clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

1996 Yankees 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Bernie Williams

New, 5 comments

The oft forgotten fifth member of the "Core Four."

Al Bello/Getty Images

Background

Bernie Williams was born in 1968 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He grew up on the island, excelling in track and field, baseball, and music up through his teenage years. When Williams was 16, he was noticed by Yankee scout Roberto Rivera, who wanted to sign him. The age of eligibility to sign with an MLB team was 17, so the Yankees stashed Williams away in a Connecticut baseball training camp until his 17th birthday, when he could officially signed with the team.

During his first year in the minors, Williams was simultaneously enrolled in pre-med classes at the University of Puerto Rico. He soon realized he could not focus on both ambitions, and he chose to continue his baseball career. Williams spent more than five years in the Yankees' minor league system, but he truly put himself on the map during his 1988 stint with the High-A team, when he hit .335/.449/.487. Prior to the 1991 season, Williams was ranked as the eleventh best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and hit .294/.372/.458 in 306 at-bats in Triple-A.

Williams debuted in the Major Leagues halfway through the 1991 season to replace the injured Roberto Kelly. He played poorly and was sent back down to the minors. He continued to serve as an injury replacement over the next year, and he became the Yankees' starting center fielder in 1993. Despite numerous rumors that Steinbrenner planned to trade Williams, he remained with the Yankees and had a major break out year in 1995, playing 144 games and hitting .307/.392/.487 with an OPS+ of 129. He also had his first taste of the postseason, hitting .429/.571/.810 in 21 at-bats in the ALDS against the victorious Mariners.

1996 Performance

Results: 143 G, .305/.391/.535, 29 HR, 102 RBI, 131 OPS+

In 1996, Williams had his best offensive year to that point. He hit 11 more home runs than his previous career-high and stole what would remain a career-high 17 bases at an 81% clip (7th in the majors). But where Williams really shined in 1996 was the postseason. In the ALDS against the Rangers, he hit .467/.500/1.067 with three home runs, two of which came in the same game.

Williams somehow played even better in the ALCS against the Orioles. While Game 1 of the series is perhaps best known for being the Jeffrey Maier game, that Jeter "home run" actually only tied the score. It was Williams who went on to win the game for the Yankees, hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning.

In the ALCS overall, Williams hit .474/.583/.947 and was crowned the 1996 AL ALCS MVP. In the World Series against the Braves, he only hit .167/.259/.292, but he helped the Yankees turn the tide of the series in their favor after losing the first two games of the series with a two-run home run in Game 3. The Yankees won the series in six games.

What did he do after?

Williams remained with the Yankees for the rest of his 16-year career. During that span he was voted an All-Star five times (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001) and won a variety of awards, including four Gold Gloves (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000), one Silver Slugger (2002), and the 1998 AL Batting Title. He ended his career with an absurd batting line of .297/.381/.477, which includes the less impressive later years of his career. His name is present on almost every Yankee all-time leaderboard. He won four World Series titles with the Yankees (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000), overall hitting .275/.371/.480 during his career in the postseason. He is the all-time leader in postseason RBI with 80 and is second in postseason home runs with 22.

After the 2006 season, Williams did not play in the majors again. Instead, he turned his attention to his other love, music. He studied jazz performance at the Manhattan School of Music, and in 2003 released his first jazz album, "The Journey Within." He released his second album in 2009, ultimately being nominated for a Grammy award. In 2015, Williams finally officially retired from baseball in a ceremony at Yankee Stadium, during which his number was retired by the team.