Bernie Williams on Guitars & MLB

“My dad was a merchant marine, and he traveled all over the world,” says former New York Yankees star Bernie Williams— who is not only the best guitarist in Major League Baseball, but also the best baseball player on the Latin jazz scene. “When I was about eight years old, he came back from Spain with a guitar. I just fell in love with the way it sounded. I took formal lessons with a neighborhood teacher, and then I was accepted to a performing arts school in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I started learning music theory and harmony, and I built up a classical repertoire—even though I was listening to a lot of rock bands, too. When I graduated from high school, the opportunity to play baseball was there, and I couldn’t refuse.
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“My first year with the Yankees, I went into a store in New York, and bought a multi-effects processor, a Gallien-Krueger amp, and a Fender Strat. I had a lot of access to jazz in Manhattan, and I started listening to guys like Mike Stern, John Scofield, Robben Ford, and Pat Metheny. I found all that to be really interesting harmonically, and I still do. My whole career, I always had a guitar in the clubhouse, and I’d bring an acoustic on the plane. I would sit behind Derek Jeter and serenade him [laughs]. He’d get mad if he was trying to sleep, but sometimes he’d sing along. It’s a lot scarier for me to play a gig than to face a new pitcher. In baseball, you play so many games that you always have a chance to redeem yourself. But, in music, you only have one chance to make a good impression.”

Williams hit 287 home runs in his career. Here he talks about his all-time favorite.

“The ones I hit in clutch situations were all special—playoffs, World Series, any game winner—but I do have a favorite. We were playing in Oakland and the bases were loaded. I had fouled off a few pitches and the count was at 2-2. The pitcher throws a ball low and I started walking to first base, because I had forgotten what the count was. I thought it was a full count. I got halfway down the line and everybody is yelling at me. The crowd is calling me names, the umpire is waving his finger at me. It was a really embarrassing moment. I picked up my bat, got back in the batter’s box, and the very next pitch I hit over the fence for a grand slam. That’s got to be my favorite home run of all time.”

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