IN LATE APRIL, New York sports pages trumpeted a curious bit of news: the retirement of five-time All-Star centerfielder Bernie Williams. Since Williams had not played in the majors since 2006, this was a mere formality. But it was also a prerequisite for the team to retire his number 51 jersey.
It was not as if Williams refused to move on. Instead, he has dived into a second act as a classically trained guitarist—in 2009 his Moving Forward was nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album. It was a natural transition for Williams, who used to spend home rain delays strumming his Fender Stratocaster and goad Derek Jeter into singalongs on team flights. Growing up in Puerto Rico, Williams spent hours on a balcony playing folk songs and attended Escuela Libre de Música, a performing arts high school in San Juan. But his passion became a hobby when the Yankees signed him on his 17th birthday, in 1985.
Even so, his 16 seasons in the majors—including four World Series wins and a batting title—didn't block his musical path. Williams released his first album, The Journey Within, while still an everyday player in 2003. Says his manager, Steve Fortunato: "[Baseball] essentially just interrupted his music career."
"They don't care about any of that. The most important thing for them is, Can he play? Can he hang with us at this level?"
June 22, 2015
+ On how fellow students at the Manhattan School of Music regard his age and previous career
"I get the opportunity to enjoy the moment a lot more, as opposed to thinking about the next at bat, the next game."
+ On the differences between life as a musician and as a baseball player
"Everything was really cool—except that they lost the game."
+ On Bernie Williams Day at Yankee Stadium
"I was just holding up the line for the other guys."
+ On how his failure to officially retire was preventing the Yankees from retiring not only his number but also those of former teammates Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte
"There's not a stat on notes made or notes failed or whatever. You kind of measure your success in the way you relate to people, that you can have the opportunity to perform with top players."
+ On his accomplishments as a musician