He was a Gold Glove center fielder, a four-time World Champion, a batting title winner, and a fan favorite for the biggest, most important baseball team in the history of baseball.

So, let’s ask: Is Bernie Williams a Hall of Famer?


Statistics: Career Ranking Amongst Center Fielders

Perhaps the best place to start this analysis would be historical comparison to other center fielders.  In order to figure out whether we should consider Bernie Williams to be one of the best major league baseball players of all time, we need to first know if he was one of the best center fielders of all time.

For example, Williams hit 287 career home runs, which makes him 12th all-time in that category behind guys like Jim Edmonds, Ellis Burks, Fred Lynn, Steve Finely, and Jimmy Wynn.

Williams finished his career with 1,257 RBI, which is good for eighth amongst center fielders, behind seven guys who are either in—or will be in—the Hall of Fame.  He finished 12th in runs scored, behind a couple of non-Hall of Famers like Finley, Vada Pinson, and Kenny Lofton.

Bernie’s career batting average is 22nd all-time behind lots of non-Hall guys, like Lofton, Juan Pierre, Matty Alou, Dom DiMaggio, and Wally Berger.

Williams ranks 15th all-time in terms of center fielder OPS, but I think we all know that playing in the 1990s can inflate an OPS when compared to other eras.  His career OPS-plus was 125, which ranks 19th all-time behind several non-Hall guys.

There are several other less meaningful statistics that bear mentioning: 17th in hits, eighth in doubles, 60th in triples, ninth in walks, and 18th in strikeouts.

The statistic that makes Bernie look the best, though, is adjusted batting runs, in which Williams ranks 10th all-time, behind seven Hall of Famers and two possible future Hall of Famers in Ken Griffey Jr., and Jim Edmonds.

However, Bernie ranks 22nd amongst all center fielders in “wins above replacement” (WAR), which is designed to measure a player’s value compared to other players in his position in the league during his career.

And this point, it actually makes a lot of sense.  Keep in mind that Williams was a contemporary of Griffey, Edmonds, Andruw Jones, Kenny Lofton, Mike Cameron, Carlos Beltran, Kirby Puckett, and Mike Cameron.

Williams did not play during an era marked by a dearth of center fielders who could hit like, say, Mays and Mantle did, or like Cobb and Speaker did, or like Joe DiMaggio did.

In terms of overall value, meaning offense and defense, it would be hard to put Bernie Williams very high above his contemporary center fielders.

Certainly Jim Edmonds, who was a superior player to Williams on both offense and defense, would have to be a Hall of Famer before Bernie.


Intangibles: A Career Yankee

Bernie played for the New York Yankees from 1991 to 2006, and during that time he played in six World Series, winning four of them.  Is that great?

Yes, it is.

Bernie performed right around his career averages during the playoffs, with a .275 batting average and an .850 OPS, but he was positively terrible in World Series games, hitting .208 with a .677 OPS.  Does that matter?

Not really.

Whenever someone argues that part of the greatness of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, or Andy Pettitte is their record in the postseason, I am always forced to ask: Would they have performed as well if they weren’t Yankees?

Does the greatness of Derek Jeter equate to five World Series rings if he ends up playing for the Detroit Tigers instead of the Yankees?  Does Andy Pettitte pitch the Chicago Cubs to five World Series titles?  Does Mariano Rivera lock down five World Series titles for the San Diego Padres?

So, for Williams, my question is the same: Does Bernie Williams play center field for four World Series champions if he spends his career as a Los Angeles Dodger?

I think the answer to that question is “no.”

The reason I ask that question is this:

The Hall of Fame is not the Hall of Guys Who Played for the Yankees.

We want to put great players in the Hall, Yankees or not, but we don’t want part of the definition of a great player to be “played for the Yankees at a time when they were winning lots of World Series.”

For my part, I think Jeter, Posada, and Rivera are all Hall of Fame players before we even get to the “performed well in the postseason” part of the test, so this is no knock on them.

But for Williams and Pettitte, I am not so sure.


So What’s the Point of All This?

Bernie is a big-time borderline player.

To me, if I’ve got a vote, I don’t think I am casting it for Bernie Williams.

But at a bare minimum, I will say that if you think Bernie should be in the Hall, then you better also think Andruw Jones and Jim Edmonds should be as well, because they both out-shined Bernie over the course of the same period as players.

And if you think Williams, Edmonds, and Jones all belong in the Hall of Fame, then you better think of a good reason why Cesar Cedeno and Jimmy Wynn aren’t in the Hall of Fame.

But that is a conversation for another time.


Asher lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com .

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