad as it was when Berne arrived

      • joeman

        yes it is…this team is loaded with players making way to much money for how they are producing and all old over the hill types …its been a .500 team for the last 3 years and that won’t change anytime soon

        • Some Asshole

          A .500 team is not as bad as the 1991 Yankees. Perspective.

        • Y’s Guy

          It’s not as bad as it was then. It’s bad, but not that bad.

        • ruralbob

          Some people need to have lived through the late ’60s Yankees. That gives you perspective.

    • Sir Didi Nakamura

      Now look at every player on every other team and then look at those old Yankees.

  • Pkyankfan69

    Bern Baby Bern… Hard to not love Bernie being a Yankee fan growing up in the 90’s….Unfortunately I won’t be around to watch tonight (wedding) but hopefully they’ll replay the ceremony tomorrow morning. Will make for some excellent hungover TV.

    In other news, RIP John Nash… He lived in the town where I grew up, always used to see him and his son around.

  • whileaway

    I think if Bernie had 2 more peak seasons ( 10WAR) he´d be a no doubt about it HOF.
    Just a wonderful ballplayer.

  • Duzzi24

    Matt you did a great job of capturing what it was like being a kid during that era. Bernie Williams was always my favorite player also. The stats show how truly great and underrated he was. I think because he didn’t draw attention to himself and played in an era where there was outfielders like Griffey Jr, Bonds, Sosa, Manny etc that Bernie never got his full due as a player. My girlfriend got me tickets to the game tonight and I can’t wait to see Bernie get honored (not as excited to see Capuano pitching).

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      The biggest ovation could go to Jeter.
      Bernie was underestimated by Yankee fans.

      • Tony Wilson

        I wish could up vote you more!!

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          You can. I post a lot here…

          • Tony Wilson

            He was a truly important cog on those great Yankee teams from 96′- 01′ and I feel he was greatly underappreciated.

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              He might have suffered in comparison to Jeter, Mo and Andy.
              “Go ask Alex, I think he’ll know…”

              • Tony Wilson

                True

  • dave_8

    A favorite of mine coming up that never quite became what I hoped for. Never seemed to have the burning desire or the baseball IQ that his peers had — but still had enough raw talent to produce. I always wondered what might have been if he didn’t become a switch-hitter. I know the party line says that hitting both ways made his career but he was a vicious right-handed hitter coming up. I dont think any pitching would neutralize him on the right side.

    And he reminded me of Eric Dickerson when he ran from second to home — effortless gliding. But he just didn’t have the baseball knack. Couldn’t steal. Like he said himself, “nothing came easy for him in this game”.

    And he’s no BS guitar player. No celebrity with a ton of money just putzing around with a band. He’s a legit, full-fledged musician. He can play.

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      He did once play with the ABB at the Beacon.

      • dave_8
        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          I hear there’s a few openings at lead guitar.
          I’d go see them again if Bernie played.
          C’mon Gregg, get off yur ass.

          • dave_8

            Maybe someone tied him to the whipping post.

    • Y’s Guy

      If Berne didn’t do enough for you then your expectations are ridiculously high imo.

      • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

        yet you say he wasn’t a HOFer.

        • Y’s Guy

          Yes. If making the HOF is your requirement for a player not to disappoint you then who doesn’t disappoint you?

          • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

            Mattingly didn’t make the Hall and the only reason he disappointed me was that he was always changing his stance towards the end when he couldn’t hit anymore due to injuries.

      • dave_8

        Dont we all have all have high hopes for top prospects? A switch-hitting CF with pop? I thought we had our own switch-hitting Griffey Jr but with a weaker arm. Jr started to hit for a lot more power later — but not initially. He was my favorite of the “core” guys coming up. He looked like he had it all. In the low minors he looked like a 2 hitter but he grew a lot and by the time he hit the bigs It looked like the sky was the limit as far as physical ability was concerned. He had a 6 or 7 yr stretch but he was already fading at age 34. To me he was a very good player but with greater ability that was never tapped. And he was sandwiched in an always deep lineup — which helped those peak yrs a lot.

  • hansdee

    The best hitter on one of the best teams. Yes. Cox walked him intentionally with runners on 1st and 3rd in the 1996 WS. He rather Steve Avery face Wade Boggs, than Bernie right handed. After what seemed like a 15 pitch at bat Boggs walked. My favorite modern day Yank. Got a thing for guys that play CF.

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      Why wasn’t Bernie even considered for the HOF?
      Post -season really doesn’t matter I guess but he wasn’t too shabby in season.
      Could it be the Jeter Effect again?

      • Dalek Jeter

        Never a true “peak” of a handful of 4 or 5 years where he was the best at his position, a real precipitous drop off late in his career (seriously, dude went from 5 fWAR to replacement level in a year), never even very good defensively, and doesn’t have one of the 3000, 500 or lifetime .300 milestones. Also, he wasn’t buddy buddy with the BBWAA like Kirby Puckett was, so politics.

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          No doubt the anti-Yankee bias comes into play.
          He was quiet, un- Reggie-like but so was Jeter.
          He suffered playing with so many greats on great teams.
          Then again, he was expected to as a star on a dynastic team.

          • Y’s Guy

            That, plus he’s just not a HOFer.

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              He wasn’t as good as Puckett?

              • Y’s Guy

                I don’t do that ‘race to the bottom’ stuff.

        • WhittakerWalt

          Also Kirby got huge sympathy votes.

      • 86w183

        He got very little consideration and is off the ballot. Really hard to understand the gap between the voters’ assessment of Bernie and Kirby Puckett.

        His terrific post-season numbers should have helped him a lot. He had an .850 OPS in post-season play with 22 HR and 80 RBI. # 2 All-Time in HR, # 1 in RBI

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          The post season got Puckett elected.
          Why not Bernie?
          It’s not supposed to count but being a Yankee in a popularity contest doesn’t help.

          • Sir Didi Nakamura

            “It’s not supposed to count but being a Yankee in a popularity contest doesn’t help.”

            Yankees are extremely popular but in a popularity contest that kills them. Kind of funny if you think about it.

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              who are they popular with? other yankee fans?

              • Sir Didi Nakamura

                Well every team is pretty much just popular with it’s fans

                • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

                  so that isn’t a true judgment of the player and maybe he really wasn’t a HOFer?

                  • Sir Didi Nakamura

                    I wasn’t making any comments about whether he deserves HoF or not, just was saying how it was funny/ironic about that thing you said about popularity.

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              Think back to high school, maybe last year.
              The most popular kid in your class was prolly hated in your rival HS.

  • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

    Once met Bernie at a Walmart signing and asked him who his best friend was on the team.
    Any guesses?

    • 86w183

      jorge

    • dave_8

      Gerald or Jeter

      • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

        Wait….Can you have 2 best friends? Jeter and Jorge were supposedly BF’s but there have been reports that Gerald and Jeter were BF’s. Could Jorge have been BF’s with Bernie too?
        Or was Bernie BF’s with Jorge but Jorge not BF’s with Bernie?
        That could be possible….
        RAB wants to know???

        • dave_8

          I figured it out. Dave Silvestri.

    • Dalek Jeter

      Gonna say Posada. Jeter was probably too playboy for him to be “best friends” while Mo and Andy too conservative and religious.

    • dave_8

      He chuckled awkwardly and said “Wow”. Then said “I don’t know”?

      • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

        negative

      • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

        He might have done that…but I probed and named names and he responded to each.

    • dave_8

      Well, It wasn’t Roberto Kelly or Mel Hall

    • dave_8

      Joe Torre

      • Sir Didi Nakamura

        Are managers ever best friends with certain players?

        • dave_8

          Sometimes the quiet kid is friends with the teacher or the lunch lady.

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          He was a father figure.
          How many are best friends with their father?

          • Sir Didi Nakamura

            Touché

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              It can and should happen but it’s not cool.

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      No votes for band mate O’Neill?

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      No votes for band mate O’Neill?

      • dave_8

        I thought that — but I don’t get the mutual vibe from Paul.

      • dave_8

        And Paul fiddles with the drums. Bernie is a guitar player.

    • Sir Didi Nakamura

      Andy

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      Some of you have good memories as I mentioned this story once before.
      Do the math.

      • dave_8

        Oooooh. Now I remember. Graeme Lloyd.

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          You might not have been around back then in another Land of Blog, what was your name then?

          • dave_8

            probably just “dave”

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              If you don’t remember, how would I?

              • dave_8

                I never said you would

        • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

          Did Bernie speak Australian?

          • dave_8

            Oh now I know. Chad Curtis?

            • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

              I doubt Bernie would hang out with him.

    • dave_8

      Girardi.

      • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

        you are out of guesses.
        I gave you the answer, figure it out.

        • dave_8

          So we’re circling back to Oneill?

          • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

            How do you figure that?

  • Tony Wilson

    A truly great Yankee and how wonderful to see him acknowledged, I know it wasn’t the case but it seemed like he was always coming through in clutch situations. It was a pleasure to cheer for him and congrats #51!!! He was actually my favorite Yankee during that time along with Jeter so this is an especially good day!!

  • bernbabybern

    Bernie Day! o/

  • Y’s Guy

    My original screenname on the Lohuds in 2007 was ImissBernie.

    • http://riveraveblues.com/ Mick

      You can change it now to ImissLoHud.

      • Y’s Guy

        But I really don’t miss Lohud

  • dkidd

    whenever I look up the 98 team to bask in the memories i’m reminded that serial rapist chad curtis got 545 at bats and i become depressed

    • hansdee

      He played okay though, right?

  • WhittakerWalt

    Man, I loved watching Bernie.
    I think we all recognize that as great as he was Bernie doesn’t quite measure up to HoF standards. My question is, how much more would it have taken to get him in? He’s got a lot of “almosts” on his resume, what would have made him a legit Hall candidate?
    Damn, I wish he’d had more longevity.

    • dave_8

      He didn’t want it either. Torre implored to come to ST but he didn’t. He was very comfortable with walking away.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Well he didn’t want to have to compete for a job. He thought he deserved a job automatically on account of being Bernie. Unfortunately his performance just didn’t warrant a guaranteed spot.

        • dave_8

          Yeah, I remember that was the drift — although I don’t think Bernie was ever quoted. Also, Torre was in his corner. He told him to get his butt down there but Bernie never responded. I think was very comfortable calling it quits. And despite all the talk in his speech about pondering a return, I don’t think any of us thought he would return even way back then. He could’ve been a less then F/T piece on the Yankees for a couple of more yrs.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    I always thought Bernie hit more than 287 HRs, I guess it just felt like more because he hit so many in the post season and a lot of those seemed to be so clutch. He encapsulates what I loved about the dynasty years. Steady, reliable success. Playing the game with a quiet integrity. And winning championships. The others will get more recognition, but he was the driving force of that Yankee era in many ways. I loved seein Bernie celebrate championships because he always had an elated, childlike joy on his face compared to the strong, stoic presence he always had in the game itself.

    • kikojones

      I will always give Posada props for often repeating that without Bernie’s earlier success there is no Core Four.

  • http://batman-news.com/ Thunderfingers

    Bernie was a great player, easily top 10 during his days. And he did this in the steroid era, where we know that Manny, Bonds and Sosa (at a minimum) were all juicing. He was a great all around player that wasn’t overly flashy about how he went about his business.

  • kikojones

    …Mister / we could use a man / like Bernie Williams / again…

  • nycsportzfan

    Bernie is my 2nd fave player all time, behind only Donnie Baseball. The guy could do it all, and was so graceful in the field. What a dominating prime he had. God I miss guys like Bern and Pauly, guys who could do it all