In a 16-year career spent entirely in New York, Bernie Williams took his place in the progression of great Yankee center fielders that includes Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle. and Bobby Murcer. The tall, long-legged Williams helped the Yanks to six pennants and played in 121 post-season games, a record that was later surpassed by teammates Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Only one batter in history – Manny Ramirez – hit more homers than Williams’s 22 in the post-season.
Like Mantle, Williams was a switch-hitter, and he hit the ball well from both sides. He had a career batting average from the right side of .308 and from the left side he hit .292. Williams hit for average – he batted .300 eight times, from 1995-2002, winning the American League batting title in 1998, the first Yankee switch-hitter to win the crown since Mantle in 1956.
Williams was also a good center fielder, winning four straight Gold Glove Awards from 1997-2000. He covered a lot of ground with his long strides and overcame an average throwing arm by getting to the ball quickly.
Born in Puerto Rico, Williams was a star athlete as a youth, earning medals in track at the Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships at the age of 15. When he was 17 years old he signed a contract with the Yankees in 1985. he slowly progressed through the New York system, playing seven years in the minors. He gradually added more weight and started to hit the ball for power, and he always showed good speed as a prospect.
Williams debuted with the Yankees in July of 1991, filling in when center fielder Roberto Kelly went down with an injury. When Kelly returned five weeks later, he was pushed to left field so Williams could stay in center. Bernie began the ’92 season with the Yankees but was sent down to AAA early in the year to get more seasoning. When he returned in August he took the center field job from Kelly and didn’t let go for the next 14 seasons.
Starting in 1995, Williams and the Yankees advanced to the playoffs in 12 straight seasons. During that stretch, the Bombers won 17 of 25 post-season series, with Williams in the lineup in all but three of the 124 games played.
On eight occasions Williams scored 100 runs, and he drove in 100 five times. The switch-hitter hit 287 homers and collected 2,336 hits in his career.
New York Yankees who reached base 300 times in a season
Babe Ruth … Nine times
Lou Gehrig … Nine times
Mickey Mantle … Twice (1956, 1957)
Derek Jeter … 1999
Bernie Williams … 1999
Jason Giambi … 2002
Alex Rodriguez … 2005