|Team||New York Yankees|
|Years of Experience||15 years|
|Height||6 ft 2 in|
|College||University of Puerto Rico|
|Place of Birth||San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|Selection||Amateur Free Agent, 1985|
|Drafted by||New York Yankees|
|Major League Debut||July 7, 1991|
Bernabé "Bernie" Figueroa Williams (born September 13, 1968 in San Juan, Puerto Rico) is a center fielder in Major League Baseball who was one of the top outfielders from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Known for his keen batting eye and consistency, Williams has played his entire career (1991-present) with the New York Yankees.
As a young man growing up in Puerto Rico Williams developed strong interests in baseball and classical guitar. He was also active in track and field, winning 4 gold medals at an international meet at the age of 15. He was one of the world's best 400-meter runners for his age. In choosing his career path, Williams decided that his musical interests would not fade with time as his baseball abilities perhaps would and ultimately decided to take up professional baseball. On his seventeenth birthday, September 13 1985, he signed with the New York Yankees.
Playing for the Yankee's Double-A team in Albany, he continued to develop his skills - particularly in the coveted area of switch hitting. Although viewed as a great prospect by the Yankee's management, his rise to the majors was delayed by the solid outfield that the major league team had developed in the early 1990s; an outfield filled by the popular Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Claudell Washington.
Never the less, he managed to break into the majors in 1991 to replace the injured Roberto Kelly for the second half of that season. He batted .238 in some 300 at bats. He was demoted to the minors until Danny Tartabull became injured and Williams earned his stay at center by putting up solid numbers.
Batting with a distinctively crouched stance he had become the regular Yankees center fielder by 1993 . The management of Buck Showalter helped keep Bernie with the Yankees through 1995, when George Steinbrenner sought to trade him. Steinbrenner was frustrated by the team's difficulty in placing him in any of the traditional baseball player molds. He had good speed, but rarely stole bases. In center he was highly capable at tracking down flyballs and linedrives, but had a substandard throwing arm. His batting average was consistantly strong in his early years, but he was without a significant showing of power. Throughout the early 1990s he hit in the middle of the order as the management tried to figure out where he fit in.
1995 was a breakout season for Williams. He cranked out 18 homeruns and posted an above .300 average. He led the team in runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases. That year the Yankees finally reached the post season after a drought of over a decade. Throughout 1996, Williams' power swing continued to develop and he was moved into the cleanup spot by manager Joe Torre, where he would bat for most of the next 5-6 years. The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year, thanks in large part to Bernie's clutch hitting in the playoffs.
It was also during this time that Williams developed his trademark keen eye at the plate. He gained a reputation as one of the smart batters in the game, and one of the game's toughest outs. After a disappointing 1997 season, Bernie guided the team as they reclaimed the World Series title in 1998, in what has been regarded as one of the most successful seasons of any team in the history of sports. The league-record 114 wins was coupled with a batting title for Williams that year, as he finished with a .339 average. He also took home the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award.
After that season Williams inked a seven year, 85 million dollar, contract with the Yankees. His team won the championship again in 1999, beating the Atlanta Braves for a second time, and 2000 in the subway series against the New York Mets. Since then, the Yankees have yet to win another World Series, but Williams has continued to be a staple of consistency for the team.
The 2003 and 2004 seasons brought major changes to the Yankees lineup. Whereas they had previously relied on the consistent, but low power, hitting of Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius and Derek Jeter, the ownership had now brought in all-star sluggers like Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Giambi. In 2004, the Yankees unthinkably lost the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox after holding a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The last year covered by his contract, 2005, has proven to be a difficult one for Bernie. His already weak arm has been highlighted and his fielding ability considerably weakened. However, he continues to play (sometimes in center, but most often as a DH) and come through for the team in clutch situations. Many have speculated that this will be his last year playing professional baseball. The Yankees announced on August 2, 2005 that they would not pick up the option on Williams' contract for the 2006 season, a further indication that this could be his last season.
Bernie Williams is often praised for his dignified showmanship on and off the field and is often regarded an example of excellent professional conduct in the sporting world. His friendly and cordial, if slightly withdrawn, style with fans and reporters has earned him the nearly unparalleled respect of New Yorkers and fans everywhere.
From 1997-2000 Williams won the Gold Glove Award for his center field play.
He has played in five All-Star Games.
He is referenced in the third season of the TV show The West Wing. The fictional president, Josiah Bartlet, mentions 'the centerfielder for the New York Yankees is an accomplished classical guitarist' to demonstrate to his opponent that popular entertainment such as athletics is not in contradiction with artistic entertainment.
- Williams' statistics on the Baseball Almanac site
- Williams' bio on the Baseball Library site
- Williams' statistics on the Baseball Reference site
For a baseball player from the 1970s named Bernie Williams, see Bernard Williams (baseball).