Now, we’re just 29 days away from Spring Training. It’s so close we can practically taste it. Today, I wanted to talk about someone who gets a bit overlooked in recent Yankee history. The (ugh) Core Four is always referred to as Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. There is one player who’s constantly overlooked in this discussion: Bernie Williams. He was every bit the hitter Derek Jeter was/is and just as important to the Yankees’ turn-of-the-century dynasty. The end certainly came quick for Bernie. Involuntary, Bernie ended up on the “burn out” path rather than the “fade away” path. Appropriately, however sad, his Hall of Fame ballot “career” took that same path; he didn’t garner enough support this year to stay on the ballot. While Williams was not a Hall of Fame player, he certainly deserved a better fate than falling off the ballot after one voting cycle.
So why did I pick day 29 to honor a guy who wore 51? I did it to honor Bernie’s finest season, his age 29 season. The year was 1998 and Bernie was coming off a stellar 1997. He posted then career highs in all the slash categories, as well as OPS+, wOBA, and wRC+. 1998 ended up even better.
Bernie’s average jumped up to .339, which won him the AL batting title. He also put up a .422 OBP, second in the AL. His SLG that year was .575, good for tenth in the league. With a 160 OPS+, he finished second and placed (tied for) second (with Edgar Martinez) in wOBA with .425 (Albert Belle led with a .437 mark), and second in wRC+ with 159 to Belle’s 165.
Always a solid postseason performer, Bernie had a down-up-down ride in the 1998 playoffs. He was positively dreadful in the ALDS (0-11 with one walk and four strikeouts) and the World Series (1-16, though the one was a home run). However, he simply demolished the Texas Rangers in the ALCS. In the six game series, he was 8-21 with seven walks (.391 AVG/.536 OBP).
While he didn’t last as long as some of his counterparts, Bernie Williams was a fantastic baseball player who was fun to watch and just as fun to root for. In my younger days, I tried to imitate Bernie’s compact stance at the plate and that soft spot for him has definitely hung around.