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Your annual Bernie Williams sighting

Mar 4, 2010, 7:57 AM EDT

Bernie Williams.jpgEvery year at about this time Bernie Williams makes a visit to Yankees camp. Every year at this time some reporter plays the “so, is Bernie really retired?” game, even though it’s obvious that he’ll never play again. In a way it’s like a happier version of those guys who keep pounding the “why won’t Mark McGwire admit steroids helped him” thing.  Just because Bernie never actually said that he retired doesn’t mean he isn’t for all practical purposes, and you’d think that writers could simply write what is manifest without having to have a quote to hang it on.

But people keep writing this story. In fact today we get two such stories from the Daily News. The first one is the standard “Bernie was in the clubhouse today” thing. The second one asks whether Bernie Williams is a Hall of Famer:

Williams, a five-time All-Star who won four Gold Gloves, a batting
title and four World Series rings, says he realizes that his numbers
aren’t as overwhelming as those of some others from his era – he hit
.297 with 287 home runs and 1,257 RBI. The question remains: Will
history – and Hall of Fame voters – view his career more favorably now
that so many other players have been busted for using
performance-enhancing drugs?

My suspicion is that the only writers who think that’s a hard question are New York writers. Don’t get me wrong — Bernie had a nice career. Maybe even a little better than you remember. He played an excellent centerfield there for a while and had a bat that could have played quite nicely in left in his prime. And of course all the intangible character stuff helps his case. World Series rings. Great reputation. All of that.

But unless you’re Jim Rice and have a Hall of Fame campaign orchestrated for you by a handful of committed wackos, being really good is just not enough.  Williams never came close to winning an MVP (best finish: 7). His decline came a little quickly and was a little too steep to give him the kind of counting stats (hits, homers) voters like to see. His rate stats (average; slugging) are less than you usually get from a Hall of Famer. He was never considered close to being the best player in baseball. He usually wasn’t even considered the best player on his team, even if he had years more valuable that Derek Jeter’s. Even Jim Rice had that monster 1978 season to point to, and Bernie has nothing equivalent which he can point to on his Hall of fame resume.

In a world where Dale Murphy gets no Hall of Fame love and Jim Edmonds is unlikely to, I think the odds of Williams getting elected are a tad worse than the odds of him not showing up to Yankees camp every spring and having reporters ask him if he’s retired yet.

  1. Eric Solomon - Mar 4, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Great insta-Kelternizing of Bernie. Huge Yankee fan here (35+ years) and Bernie was terrific, a key cog in the dynasty teams. A “clutch” player, a gentleman, at times a devastating hitter, and in his prime a graceful runner (once getting to full stride). He should be remembered as a great player, should have his day at Yankee Stadium and should probably have his number retired. A worthy link in the Yankees’ center field lineage.
    But Hall of Fame? Sorry, no.

  2. Spice - Mar 4, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    I agree with Eric. Bernie is a Great Guy and was key to the dynasty of the late 90’s. He worked hard, played the game right and was a clutch player but he is not a Hall of Fame player. Jim Rice does not belong in my humble opinion and Rice was closer to HOF status than Bernie.

  3. dtimars1929 - Mar 4, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    Bernie, like his outfield mate, Paul O’Neill, belongs in the Hall of Very Good, but not the HOF. However, I wouldn’t mind seeing their numbers retired by the Yankess.

  4. Nasty Boy - Mar 4, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Well said Eric, a perfect description of a good Yankee. I have to disagree with you on one point, the number retiring. Sorry , but I feel you should be of hall of fame caliber for that. Bernie was a great Yankee , but not of hall type.

  5. Rays fan - Mar 4, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Obviously, based on my handle, I’m not a Yankee fan, but aren’t there some players with plaques in Monument Park that do not also have their numbers retired? Might that be an appropriate level of honor for him?

  6. DSFC - Mar 4, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    Bernie was underrated during his career, but let’s not overcorrect by overrating him in retirement. He had an excellent, consistent peak period from ’96-02. But his career didn’t really get going until he was 27, and he was pretty much done by age 34, even though he hung on for a few subpar seasons. His best seasons weren’t great enough, and he didn’t have enough of them.
    BTW – Rice’s OPS+ in 1978 was 157. Bernie’s in 1999 was 160. Food for thought. For their careers, the numbers are 125 for Bernie and 128 for Rice.I absolutely agree Bernie isn’t HOF material, but Jim Rice sure as hell wasn’t the better player, completely undeserved HOF berth aside.

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