Some athletes—after a successful playing career—retire to broadcasting, coaching or settle into plain obscurity. They do not have the tools required to enter a successful life after sports. Players by profession spend years learning to recognize the spin on a curve ball or how to go back on a pop up, but being able to turn on high heat does not translate to life after you leave the locker room. Bernie Williams is the exception to the rule.
Bernie Williams and Yankee Heritage
Williams carried on the prestigious Yankee lineage of beloved center fielders that include names like Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer. He went from playing arguably the most prestigious position on the diamond, center field, for the most prestigious team, the New York Yankees, to a successful music career.
Williams has a flair for the dramatic. A smile creeps across my face every time I recall Game 1 of the 1996 ALDS (some of you remember this as the “Jeffery Maier” game). In the bottom of the 11th, Berne Williams ended the game with a walk off homer against Baltimore’s Randy Myers. I recall Yankee announcer John Sterling shouting “It is high, it is far, it is Goneeee! Bern baby Bern!” This moment is permanently burned into my memory. Williams has always been an exceptional entertainer. Now that he has traded one passion (baseball) for another (music), he has successfully started a new career.
As Bernie Williams and 8 of his friends graced the stage of The Space at Westbury, the Yankee “roll call” started. Almost in unison the chant of Bern-ie started. After acknowledging the crowd, like a professional, he picked up his pick and guitar and strummed for the next 2+ hours.
Playing alongside Bernie Williams was a member of Billy Joel’s band Richie Cannata. Williams and Cannata were perfectly paired this night. They started with several jazz instrumentals like “African Blues” and “Songo” from his album “Moving Forward.” Williams has always been a soft spoken individual, who seemed to shy away from making comments. During some of his between songs banter he reminded Yankee fans, “You don’t want the 2014 Bernie Williams, you want the 2006 Bernie Williams,” and no he “can not play third base.”
They did a cover of “Imagine” by John Lennon and Richie Cannata sang this piece flawlessly. Cannata and the rest owned this. Their rendition was rhythmic, melodic and at the end heavier than the original. I really enjoyed it. The other Jazz standards they played were well thought out and executed very well.
Bernie Williams was a fantastic ball player. He was as clutch as any player of his time, and I believe he did it without the help of performance enhancing drugs. His number, 51, will possibly be retired in Monument Park one day. As good a baseball player he was, his second career can be even better. Williams is a savant with a guitar in his hands. I only wish I had as much talent in one endeavor as Williams had in two.