Tonight, the Yankees will finally celebrate the career of one of the most important players in franchise history. In many ways, Bernie Williams' career path was a microcosm of how the franchise fared over the course of his 16-year career. He started off as a young, unpolished talent struggling to find his way in the early '90s as the Yankees were struggling to find relevance during a necessary rebuild. Eventually, Bernie developed into a complete offensive player and remained an elite hitter for a six-year period that saw the franchise reclaim baseball's throne with near annual trips to the World Series. As he entered his decline years, his bat remained useful, but eventually, he was a shell of his former self. Similarly, the Yankees remained a perennial playoff team but never did return to the promised land while he was in pinstripes. As Bernie went, so did the Yankees.
Leading up to tonight's ceremony, here's a look at some of the more significant numbers in Bernie's career.
Bernie's rank in all-time postseason runs batted in. This is mostly thanks to the fact that Major League Baseball instituted the Division Series just as the Yankees were becoming a contender again in 1995. With all those extra postseason games to play, the rankings are heavily skewed towards modern players. Still, his rank is a testament to just how comfortable Bernie was in the heart of the great Yankees lineup during his prime.
The number of studio albums released by Bernie. As a skilled guitarist he has found success in music both during and after his baseball career. While still playing in 2003 he released The Journey Within which reached number 3 on the U.S. Jazz charts. He followed that up in 2009 with Moving Forward which hit number two on those charts. He also flexed his music chops for this old MSG commercial with fellow outfielder Paul O'Neill.
World Series rings earned by Bernie during his career. During those years he was a perennial All-Star and averaged five WAR per year. He also received MVP consideration each year and even won four Gold Gloves over that span. Whether he deserved them or not is another story, but it's safe to say that the Yankees don't win those World Series, or at least as many as they did, without Williams.
Bernie's career home run total. This is the seventh highest total in Yankees' franchise history and is the eleventh highest total all-time by a switch hitter. As noted earlier, he also did damage in the postseason to the tune of an additional 22 home runs which is second all-time behind only Manny Ramirez.
Career hits for Bernie which ranks him fifth in franchise history and fifteenth all-time for switch hitters. The only Yankees ahead of him in hits are Derek Jeter, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Mickey Mantle. Not exactly lightweights. His additional 128 hits in the postseason is second all-time to El Capitan.
The amount of dollars Bernie earned over seven years in a then-Yankees record contract signed in 1998. There was MUCH drama surrounding this whole situation. Following the ridiculous success of the 1998 Yankees, Bernie was a free agent and unfortunately his agent was Scott Boras. After some low-ball offers from the Yankees it seemed that Bernie had a deal for roughly $90 million all but signed with the Boston Red Sox of all teams. Worse yet, the Yankees seemed poised to replace Bernie with Albert Belle. Cooler heads prevailed and both Bernie and the Yankees were better off as a result.
The number worn by an awkward, shy, skinny kid with giant glasses when he first got called up to the Yankees in 1991. Usually when young players get assigned a high number like that they'll switch to a lower one once they've established that they belong. Not this time. He never wore a different number for the rest of his 16 years in pinstripes and no Yankee will ever wear that number again. That's the way it should be.