When he retired in 2006, he was ninth of all active players lifetime in doubles (449), and 10th in runs scored (1,366), singles (1,545), and times on base (3,444). He trails only Lou Gehrig's 534 for lifetime doubles as a Yankee.
Early life and career
Williams was born in San Juan, but grew up in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, and as a teen, Bernie developed strong interests in classical guitar as well as baseball. He was also active in track and field, winning four 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.
Playing for the Yankees' AA team in Albany, he continued to develop his athletic skills — particularly in the coveted area of switch hitting. Although viewed as a great prospect by Yankee management, his rise to the Majors was delayed by the solid outfield that the team had developed in the early 1990s.
Nevertheless, 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 was injured, and Williams earned his stay at center by putting up solid numbers.
Williams had become the regular Yankees center fielder by 1993. Buck Showalter helped keep him 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 fly balls and line drives, but had a weak throwing arm. He was a consistent hitter, but lacked home run power. Throughout the early 1990s he hit in the middle of the order as management tried to figure out where he fit in.
1995 was a breakout season for Williams. He hit 18 home runs and led the team in runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases. Bernie continued his hot hitting into the postseason, leading the Yankees with a .429 batting average in the ALDS against Seattle. Bernie's breakout season was later attributed to his close friendship with Jeff Pontebbi. Jeff also assisted Bernie with his first publicly released CD. The two remain good friends to this day.
After continuing to improve in 1996, Bernie again showcased his skills to the baseball world in the postseason. He batted .467 in the ALDS against Texas and played a sparkling center field. He picked up where he left off in the ALCS against Baltimore, belting an 11th-inning walk-off homer in Game 1. Ending with a .474 ALCS average and two homers, Bernie was named the ALCS MVP. Bernie collected just four hits in the 1996 World Series but his 4 RBI led the Yankees and a clutch homer in the eighth inning of Game 3 got the Yankees their first of four consecutive wins to capture the team's first championship since 1978.
During the 1998 season, in which the Yankees went 114-48 to set an American League record, Williams finished with a .339 average, becoming the first player to win a batting title, Gold Glove award, and World Series ring in the same year.
After that season, Williams inked a 7-year, $87.5-million contract with the Yankees, one of the largest in baseball at the time. The Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks were the main contenders for Bernie's services. For the length of the contract, the Yankees made the playoffs every single year, and as a result Bernie continued to add to his postseason statistics, placing in the top 10 of various career postseason categories. He also climbed the Yankee record books, placing him in the elite company of former Yankee greats.
The last year covered by his contract, 2005, proved to be a difficult one. He started 99 games in center field and 22 games as designated hitter, but his already weak arm was highlighted as his fielding and batting abilities considerably weakened. He had a career-worst .321 OBP and batting average on balls in play (.274). As expected, the Yankees announced on August 2, 2005, that they would not pick up the $15 million option on Williams' contract for the 2006 season, opting to pay a $3.5 million buyout instead. In December Williams was offered arbitration by team general manager Brian Cashman to allow an additional month for negotiation. On December 22, the Yankees re-signed Williams to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract.
In 2006, Williams saw a good amount of playing time in the corner outfield spots with both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield out with wrist injuries, and did spot duty in center field on days when starting center fielder Johnny Damon was given time off to rest, playing more than was expected when he signed his one-year extension with the Yankees in 2006.
Williams was one of the Puerto Rican players to agree to play for Puerto Rico in the 2006 MLB World Baseball Classic, joining Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltrán, Mike Lowell, Javier Vázquez, and José Vidro amongst others representing the US Territory island nation in a team managed by St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo.
On July 26, 2006, Williams got his 2,300th career hit, becoming the 11th active player in the Majors with 2,300 or more career hits. Bernie continued to climb the Yankees record books by hitting his 443rd career double on August 16, 2006, surpassing then-bench coach Don Mattingly for second-most as a Yankee. For the year, he walked only 7.3% of the time, a career-worst.
Williams' contract expired at the end of the 2006 season. He was hoping to return to the Yankees in 2007, and was willing to accept a role as a back-up outfielder and pinch hitter. The Yankees, however, were short on roster space, but offered Williams an invite to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, giving him a chance to compete for a job. Williams, however, wanted a guaranteed roster spot and declined a non-roster invitation to camp.  After having sat out the entire 2007 season, Williams's career appears to be over. Although the Yankees have not retired his number, 51, it has also not been re-issued since his contract expired.
In addition to his accolades on the baseball field, Bernie is also a critically-acclaimed musician. A classically trained guitarist, playing and composing music is Bernie’s first true passion with influences that include jazz, classical, pop, Brazilian, and Latin sounds.
His major label debut, The Journey Within, was released in 2003. In addition to playing lead and rhythm guitar, Williams composed seven songs for the album. Tracks like “La Salsa En Mi” and “Desvelado” mix Bernie’s love of jazz with the sophisticated Latin rhythms of his Puerto Rican heritage.
The first single was a remix of his “Just Because”, featuring David Benoit. Other highlights include Williams’ heartfelt tribute to his father, “Para Don Berna”, a reworking of the Baden Powell song, “Samba Novo”, and “La Salsa En Mi”, featuring background vocals from 2003 Grammy Winner Ruben Blades and salsa legend Gilberto Santa Rosa. Also joining Williams is an all-star ensemble of musicians including multiple Grammy-winning banjo player Bela Fleck, keyboardist David Sancious, percussionist Luis Conte, bassist Leland Sklar, guitarist Tim Pierce, and drummers Kenny Aronoff and Shawn Pelton, among others.
As of 2007, he holds career postseason records for games (121), doubles (29), runs batted in (80) and extra base hits (51). On October 5, in Game 2 of the 2007 American League Division Series, Manny Ramírez broke Bernie's post-season home run record of 22 when he hit a walk-off home run off the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Standing on Yankee all-time lists as of the beginning of the 2008 season:
- 2nd all-time in doubles
- 4th all-time in walks
- 5th all-time in hits
- 5th all-time in extra-base hits
- 6th all-time in home runs
- 6th all-time in RBIs
- List of famous Puerto Ricans
- Black history in Puerto Rico
- Bernie Williams (1970s outfielder), former MLB left fielder
- List of major league players with 2,000 hits
- List of Major League Baseball players with 400 doubles
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 runs
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 RBI
- List of Major League Baseball batting champions
- Bernie Williams Information and Tribute Page
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
|American League Championship Series MVP
|American League Player of the Month
|American League Batting Champion