The Rotation: A look at Bernie Williams, Baseball’s Best Musician?
Welcome to The Rotation! This is a new weekly column, written by yours truly, that talks about the wonderful blended worlds of baseball and music. These two have been staples of Americana for centuries, and are as big a part of our culture as apple pie and Chevrolet. My goal is to pick a different topic between the beautiful, unified world of baseball and music and write about it each week.
Additionally, each week will also feature a segment detailing a personal favorite walk-up song, either historical or current. I’ll try to do one hitter and one pitcher walk-up each week as well. Nothing is more fun than a player with a unique, punny, or just outright rocking walk-up tune.
Without further ado, let’s get it started in here with a look at Bernie Williams, who could make the argument as baseball’s most successful musician.
Baseball’s Best Musicians: Bernie Williams
How many people have earned a bachelor’s degree in music, signed with Paul McCartney’s publishing company, released two albums that charted in the top five in their genre, collaborated with Bruce Springsteen, and got nominated for a Latin Grammy?
How many of those people also made five MLB All-Star games and won an ALCS MVP award?
Former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams is a unique one, that’s for sure. The star center fielder on the powerhouse 1990s Yankees teams, Williams traded in his lumber for an acoustic guitar after he retired. He had played guitar ever since he was a kid in Puerto Rico, which made the transition a smooth one.
He frequently played guitar in the clubhouse across his 16-year career, catching the attention of his teammates. One of them was right fielder Paul O’Neill, who brought his buddy Bruce Springsteen on a clubhouse tour. Springsteen signed Williams’s guitar by saying, “To Bernie, if you ever get tired of baseball….Bruce Springsteen.”
While Williams may never have gotten sick of baseball, he eventually retired and, on his 2009 album Moving Forward, he did in fact collaborate with ‘The Boss.’
“It’s been really hard for me to look at music as a profession!” Williams said in an interview with Making Music Magazine back in 2011. “With baseball, obviously, the three or four hours I spent on the field playing were fun, but there was a lot of preparation that had to happen before that moment. I never felt that way with music.”
Williams says that this could mean that music is, and has always been, his true calling. “Music has always been more like a steady, very enjoyable process. Every skill I acquire has opened the door to discovering more things, whether it’s harmony, rhythm, tone—it’s such a joyful experience,” he said. “I think your true calling in life is something that, even if you didn’t get paid, you could still do it.”
All told, Williams released two albums: The Journey Within (2003) and Moving Forward (2009). Williams has since gone to the Manhattan School of Music, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Music in 2016—although he has not released any music publicly since then.
Williams is not the first baseball player to dabble with music, although it could be argued that he is the most accomplished. Future editions of ‘The Rotation’ will discuss a handful of other baseballers turned musicians, and we will discuss who was actually the best of the group.
Walk-up Song(s) of the Week
Hitter: Ryon Healy – Party Up (Up in Here) (DMX)
I went to the Mariners’ second home game of the season last week, a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox thanks to an injured Hunter Strickland giving up a pinch-hit, three-run tater to Mitch Moreland. While the game was a disappointment for Mariners fans, it was a blast to hear some of the new walk-up music for the 2019 season.
The one that immediately caught my attention was 3B Ryon Healy, who turned back the clock with DMX’s 1999 classic Party Up (Up in Here). Nothing quite like watching the whitest dude in America, hailing from a Catholic all-boys school in the West Hills, walking up while DMX’s booming, aggressive voice belts out the song’s iconic opening line: “Y’all gonna make me lose my mind (up in here, up in here).” Healy just started using Party Up this season, and it appears to be working: he’s hitting .310 with two home runs and a league-leading six doubles and eight runs scored on the young season.
Plus, sharing this song allows me to share my favorite baseball connection to DMX: this outstanding meme from 2014, created by MLB Memes, when the Upton brothers were both roaming the Atlanta outfield together:
That’s gold Jerry. Gold.
Pitcher: Joe Nathan – Stand up and Shout (Steel Dragon)
If you notice in the intro, I never promised that I’ll only be writing about good walk-up songs. In fact, I think it’ll be more fun to talk about some not-so-great decisions made by hitters/pitchers/whichever intern set the walk-up music that day.
Do you all remember the movie Rock Star? That particularly horrible 2001 movie starring Mark Wahlberg as an overnight famous rockstar, who struggles to maintain his relationship with a poorly casted Jennifer Aniston after he takes over as the lead singer of his favorite childhood band? It’s as rough as it sounds, and for some reason longtime Twins closer Joe Nathan heard the movie’s lead track, Stand up and Shout, which was actually written by Sammy Hagar and performed by the band Dio, and decided that’s the song he wanted to save over 300 MLB games listening to. Wow.
The song itself makes fundamental sense, as it wills the crowd (literally) to stand up and shout, but it’s not exactly a song I’d want to be associated with as my walk up song. To each his own I suppose.
Last piece. I am creating a spotify playlist of all the walk-up songs that I discuss over the course of the season. It is called “Pitcher List Walk Up Jams” and is shared for anyone who wants it.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)