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June 10, 2004
Bernie Day by Larry Mahnken
While John Flaherty's Grand Slam was the crucial difference in the game, Bernie Williams' performance was the highlight of the afternoon yesterday. Reaching base all five times, walking twice, Bernie's 3 hits raised his batting average 15 points, and more importantly, brought him to exactly 2000 for his career.
The Yanks got a passable performance by Jose Contreras--and more importantly, seven innings to give the back of the bullpen a day off--and put ten runs on the board to win their fourth in a row, and their 30th of their last 39 (.769 Winning Pct. since "The Sweep"). If you think that's impressive, consider that the 1906 Chicago Cubs played this well... for six months! And lost the World Series in six games (but the postseason isn't largely luck).
The Yankees have pretty much established that they're the best team in baseball right now, and the only team that can reach far enough to tap them on the back is probably a healthy Red Sox team, something they seem likely to see when Boston comes to the Bronx in 2½ weeks.
With Bernie having reached a milestone--and having been particularly hot in the past week--I'd like to focus on him a little. It probably doesn't come across too much on the blog, but Bernie is my favorite Yankee, and has long been so. I don't know exactly why, maybe it's because he's the last connection to when they stunk and I first became a hardcore Yankees fan, or his demeanor. I don't know. But I'd like to take a look back at Bernie's career and determine whether he's worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame when he retire's. To do so, I'll use another one of those Bill James tools, the Keltner List.
On a vaguely related note, the first thing I had ever read by Bill James was "The Politics of Glory" in the early 90's--which I found fascinating, and very persuasive (and where I get the Keltner List from). The first I had ever heard of Bill James was when he was on a late-night sports talk radio show saying how Phil Rizzuto didn't deserve to be in the Hall, and I thought, "Man, what an idiot". How times change.
Anyway, here's the Keltner List:
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
Bernie was often called one of the most underrated players in baseball during the mid-to-late 90's, and may have been suggested as one of the very best in baseball by a few people, but he was never considered the best by very many people.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
Yes. With the exception of 1999, Bernie led the Yankees in OPS from 1996-2001, led them in Win Shares in 1995, 1996 and 1998 (and was second with 33 Win Shares in 1999).
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
In 1995, 1999 and 2002, Williams led all Major League centerfielders in Win Shares, and finished 2nd to Ken Griffey, Jr., a certain Hall of Famer, in 1998. He was never the best centerfielder in his league but not in all of baseball.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Hell yeah. In 1995, he hit .364/.465/.570/1.035 in September and October as the Yankees went 22-6 to win the Wild Card, and hit .429/.571/.810/1.381 in the ALDS, though the Yankees lost in five games. And Joey Cora was out of the baseline. Both times.
In 1996, he hit .333/.434/.615/1.049 in September as the Yankees held off the Orioles to win the AL East. He hit .467/.529/1.067/1.596 in the ALDS and was ALCS MVP, batting .474/.583/.947/1.530. He hit poorly in the World Series, but did hit an important HR in Game 3.
In 1997 he hit .327/.370/.561/.931 in September as the Yankees went 17-11 and nearly caught the Orioles for the AL East title, and won the Wild Card.
In 1998, there was no pennant race. He hit .381/.536/.429/.965 in the ALCS.
In 1999, he hit .317/.437/.490/.927 in September and October as the Yankees held off the Red Sox for the AL East title. He hit .364/.417/.727/1.144 in the ALDS, and hit the game-winning HR in Game 1 of the ALCS against Boston.
In 2000, he hit .435/.480/.609/1.089 in the ALCS.
In 2001, he hit .235/.409/.765/1.174 in the ALCS, with 3 homers (including one huge one off of Arthur Rhodes), as the Yankees beat the 116-46 Mariners 4 games to 1.
In 2003, he hit .400/.471/.533/1.004 in the ALDS, and .400/.444/.720/1.164 in the World Series, though the Yankees lost.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
He's no longer a very good player, and his defense should keep him out of center field, but he still hits well enough to be a passable everyday DH. I'll give this a "Yes".
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
No. Of Williams' 10 most comparable players, only Earl Averill is in the Hall of Fame, and he wasn't inducted until he was 73.
However, a large number of Williams' comparable players were corner outfielders, not center fielders. This gives Williams a slight edge, but not a big one.
8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Yes. Right now, Williams scores a 51 on Bill James' Hall of Fame Standards, and by the end of the season, or at least sometime next season, should rate a 56, with 50 being average for a Hall of Famer.
The Hall of Fame Monitor rates Williams as a 146, with 100 being a possible inductee, and 130 or higher being a probable lock.
Williams rates so highly on the Monitor largely because of his four rings and six league titles. However, voters tend to vote for players who play key positions on championship teams, and Williams certainly qualifies under that standard.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Well, Bernie is a switch hitter who is better as right-handed hitter, and has batted lefty twice as often as he has righty. However, Yankee Stadium is better for lefty hitters than righties, so it probably balanced out, more or less.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Though Williams is likely to retire (and thus be eligible before him), Ken Griffey, Jr. is more worthy than Williams. There are several non-HOF centerfielders who are about as good as Williams, but none who were clearly better.
I'll go with, "Yes", but not strongly.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
He was worthy of the MVP in 1998, and was a second-tier candidate in 1999 and 2002. He finished 7th in 1998, and 10th in 2002.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
He had All-Star-type seasons in 1995, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, 2001 and 2002. He played in 5 All-Star games from 1997-2001. I don't believe this is a particularly exceptional total.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Absolutely. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996 and 1998 when Williams was the best player on the team, and in '99 when he was very nearly the best on the team. Having a player of Bernie's caliber in centerfield gives a team a headstart on putting together a great squad.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Absolutely. Bernie is about as classy a player as there is in the game. His laid-back nature, however, may have hindered his notoriety, and may hurt his Hall chances.
Conclusion: While Bernie's numbers don't look overly impressive, especially in an offensive era, he was a key player on one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history, and will have at least four rings, and perhaps more, when he retires. He was one of the better players in baseball at a crucial position for several seasons. He's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but should get in after only a few ballots. Should he rebound and have a couple more solid seasons, and play long enough to attain 2500 hits and 300 HRs, it makes his induction more or less assured.
A good comparison can be made to Kirby Puckett, who wasn't as good as Bernie, but won two titles, and was well liked, just as Bernie is. Injuries ended his career, while it appears they have seriously damaged Bernie's. Puckett may not have deserved induction, but the fact that he got in on the first ballot bodes well for Bernie.
What do you guys think? I'm sure some of you disagree, so let me know in the comments. --posted at 11:54 PM by Larry Mahnken / |