Monday, July 9, 2007

.297/.381/.477, 287 HRs, 1,257 RBI, 147 SB

Bernie Williams was an integral figure for the New York Yankees dynasty of the late 20th century. He patrolled center field in pinstripes for six World Series appearances and four championships. He is baseball’s all-time leader in postseason doubles (29) , home runs (22) and RBI (80).

His postseason numbers are in large part because of the introduction of the Wild Card and adding an extra round. Williams will not be first in those categories for long. Also, despite five all-star appearances, four Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger, his regular season resume is a little lacking.

Our panel says Bernie Williams was really good, but there was not nearly enough greatness to earn admittance to the Hall of Fame. What happens 30 years from now when Veterans Committee member Derek Jeter is stumping for him is another matter.

YES: 0 NO: 7


COREY MASISAK: Bernie Williams has great postseason numbers - he is the all-time leader in doubles, home runs and RBI when dealing only with baseball’s second season. But those numbers are a creation of Commissioner Bud Selig’s wild idea - the Wild Card. His hold on all of those categories is tenuous at best, and those numbers will look less significant as time goes on.

He was a very nice, fringe Hall of Fame-type player for several seasons, and because those seasons happened in Gotham and not Kansas City, Williams will garner some support for the Hall when he is officially eligible. In part because of his pretty drastic decline the past few seasons, there just are not enough of those HOF-quality seasons on his resume. If they had played football, maybe Bernie could introduce Derek Jeter and give a nice speech. Since they didn’t, he probably won’t be speaking at Cooperstown anytime soon.

KEVIN BREWER: Bernie Williams was an underappreciated player, but he’s not quite a Hall of Famer.

He was an All-Star level player between 1995 and 2002,among the top five players in the American League in 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2002. He hit .300 eight times, including a batting title in 1998. He had an on-base of .400 four times and slugged .500 six times. He scored 100 runs eight times and drove in 100 five times. He could play center fielder, too.

His association with the New York Yankees doesn’t hurt. He was a part of four World Series champions, and he might have been the best player on the 1998 Yankees, one of best teams of all time. But Williams’ eight-year run of greatness to goodness isn’t enough. He was among the top 10 players in the league just four times. He didn’t have a Joe DiMaggio-type peak. Williams had Dave Winfield-type seasons, except that Winfield had about 15 productive seasons and reached 3,000 hits. Williams had about 10 productive seasons, with no career milestones.

He might be among the top 30 center fielders of all time, but he’s not as good as Dale Murphy or Jimmy Wynn, and they should be in the Hall of Fame before Williams.

PATRICK STEVENS: Any time a franchise strings together several championships in a short span (like the late 1990s Yankees), there are players like Bernie Williams involved. They are consistent, above-average performers who are surrounded by other consistent, above-average performers (with maybe a star or two tossed in), creating something of a vortex in which each player’s skills are amplified simply because there are no weak links around them.

They are hailed as “good clubhouse guys” who “know how to win” and “play the game the right way.” And with this mythos fully concocted, they stand a far better chance of entry to the Hall than a superior contemporary who was a jewel in a landfill for much of his career.

Williams was an amazingly steady player for a decade, with three truly splendid seasons (1997-99) wedged in the middle of that span. He was a consistent cog on a balanced team and rolled up solid, though not overwhelming, raw numbers (2,336 hits, 287 home runs). His most similar player according to is, appropriately enough, his former Yankee teammate, Paul O’Neill. The writers never saw fit to rank him above all his teammates in the MVP voting (and just twice in the top 10), and that balloting usually tilts toward players on contending teams.

If this was a vote for the best athlete-musician, the guitar-playing Williams would be near the top of the list. Instead, he’ll just have to comfort himself with his four World Series rings and career earnings of more than $100 million. The Hall shouldn’t call, but Williams still did OK for himself.

JOHN TAYLOR: Bernie Williams always played on good or great teams, but he never was the part that was great. Williams was the best player during that great run of Yankees teams maybe one season. Rather than dominate, he killed opponents with consistency and won over fans with his smile. He certainly was a nice player, but the outfielder never will sniff the hall of fame with career numbers of 287 homers, 147 stolen bases and a .297 batting average. I’m kind of surprised we’re even voting on this one; was guitar-picking added as a Hall of Fame requirement?

LACY LUSK: He was an important cog on four World Series champions, but not Hall-of-Fame important. Williams hit 287 career homers, never finished better than seventh in the MVP voting (1998, when he won his lone batting title) and was not MVP of any of the Yankees’ World Series titles of his era. He was a very good player, just not good enough for the hall.

MARK ZUCKERMAN: I know how important Williams was to the Yankee dynasty. He was, without question, a really, really good player for a long time and the heart-and-soul of those teams. But he just doesn’t stand out enough from the rest of the pack to warrant a place in Cooperstown. Yes, he had seven HOF-type seasons from 1996-2002, but he was an average player before that run and an average player after it. He had only two Top-10 MVP seasons and never finished higher than seventh. He made five All Star teams and won a batting title. But his overall resume looks a whole lot like a teammate of his who probably won’t make it into the Hall: Paul O’Neill. Again, another really, really good player who was a major part of that championship team, but not a Hall of Famer.

TIM LEMKE: You might be able to argue that the Yankees never would have won four championships in five years without Bernie Williams, and he deserves a lot of credit for playing what really amounts to a full extra season of postseason ball. But there’s nothing else about his career that makes him a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. His career totals and career rate stats aren’t anywhere near the level needed for consideration for Cooperstown, and he was an average centerfielder, at best. Maybe he’ll be invited to play jazz guitar at Jeter’s induction ceremony, but he won’t be giving an acceptance speech.

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