Good But, Not Great- Part One
The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part One
By Tim Kabel
January 17, 2022
As we scan the history of the Yankees, it’s easy to spot the all-time greats. The Hall of Famers jump out at us. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. The list goes on and on right up until Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. However, teams are not made up exclusively of all-time greats. The best teams have great players mixed in with journeymen, role players, and good but, not great players. These are the players who possess tremendous ability but, are not quite on the all-time elite level. These players will never be elected to the Hall of Fame but, they will receive standing ovations on Old Timers’ Day.
We see good but, not great performers in all venues. It’s not restricted to baseball, or even sports. Think of music. Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley are considered to be all-time greats. Dean Martin falls just a little short of their level. Yet, he remains extremely popular, more than 25 years after his death. In fact, there are many people who would rather listen to him than Sinatra or Elvis.
In film, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Marlon Brando, and Daniel Day-Lewis are all considered to be among our greatest actors. Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, and Harrison Ford are not Academy Award winning actors. Yet, there are many fans who enthusiastically slap down their money to buy tickets to their movies, which they thoroughly enjoy. And it’s the same way with our baseball teams. Many of the good but, not great baseball players are just as popular, if not more so than the superstar, Hall of Fame players.
The first good but, not great player in Yankees’ history whom I would like to recognize and celebrate is Bernie Williams. Bernie played his entire 16-year career with the New York Yankees. He was a five-time All Star, four-time World Series champion, ALCS MVP in 1996, four-time Gold Glove award winner, a Silver Slugger award winner in 2002 and the AL batting champion in 1998. Because he arrived on the scene a few years before Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte, he is not considered to be among the Core Four. Of course, if he were, it would have to be the Core Five, which doesn’t rhyme, and I suppose no one could think up something that rhymes with five. However, he was a key contributor to four World Series winning teams. His career numbers are solid: .297 batting average, 2336 hits, 287 home runs, and 1257 RBI. Those are impressive numbers but, they do fall short of Hall of Fame worthiness.
Bernie Williams was the favorite ballplayer of many fans during his career. His number has been retired and he is honored in Monument Park. He is definitely worthy of both of those tributes. He had an excellent career. If he had been able to play a few more years at a top level, we may well be talking about him as a Hall of Famer. But he didn’t. His career stands on its own merits and is an extremely impressive one. He exemplifies the good but, not great ballplayer. In many ways, those players are more essential to a successful team than the superstars.
Think about it. How many truly great players does a team usually have? The Yankees of the last World series championship dynasty had two Hall of Famers: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Roger Clemens might get in this year. Hall of Famers and all-time great players don’t float down the river very often. When they do, they make a huge difference but, it’s the players at the level below, the ones that just aren’t quite Hall of Famers that are the backbone to winning championships. Bernie Williams was clearly one of those players. He is an important part of Yankees’ history and is beloved by fans. The fact that he has achieved a successful career as a musician has helped keep him in the spotlight but even if he could only play songs on a comb and some tissue paper to entertain relatives, he would still always be a fan favorite. If any of the Yankees’ current top prospects develop into somebody with the ability of Bernie Williams, Yankees’ fans will be delirious and will embrace that player completely and enthusiastically.