Thursday, June 5, 2014

Random Ex-Brave: Gerald Williams

Time to dust off another series. Weekly columns keep me writing and adding a sprinkling of extra columns gives me plenty of content. Similar to the Random Prospect series, I will randomly chose players from the Braves years since 1991, the year my nine-year old former self fell in love with the team. The latest ex-Brave is a fun one.  He had the best run of his career with the Braves, but his most memorable moment elsewhere.  His value to his blog is huge and I'll get to that later.  Gerald Williams was a fourth outfielder throughout his career, first with the Yankees from 1992-96.  Unfortunately for him, he was dealt before the Yankees won the first World Series of the 90's as the Yanks pulled off a waiver-deal with the Brewers.  Going to Milwaukee was future Brave Bob Wickman while Pat Listach, Graeme Lloyd, and Ricky Bones went to the Yankees.

The deal meant that Williams finally got the opportunity to be a starter.  However, there was a reason why Williams spent his time with the Yankees as a fourth outfielder getting at-bats against left-handers.  In 601 PA with the then-AL Brewers in 1997, Williams hit .252/.282/.369.  He set career highs in just about every category, but he still sucked and after the season, the Brewers traded an "everyday" center fielder to Atlanta for a middle reliever with 30 games in the majors and known control issues in Chad Fox.  Maybe they were looking to cut salary or just didn't like Williams.

In Atlanta, Williams became part of the 1998 picture for the Braves.  Atlanta was platoon-heavy in '98 in both left and in right with Ryan Klesko/Danny Bautista in left and Williams sharing time with Michael Tucker in right.  Williams played a little in left and backed up Andruw Jones in center, who was an everyday player for the first time in '98.  Williams responded with his best offensive season, slashing his way to .305/.352/.504.  The more the season progressed, the more Bobby Cox relied on Williams.  After 18 starts from April-to-June, he started 33 games from July to the end of the season.  As is the case with his career, Williams destroyed lefties with a 1.024 OPS.

If Williams broke through in 1998, he became an integral member of the Braves the following season.  With the loss of Andres Galarraga to cancer, Klesko moved to first base, leaving left field empty.  Williams stepped in and started 78 games in left and and 92 overall while leading off 73 times.  His slash was .275/.333/.457 with 17 homeruns.  He was also better in the second half, OPSing .821 and an even .900 during in the final month.  His bat stayed hot in the NLDS against the Astros as he went 7-for-18.  However, in the NLCS and World Series, he struggled badly.

With that in mind, this needs to be said.  My blog is called Walk-Off Walk, a nod to the improbable victory in the 1999 NLCS against the Mets.  We might remember that Andruw Jones was at the plate.  We also might remember that Kenny Rogers was on the mound.  However, do you remember who scored the run?  GERALD WILLIAMS!  He had doubled to open the inning.  After Bret Boone bunted him along, both Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan were intentionally walked before the series-winning Walk-Off Walk.

That's not even his most memorable moment, of course.  After Atlanta let him leave via free agency following the season, Williams signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  On September 8th, 2000, Williams was hit by the fourth pitch of the game by Pedro Martinez.  He charged the mound and IT WAS ON!

Unfortunately for Williams, 2000 was his last decent season.  In 256 games to finish his career, Williams hit .200/.258/.323 while playing for the Rays, Yankees, Marlins, and Mets.  But he will always have the honor of scoring on the Walk-Off Walk.  And of course, this....

2 comments:

  1. What really happened with Williams in 1999 was that he was again a platoon player, starting versus left-handed pitching in left field (the Braves had inked Brian Jordan to be the everyday right fielder) for most of the first four months of the season. Initially that year, Atlanta gave major playing time to Otis Nixon, back for his second tour of duty as a Brave, in left field, hoping that Nixon's speed and leadoff abilities could spark the lineup. But although Nixon could still run at the age of forty (he ended up stealing a team-high 26 bases in 33 attempts), he did not hit and eventually saw himself reduced to a pinch-runner. With Nixon losing his place as a starter against right-handed pitching, Bobby Cox turned to a system of two platoons in early June. He shifted Klesko back to left field, where the converted first baseman platooned with Williams, and at first base, he now started former prospect Randall Simon versus right-handed pitching as part of a platoon with Brian Hunter (like Nixon, Hunter was a member of the vintage early nineties Braves' teams who was now back for a second tour of duty with Atlanta).

    The platoons proved highly productive; the left-handed Klesko and Simon both excelled versus right-handed pitching that summer, while the right-handed Williams and Hunter proved effective against left-handed pitching. But in early August, with the Braves having fallen out of first place and having received virtually nothing out of the leadoff spot, where aging shortstops Walt Weiss and Ozzie Guillen (both of whom were thirty-five) had faltered, Chipper Jones went to Cox and told his manager that he liked Williams leading off in front of him (Chipper, of course, was batting third). Williams was certainly not a natural leadoff hitter or an especially patient hitter (or even an efficient base stealer), but unlike Weiss and Guillen, he possessed extra-base pop and speed. Williams offered a presence, athleticism, and the ability to move himself into scoring position atop Atlanta's lineup. Plus, he excelled defensively, and Atlanta was certainly a better defensive club with Williams in left field and Klesko at first base as opposed to Klesko in left field and Simon at first base. After making Williams the full-time left fielder on August 5, 1999, the Braves went 39-14 (.736, a 119-win pace) over the rest of the regular season to ultimately trump the Mets in a great pennant race. Williams especially excelled in September, when he batted .298 with a .371 on-base percentage, a .529 slugging average, and 5 home runs.

    Also of note: Williams was the guy that Bobby Cox sent to center field to replace Andruw Jones in July 1998 when Cox pulled the twenty-one-year old Jones in the middle of an inning for failing to hustle.

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