Is Bernie Williams a Hall of Famer?

Hall of Fame inductees come out today and it’s pretty much a given that Roberto Alomar will make it; the rest, however, could be interesting.  In my mind, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, and Bert Blyleven should be no-brainers as well, but I know there are lots of people who don’t feel that way.  I would likely also vote for Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell, too.

All this got me to thinking though… is Bernie Williams a Hall of Famer?

The short answer: maybe.

Here’s the thing about Hall of Fame voting: people like to point to certain numbers to prove certain points (Joe Posnanski has a great article about this very idea) but those things they point at don’t always matter.  Let’s take MVP voting for example.  Bernie Williams was never AL MVP.  Highest he ever got in the voting was 7th.  Can’t be a Hall of Famer, right?  Well, in 1998, the year Bernie Williams came in 7th in the voting, he was almost certainly the MVP of the league.

Bernie’s OPS+ that year was an absurd 160, higher than all 6 players in front of him by a good margin – including MVP Juan Gonzalez.  The only player to hit better than Bernie that year was Albert Belle, who finished 8th.  Bernie, of course, also played great defense at a premium position.  A 160 OPS+ from a Gold Glove centerfielder, even admitting that gold gloves aren’t  always the greatest measure, is tremendous.  Add onto that that Bernie was the best player on the best team – not just that year, but perhaps ever – and his MVP would seem like a given.

But he finished 7th.  If the 1998 season happened again today, you’d have to think that the Joe Posnanskis and Keith Laws of the world would lobby and Bernie would certainly do much better (and Juan Gonzalez would do much worse).  He didn’t though, so should that negatively impact his Hall of Fame chances?

Last year, on my old site, I was pretty vocal about Jim Rice not being a Hall of Famer.  This had nothing to do with him playing for the Red Sox (though I suppose that wouldn’t help his cause in my book).  But look at his numbers: he’s a good corner outfielder who played in a great hitters park – but hardly a Hall of Famer.  Enough has been written about Rice that I’m not going to go into all the ways he’s a flawed Hall of Fame candidate.

The real problem I had with Rice getting in is this: now we can always use the Jim Rice litmus test.  For example, if Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, Albert Belle should be right?  Jason Giambi?  Don Mattingly?  Good old Juan Gonzalez(hey – he was MVP in 1998!)?  I don’t think those guys are Hall of Famers, but Rice helps add to their argument now.

I think Bernie has a better case than any of those players I just named, including Jim Rice.  So is he a Hall of Famer?  In truth, it’s probably borderline.  Maybe his postseason heroics will sway voters enough to get him in.  Or maybe he’ll be punished for never winning an MVP.  Both are flawed ways of evaluating a player, but when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, there are many ways players ultimately get evaluated – fair or not.

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7 Responses to Is Bernie Williams a Hall of Famer?

  1. Brian Burkhart says:

    To say he had "two tools" is a bit of an oversimplification; he hit for power, he hit for average, and he had patience (and consequently, great OBPs). He was as complete a hitter as there was, AND he played a premium defensive position at a high level for many years. He did not get the most of his speed, but that doesn't mean we should hold his speed against him.

    And to those who care about the postseason (as far as HOF voting), he holds many playoff records and was one of the best players on the marquee team during one of their "dynasty" runs. During the 1998-2000 stretch, he was the Yankees' best player.

  2. KVC says:

    No.

    No way is he a Hall of Famer. The guy had two tools, great hitter and he had speed in the outfield.

    He had no baseball instincts. He was terrible in the field, his speed made him look good, but when he lost a step, he was done. He couldn’t steal bases, despite his speed. And he had a little girl’s arm.

  3. What’s the deal with Juan Gonzalez? I thought that he stole Arod’s MVP in 96 as well. Why did the sports writers like him so much?

  4. Brian Burkhart says:

    I think Bernie's borderline and I'd have to do a little more research before I made a decision. The point is, he's a better option than some players who are already in.

    The five tools are average, power, speed, arm, and fielding. Bernie had 4 of those tools.

    Thing about tools though is they don't necessarily indicate performance. Patience is just as important as hitting for average. Bernie didn't maximize his speed tool, but his overall value to the Yankees was extraordinarily high. Some of the greatest players in the history of baseball had only a couple of "tools," which is really just language for evaluating young prospects, not for evaluating a major league player's career.

  5. KVC says:

    So Mr. Burkhart if you had a vote, you would vote Yes?

    I always thought the five tools of baseball were; Hitting, Defense, Speed, Arm and Instincts??

    I do hold his speed against him. The Yankees couldn’t teach him to steal bases at the level his speed said he should have been stealing.

  6. jp says:

    Re: Bernie MVP in 1998

    Bernie was great in 1998, but he only played 128 games that year. It's tough to be the MVP with 128 games, even with a 160 ops+ at a premier defensive position.

    So he's a borderline case I think. If guys like Jim Rice and Andrew Dawson are Hall of Famers, then so is Bernie. Of course, those guys were not deserving of the Hall.

  7. Mac says:

    Although fans can ask that the Yankees retire his number and put a likeness of him in the outfield, Williams is not a serious HOF candidate.

    Williams was a good player, but his career was short by HOF standards, and he never reached any of the HOF standers (400 home runs, 3,000 hits, etc.) Williams will be compared to Griffey and Edmonds and Jones, and Frankly he’s not in that league. For example, look at Williams’ WAR ranking – he’s ranked 190th. Andruw Jones is ranked 114th, Edmonds 65th and Griffey 39th. And Jones and Edmonds are still playing.

    Williams was a good player; his career WAR value exactly matching that of Fred Lynn, who was a fine player, who incidentally won an MVP award, but who never came close to enshrinement.