Sunday, May 24, 2015

Meet a Prospect: Bernie Williams

First and foremost I want to welcome everybody to Bernie Williams Night at Yankee Stadium, boy is this one long overdue. Bernie Williams was a member of four World Series championship teams in his 16 seasons with the New York Yankees finishing with a career .297 batting average, 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 1,366 runs scored, 449 doubles, five MLB All-Star Game appearances, one Silver Slugger Award, four Gold Glove Awards and one American League Championship Series MVP Award. The only thing in Bernie’s life that he was half as successful at was his ability to play the guitar. Bernie has released two jazz albums since his unofficial retirement while being nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in 2009 and is now getting his #51 jersey retired inside Monument Park. What a life, this should be fun.

Bernabe Williams Figueroa Jr. was born on September 13, 1968 in Puerto Rico to Bernabe Williams Figueroa Sr., a merchant marine dispatcher, and Rufina Williams, a retired principal and college professor. The Williams family lived in the Bronx, New York until Bernie turned one years old, when they moved to Puerto Rico. Bernie not only played baseball growing up but he was also active in track and field and guitar playing. It was Bernie’s ability to play baseball that got him noticed by the New York Yankees in 1985 when Yankees scout Roberto Rivera found and eventually signed Bernie to a deal on his 17th birthday. Bernie worked his way through the Yankees minor league system building his value with his bat as a switch hitter until he finally got his big shot in the Bronx in 1991.

Williams replaced the injured Roberto Kelly in the second half of the 1991 season but did not do enough to stick in the majors. Williams was not long for the minor leagues though as an injury to Danny Tartabull forced Williams back into the show and back into center field in the Bronx where he was there to stay. Bernie was the regular center fielder until the 1993 season when a slow start prompted George Steinbrenner to insist that GM Gene Michael trade the switch hitter to the Montreal Expos for Larry Walker. Michael did not make the trade and Williams finished the season with a .268 batting average in his first full season with the Yankees. This was not the only time Steinbrenner attempted to trade Williams as once again in 1995, this time to the San Francisco Giants for Darren Lews, but then manager Buck Showalter convinced the Boss to keep Williams in the middle of the order, in center field and on the Yankees.

Williams made his name and his legendary status in the postseason leading the Yankees with a .429 batting average in the 1995 ALDS against the Seattle Mariners and leading the Yankees once again in 1996 against the Texas Rangers with a .467 BA. Williams followed that ALDS up with a .474 ALCS average with two home runs winning the ALCS MVP as the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles earning a trip to the World Series. In the World Series Williams had four RBI and a home run to help the team earn their first championship since 1978. Despite the playoff and World Series heroics Williams was the subject of trade rumors again in 1997 when Steinbrenner contemplated trading his center fielder to the Detroit Tigers for a package of young pitchers headlined by Roberto Duran (who?) and Mike Drumright (who?). Bob Watson, the Yankees GM, killed the deal keeping Williams a Yankee but not before discussing a deal with the Chicago Cubs to trade him for fellow outfielder Lance Johnson. Bernie used the trade rumors to build a fire inside him and helped his team win quite a few games in 1998.

The 1998 Yankees won an American League record 114 games that season with Williams batting .339 while becoming the first player to ever win a batting title, Gold Glove award and a World Series ring in the same season. The 1998 season earned Williams a seven year deal from the team worth $87.5 million making Williams one of the highest paid players of all-time at the time. Williams made the playoffs in every single season of that contract and ended up winning two more World Series in the time giving him four rings in six trips to the World Series in a Yankees uniform.

The 2005 season was Bernie’s last on that contract and it was not an easy one for the now aging Yankees center fielder. Williams only started 99 games in center field and another 22 games as a designated hitter due to his already weak arm continuing to decline. The team announced on August 2, 2005 that they would not pick up the option on Williams’ contract for 2006 and would instead opt to pay him a $3.5 million buyout making him a free agent. The team did offer arbitration to Bernie and ultimately signed him to a one year deal worth $1.5 million setting up his final season in pinstripes. Johnny Damon was signed to be the team’s center fielder in 2006 moving Bernie to left and right field when Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield were injured while also representing Team Puerto Rico in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Williams collected his 2,3000th hit of his career in July of 2006 and also collected his 443rd career double for second on the Yankees all-time list but it was not enough for Williams to ever play on a baseball diamond again as a major league player, Williams was done.

Williams hoped to re-sign with the Yankees for the 2007 season and accepted a role as a backup outfielder and pinch hitter but rather than signing him to a new deal the team instead offered Williams an invitation to spring training as a non-roster invitee, an invite that Williams almost immediately declined. Williams did attempt a comeback in 2008 with the Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rico Baseball League as he tried to get into baseball shape for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Williams injured his quad while playing for Carolina jeopardizing his chances to play in the WBC for Puerto Rico due to the injury.

Williams attempted his second comeback with the Yankees before the 2009 season but once again was never offered a contract. Bernie may have lost that battle but he ultimately won the war when he returned to Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008 to help say goodbye to Yankee Stadium. This marked the first time that Bernie had stepped foot inside Yankee Stadium since his playing years and received a one minute and 42 second standing ovation from the crowd when introduced in the Bronx. Williams also got to play for Team Puerto Rico in the 2009 WBC going 0-for-5 with two walks and while the results were less than what he would have wanted the fact that he was able to play and represent his country had to make the Puerto Rican born switch hitter proud.

Williams finished his career with a postseason record for RBI (80) and a 2nd place finish in home runs (22), doubles (29), hits (128), total bases (223) and runs scored (83). Williams played a staggering 121 games in the postseason in his career. Williams also finished in the Top 10 in Yankees history in doubles, walks, hits, extra-base hits, home runs and RBI. Williams baseball career was only rivaled by his semi-successful music career showing that Williams had more talent than he knew what to do with in his lifetime.

Williams has come a long way from the player that had good speed but didn’t steal any bases. The player that had the range to play center field but the arm that should have made him a left fielder. The consistent hitter that didn’t seem to hit for enough power despite hitting in the middle of the order. The player that was almost traded twice that we publicly know about. Yes, Williams has come a long way and he is now enshrined in the greatest park in Major League Baseball history alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Bernie Williams is now a Yankees legend. Congrats Bernie, it’s well deserved. 


  1. Amazing career and pure example of why you should never let the words "but . . if . . could or should have . . " control where you are destined to go. Congrats #51. You are forever honored by the Always Faithful Yankee Nation.

  2. Not only a class act but one of the better athletes that just happened to play baseball. He is always included in the "Core 4+1" or just "Core 5" by me because without him we wouldn't have won those WS or even gotten to a couple of them.


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)