On September 13th, 1985, the New York Yankees signed a 17-year old Puerto Rican-born outfielder to a minor league contract. That player’s name: Bernie Williams. Over the next 21 seasons, Williams became one of the greatest Yankees of all-time.
In 1991 the Yankees called up Williams to replace an injured Roberto Kelly for the remainder of the season. In 85 games, Williams hit .238, with three HR, 34 RBI and ten SB, nothing special.
But the Yankees knew they had to give this young player some time to develop. Williams was then recalled the next season when Danny Tartabull was injured and fared much better this time as he hit .280, with five HR, 26 RBI, and seven SB.
In 1993, Williams became an everyday player for the Yankees and struggled a bit. He hit .268, with 12 HR, 68 RBI, and nine SB. Bernie was great in the field as he committed only four errors and was able to showcase his stellar defense.
By the time 1995 came around Bernie had established himself as one of the great youngster of the league. George Steinbrenner was not fond of Williams and wanted to trade him during the '95 season, but manager Buck Showalter pleaded his case for Bernie and he stayed with the team.
This was a good thing too because Williams finished 1995 with a .307 average, 18 HR, 82 RBI, nine triples, and eight SB. This would be just the beginning for the young player who had all the potential in the world.
1996 was a magical season for both Bernie Williams and the Yankees. The Bombers saw the emergence of rookies that would play an integral part to their dynasty. Derek Jeter became the everyday shortstop for the team and won the Rookie of the Year award.
Mariano Rivera became a full-time reliever and was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. They also saw Jorge Posada for a short time before he became a starter in 1997.
This was a great season as Bernie hit .305, set a new career high with 29 HR, 102 RBI, and 17 SB. Williams was an integral part as the Yankees went on to win the World Series that year. He hit .344 in the postseason as the Yankees beat the Braves. He was named MVP of the ALCS that year.
1997 saw an even better Bernie Williams as he hit .328, with 21 HR, 100 RBI, 15 SB, his first All-Star team, and he won his first Gold Glove award. The Yankees had a down year as they were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the Indians.
Not to be brought down by the Yankees end to the season, Bernie had one of the best seasons of his career in 1998. He hit .339, with 26 HR, 97 RBI, 15 SB, and made his second straight All-Star game and won his second straight Gold Glove award. He also won a batting title that year.
Yet again, Bernie helped the Yankees win the world Series as they swept the Padres in four games.
1999 brought the best season of Bernie's career. He set a career high with a .342 average, 25 HR, 115 RBI, nine SB, and his third straight All-Star selection and Gold Glove award. The Yankees won the World Series for the second straight year. Bernie finished third in the AL in batting average.
The Yankees continued their dominance in 2000 as they won a third straight World Series and the last of their dynasty. Bernie contributed by hitting .307, a career high of 30 HR, career high in RBI with 121, and 13 SB.
He also made his fourth straight All-Star game and won his fourth straight Gold Glove award. In 2001, Bernie again hit .307, with 26 HR, 94 RBI, and 11 SB. This time the Yankees lost the World Series in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In 2002, Bernie returned to old form as he hit .333 with 19 HR, 102 RBI, eight SB, and again led the Yankees to the playoffs. This time they lost in the ALDS against the Angels. Williams finished third in the AL in batting for the second time in four years.
2003 was a rough year for Bernie. He suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss significant time. While only playing in 119 games, Bernie hit .263, 15 HR, 64 RBI, and stole five bases.
The Yankees made it to the World Series again however, were defeated in six games by the Marlins. In 2004, Bernie hit .262, with 22 HR, and 70 RBIs. The Yankees became the first team in Major League history to have ten players with ten or more home runs in a season. This time the Yanks lost to the Red Sox in the ALCS..
2005 brought the worst season of Bernie's career. He only hit .249, with 12 home runs, 64 RBIs and the Yankees once again lost to the Angels in the playoffs. 2006 was a surprise season for Williams as he saw an unexpected amount of playing time for the Yankees.
Bernie filled in nicely for the injured Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui by hitting .281, with 12 HR, 61 RBI and helped the Yankees get to the playoffs, only this time to lose to the Tigers.
Bernie's contract was now up and the Yankees had to make a tough decision. They did not have room on their roster for Bernie, so they offered him a non-roster guarantee to Spring Training. Williams declined as he thought he deserved a spot on the roster after all he had done for the Yanks. Bernie has not played since and the Yankees have not given out his No. 51 jersey since as it appears they will retire it.
Many Hall of Fame voters will argue that in order to make it to the Hall you have to dominant your era for about ten years. Bernie did not dominate for a full ten years but he was one of the best hitters in the league for about eight years. He also helps his case by winning four straight Gold Gloves.
He made five All-Star teams and led the Yankees to four World Series titles. He is second all-time in postseason home runs and is in the top six for many of the Yankees offensive categories. Bernie is also the all-time leader in postseason games played, doubles, RBIs, and extra base hits.
Hopefully when Bernie's day comes, the voters will get it right and we will see this Yankee great in Cooperstown.
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