Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
RIGHT ON Allen Barra
2003-06-03 08:05
by Alex Belth


Allen Barra had an excellent column on two of New York's best---yet somehow underappreciated---players, Mike Piazza and Bernie Williams, in the Times on Sunday. I've argued with Yankee fans for years about the merits of Bernie Williams, the team's quiet star. If Derek Jeter is overrated by the casual fan, then Bernie Williams is clearly underrated:

The strongest argument for Williams's value, though, might not be found in his personal statistics. "How many guys," said David Cone, who owes several of his victories to Williams's bat and glove, "have made so substantial a contribution to a dynasty as Bernie Williams and not made it to the Hall of Fame?"

Certainly not many. If Derek Jeter is considered on track for Cooperstown, why not Williams, whose contributions to seven consecutive Yankees playoff teams and five World Series teams have been neck and neck with those of Jeter?

The Yankees' rise to prominence in 1995 coincided with Williams's emergence as a star; the dynasty began to sputter a few weeks ago, close to when Williams hurt his knee. If the Yankees' rise and fall with Williams is a coincidence, it's the kind of coincidence Yankees fans will be hoping for again when, with luck, Williams returns in July and picks up his Hall of Fame bid.

Some Mets fans seem to want to blame all of the teams problems on their catcher's weak throwing arm. As if his lousy arm outweighs his tremendous offensive contributions, and completely obscures his other talents as a reciever (calling a good game, blocking the plate). Hey, when was the last time you didn't see Piazza bust his tail down the first base line?

This is the greatest offensive player at his position in the history of the game, but many Mets fans ask: what have you done for me lately? Again, I think this is a product of their overall frustration, but it is a shame, because although Piazza didn't have his peak years in New York, he did lead them to a World Serious, and has been the best hitter in team history:

The only question is how far Piazza is ahead of everyone else. Most baseball analysts agree that what a player hits on the road is much more indicative of his overall ability than what he hits in his home park. In Piazza's case, he has had the spectacular misfortune of spending most of his career playing his home games in perhaps the two worst hitters' parks in the National League or for that matter, in all of baseball Dodger Stadium (1992-98) and Shea Stadium (1998-present) with a five-game stint in Florida before coming to the Mets. The difference is almost heartbreaking. While most players tend to have slightly better numbers playing at home, Piazza's career batting average in his home parks (including this season) is .302 and his career average in other parks is .338, according to Stats Inc.

The gaps between home and road in his other stats are equally eye-opening. His career on-base percentage on the road is .405, 34 points higher than his home mark, and his career road slugging percentage is 72 points higher.

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