August 10 – Happy Birthday Gerald Williams
I first saw today’s birthday celebrant play in 1990 when the “Williams boys,” Gerald and Bernie were patrolling the same outfield for the Albany Colonie Yankees, New York’s double A affiliate in the Eastern League. The two were pretty evenly matched in most offensive categories except one. Bernie walked a lot more than Gerald did and as a result had a much higher on base percentage. It was Bernie who moved up to the Yankees Triple A team in Columbus to begin the following season while Gerald stayed behind in Albany. It was also Bernie who got the first call-up to the parent club and it was Bernie who beat out Gerald to become the starting center fielder for the New York Yankees.
Gerald got his first cup-of-coffee look at Yankee Stadium in 1992 and by 1995 he was a permanent member of the big league team’s roster. He got into 100 games during the ’95 season, often as a late-inning defensive replacement and hit .247 for Buck Showalter’s wild card winners. He was doing even better the following year for new manager, Joe Torre. He was starting in left field and hitting a relatively solid .270 and leading the team in stolen bases. Then in late August, the Yankees made a trade that I remember upset me, not because New York got rid of Williams but because they also got rid of pitcher Bob Wickman. The two players were sent to Milwaukee for shortstop Pat Listach and lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd. I had been a Wickman fan since he went 6-1 as a starter during his 1992 Yankee debut. The Brewers would convert him to a closer and he would eventually become one of the best in the AL. Williams became the Brewers’ full-time center-fielder in 1997, playing in a career high 155 games. Unfortunately, he hit a very unproductive .252 with a woeful .288 on base percentage. He walked just 19 times in 601 plate appearances and it was most likely his lack of discipline at the plate that got him traded to Atlanta at the end of the ’97 season. He played better for the Braves and after two seasons playing for Bobby Cox he signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay. He had his best big league season in 2000, his first as a Devil Ray, when he set single-season career highs with 21 home runs and 89 RBIs, while averaging .274. His career then went downhill quickly.
He got off to a horrible start for Tampa Bay in 2001 and found himself released in June of that year. He was immediately re-signed by the Yankees but his hitting woes continued. He hit just .170 during the second half of 2001 and was 0-19 when New York released him the following June. He then played one season with the Marlins and two more as a Met never getting his average above the .230s and his big league career was over.
Williams was born in New Orleans on August 10, 1966. He remains a very close personal friend of Derek Jeter. He shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee outfielder and this former Yankee shortstop.