Yankee Champion

Bernie Williams, who powered the latest Yankees dynasty, debuts on Hall of Fame ballot

December 20, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Bernie Williams (NBHOF Library)

Bernie Williams entered the big leagues with the expectation that he would continue the legacy of All-Star New York Yankees center fielders.

After 16 years, four Gold Glove Awards and four World Series championships, Williams fulfilled his destiny. Today, he stands on the threshold of the Hall of Fame.

Williams is one of 37 players on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Williams returns to the ballot for the second year after receiving 9.6 percent of the vote in his debut last year.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives votes on at least 75 percent of all BBWAA ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born Bernabe Williams Figueroa on Sept. 13, 1968 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Williams signed a free agent contract with the Yankees on his 17th birthday. Soon, Williams was the crown jewel of the Yankees’ burgeoning farm system, with scouts raving about his five-tool talent.

He made his big league debut on July 7, 1991.

“He’s a greyhound in the outfield,” said Yankees manager Stump Merrill.

After a couple of years of getting his feet wet at the big league level, Williams took over center field for good on Aug. 7, 1992. He would go on to make 11 straight Opening Day starts in center field, second all-time in Yankees history behind only Mickey Mantle.

Williams helped lead the Yankees back to the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons in 1995, hitting .307 with 18 homers and 82 RBI. The next season, Williams was even better hitting .305 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs while finishing 17th in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.

That year, the Yankees won their first World Series title in 18 years – beginning a stretch where they would win the Fall Classic in four out of five seasons.

From 1996-2002, Williams averaged 25 home runs, 106 runs scored and 104 RBIs a season. He won the 1998 AL batting title with a .339 average, was named to the All-Star Game five times and won four straight Gold Glove Awards from 1997-2000.

“Playing defense (was) a big part of my game my whole career,” Williams said. “You’ve got to take a lot of pride in playing defense and being more than an offensive player.”

But it was on offense – especially in the postseason – that Williams carved out his legacy. In 121 postseason games over 12 seasons, Williams hit 22 home runs, scored 83 runs and notched 80 RBI – the latter figure still the top postseason total in MLB history.

“I know how important he was to the Yankees (even) before I got here,” said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who took over the club in 1996 and led the Yankees and Williams to four World Series title in five years.

Injuries began to take their toll on Williams’ skills in the mid-2000s, and he wrapped up his big league career following the 2006 season. He then embarked on a successful career as a singer-songwriter.

He finished his 16-year playing career with 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs, 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI and a .297 batting average. He was named to five straight All-Star teams from 1997-2001 and participated in 25 postseason series, helping the Yankees win 17 of them while taking home the 1996 ALCS Most Valuable Player Award along the way.

“I have come to a place in my career when there are other things in my life that have become just as important as baseball,” Williams said. “I have no regrets.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum