Did Bernie Williams really deserve to have his number retired?
As the New York Yankees bask in the recent crop of retired stars from their latest (now closed) dynasty, a parade of retired numbers is upon us. Derek Jeter (coming), Andy Pettitte (promised), and Mariano Rivera (already) are sure bets. On Sunday night, the Bronx Bombers retired #51 in Monument Park, that belonging to Bernie Williams. But was he deserving? Numbers point to “no”.
The New York Yankees have been a franchise of dynasties. From Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig; to Joe Dimaggio/Yogi Berra through Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris. A few years of Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson. Then the Core Four (plus a few) in the 1990s and 2000s. All of this has resulted in 27 titles and 20+ uniform numbers being retired in franchise history. Some are no-brain decisions (Ruth, Gehrig, Dimaggio, Ford, Mantle) and some are not as clear (Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly). Where does Bernie Williams fit in? In the “no as clear” set to be sure.
To set context, let’s take a look at Bernie Williams career statistical numbers. He had 16 productive years. Williams sported a .297 career batting average, 287 HR, 5 All-Star appearances, 4 gold gloves, and a batting title. And he was a part of four World Series Champion teams. At that glance, seems worthy. But compare him to other players of like numbers and then let’s see.
If you visit frequent the website “Baseball-Reference.com”, all players are compared to others of their age and entire career in terms of production. Here are some names that come up. Bobby Abreu. Dave Parker. Ellis Burks. None of those players have their numbers retired by anybody. Dave Parker was the best of that lot, he had 2 World Series titles, an MVP, more career HR, and similar batting average, All-Star appearances, and Gold Gloves. He did travel between more than one team, but the Pirates haven’t come close to honoring him. Other similar players include Paul O’Neill, Bobby Bonilla, and Will Clark. Again, All-Star appearances abound, but not necessarily franchise guys. Even if they played for one team, nobody would say for sure that their numbers would have been retired. Not even close. When I think of the great Yankees dynasty of the late 20th century, there are four or five or six players I think of before Bernie.
The argument the other way is the longevity of career. A lot of teams retire players numbers for longevity. If that’s it (like Mattingly) then that’s what it is. You would expect that from teams like the Kansas City Royals (Frank White) or Houston Astros (Jose Cruz). Those teams don’t have a litany of titles like the Yankees do. Williams’ World Series success (unlike Mattingly) also factor in. But there are a lot of Yankees that played on a lot of World Series teams that aren’t getting their numbers retired. Red Ruffing with >200 wins and 7 World Series titles, no retired number. Alex Rodriguez has more career home runs for the Yankees (and a titl)e and will end up with the same longevity and I doubt he’ll get that consideration.
There are a lot of numbers retired by teams that should never have been. But the New York Yankees should be discriminating. They are the Yankees. Only the best should be considered. But alas, they seem to be “rubber stamping” these like nobody’s business. It’s their right, but not all retired numbers are created equal.
– David Whitlock
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