The New York Yankees are the most storied franchise in the history of baseball with 27 World Series Championships. When you look at all of the baseball royalty that has played in Yankee pinstripes, it’s easy to forget about players that weren’t the face of the team but were a large part of its success. Bernie Williams is one of these players.
Williams entered the MLB when the Yankees picked him up in 1991 as an amateur free agent. He eventually became the starting center fielder in 1993, and the rest is history.
Yankee fans already know that Bernie Williams was great. He won four World Series and has his number, 51, hanging in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. But just how great was he?
The numbers may surprise you.
The Yankee teams Williams was a part of made it hard for any one guy to stand out above the rest. Jeter, O’Neill, Clemens, Tino Martinez, Posada, the list goes on. The teams were stacked.
So when you look at the numbers Williams put up, it’s hard to argue a guy who’s more underrated than him.
Let’s take a look.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
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When you look at the Yankees teams the last few years, what is the one thing they all have in common? Injuries.
The team gets plagued with them every year, as does the rest of the league, but for Yankee fans it seems like the top guys are always missing games.
Well, that’s something Williams rarely did.
Williams played 16 seasons, all of them with New York. In those 16 seasons, he played on average 130 games.
To younger Yankee fans like myself, that number seems unreal. Brett Gardner is the only Yankees outfielder in the last eight seasons to play 130 or more games every single year.
Bernie was always out there in center field, and Manager Joe Torre never had to worry about him.
The switch-hitter averaged 22 home runs, 35 doubles, 98 RBI’s, 83 walks and only 95 strikeouts a season. He also finished with a .297 career batting average.
Williams went eight straight seasons with a batting average over .300 (‘95-‘02), and led the league with .339 in 1998. He also went six straight seasons (‘96-‘01) with 20 or more home runs, and hit 30 in 2000.
Williams’ heyday was during the mentioned ‘90s dynasty. When he was at his best, the Yanks were at their best. The best hitter on the team during that time was Derek Jeter. But who was right there behind him? Williams.
From 1995-2001, Jeter’s batting average was .320. Williams’ was .319.
Bern’ Baby Bern’
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Bernie wasn’t just a regular season guy, either. He came through when baseball matters most: October.
Williams made the playoffs 12 of the 16 seasons he played, totaling 121 postseason games. He finished with 22 home runs, 80 RBI’s, 71 walks and a .275 batting average in October. He also took home the ALCS MVP in 1996.
It’s unreal how well Williams fit those teams. Just another solid bat and glove to join a team full of All-Stars. He was quietly putting up some of the best numbers in the league, as his name is all over single-season leader boards.
He finished in the top 10 for batting average four times, triples four times, and on-base-percentage five times. The rest of the league noticed this too. Williams finished in the top 20 of MVP voting six times.
Add in five consecutive All-Star appearances (‘97-‘01), four consecutive Gold Gloves (‘97-‘00), a Silver Slugger award in 2002, and of course four World Series rings for good measure.
Williams did all of this playing alongside one of the greatest cores of all time, the “Core Four”.
“Core Four” + 1 = “Fab Five”?
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The Yankees’ famous Core Four consists of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite, and Mariano Rivera.
Now for the sake of this article, if you had to turn that Core Four into a “Fab Five”, who would you pick? To me, the clear answer is Williams.
Williams played alongside those four the entire time, putting up great numbers consistently and helping them win those four championships.
The guy was a class act. He never got in any trouble, and was a Yankee for life. You don’t go back and look at the history of the ’90s New York Yankees without seeing #51 out there in center.
A big motivation for writing this article is the fact that Williams is not in the Hall of Fame. You can charge me with fan bias all you want, but it’s very strange why Williams isn’t in yet.
When you look at what he did, for how long he did it, on the teams he was on, and add in the four rings… it makes no sense why he’s not in.
This is why Bernie Williams is the most underrated New York Yankee of all time, and may even be one of the most underrated players of all time.
Lifelong sports fan fulfilling a childhood dream. I’ll talk sports all day. Passion and hot takes are my thing… there’s always a story. Yankees. NY Giants. Knicks. Texas Longhorns. Yes… being a Knicks fan is rough, but my time will come (hopefully). Senior at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.