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Game 97: Weekend At Bernie's

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Bernie Williams got his number retired. I'm cool with that.

Williams at a Mets/Marlins game in Puerto Rico, 2010.
Williams at a Mets/Marlins game in Puerto Rico, 2010.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Time: 6:10 CST (00:10 GMT). Vegas Line: NYY -110/+100 MIN
Weather: 85 And Humidor-y
TV: FSN. Radio: You Turn Me On

This year, the Yankees retired Bernie Williams's number, meaning that team will soon have to start using Bingo designations on jerseys. ("Now batting, the first baseman, number N-37 . . .") Who is Bernie Williams?

In Puerto Rico, Williams began playing baseball and guitar at age seven. He liked guitar from the start. Baseball was a tougher sell. In his first game, completely clueless, Williams got a chance to pinch-hit late. He made contact, then became confused and annoyed to find out the game was over already (since he'd driven in the winning run.)

A pre-med major in college, Williams chose to focus on baseball instead. His first purchase after getting a big-league check from the Yankees was a Stratocaster guitar, as he never stopped loving music. (His brother is a classically-trained cellist, and Williams a classically-trained guitarist. What does "classically trained" mean? I dunno, but it's really, really hard to do.)

You can imagine how such a hobby would strike teammates, who routinely made dumb song requests or asked Williams to stop playing on the plane. In this longish, NYT-ish NYT piece, we meet old Dodgers violinist Eddie Basinski, who had to convince manager Leo Durocher and fellow players that musical proficiency doesn't make one a "pantywaist." (Oh, those kooky '40s words!)

As a Yankee, Williams started slow, and owner/self-styled genius Steinbrenner often thought Williams would never amount to much. In one of his early games Williams whiffed five times, the first Yankee to do so in 57 years. Imagine the pain of Yankee fans in the mid-90s; their boyos hadn't won a title since 1977. Almost 20 years! That's, like, 200 years for a normal team that doesn't deserve to win every season.

Defying Steinbrenner's predictions, Williams became an All-Star, Gold Glover (those glove awards are never given out to weak-hitting talents on losing teams, as you know), and amassed insanely clutch (read, lucky) postseason hitting moments over his career. He was a major face of Yankee resurgence. Imagine if Torii or Jacque or Mientkiewicz had made playoff contributions to a Twins title; they'd have been even better-loved than now. Williams was untradeable and unreleasable; he finished his MLB career in NYC.

While his playing days ran out, Williams continued his classical guitar training (whatever that entails) and released a Latin jazz album. It sold well enough for him to make another; the second received a Grammy nomination. He co-wrote a book, "Rhythms Of The Game: The Link Between Musical And Athletic Performance" with fellow musicians Dave Gluck and Bob Thompson.

Since I try for y'all, I listened to Williams's Grammy album, I read his book. Um; they're musical? The book has a blurb by James Taylor, king of smooth non-threatening adult-oriented 70s radio, and the album sounds much like that to me (although no doubt the skill involved is tremendous, as Taylor's is.) I'm no jazz savant, but I liked the few quirky/funky tunes better than the soothing ones.

The book compiles short essays comparing baseball to musicianship and expressing how both can get Into The Zone. Which is a tolerable concept, I guess. It features several shaded-box contributions by one Don Greene, a "sports psychologist" who writes about things like the "six levels of awareness" and seems a complete con artist to me. The rest of it has better shaded-box guests and some OK observations on what musicians and athletes have in common; they read like Williams actually wrote quite a few of them, which is rare for sports-figure books.

For example: Williams refused using walk-up music; he liked ballpark sounds better. He thought ambient fan noise had its own musicality -- and learned to judge flies off the bat by what tone they made. (My favorite shaded-box bit by professor Meagan Curtis explains how fan chants like "Who's Your Daddy" adhere to musical rules and are expressed in minor thirds.)

Like our man Torii, Williams has palled around with politicians; both heart Huckabee. Williams usually did so to raise money for supporting music education in schools, though, so he gets a semi-pass. And his album has a version of "Glory Days" with The Boss (not Steinbrenner), which lowers the ick factor.

Williams interests me because of how seriously he takes his music; he doesn't want to be thought of as an ex-athlete novelty act. You have to admire someone who believes coasting on fame is not any kind of existence. And while Williams's jazz will never blow anyone's mind, it appears he's very respected by other professional musicians who aren't superstars, yet make a living and constantly try to improve their craft.

Here's a clip of Williams playing the baseball anthem. His short intro is really heartfelt and endearing; it's not hard to see what Yankee fans love about the guy.

As a good quote from Mick Jagger in Bernie's book puts it, "you can play music forever. It's not like playing baseball."

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Our tossers are Mayday Milone and CC (many, many cubic centimeters) Sabathia. Milone got mauled last Sunday; Sabathia has been scuffling for about a year and a half. Judge the meaning of these things from their digits:

Entity ERA H/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 OPS v. L/R baBIP FIP
Milone 3.38 8.6 6.4 2.9 1.4 .477/.834 .268 4.71
C.C. 5.25 10.8 7.7 1.8 1.6 .455/.921 .336 4.32

No Yankee has more than seven ABs against Milone; not so for CC & the Twins (which sounds like a sitcom title.) Plouffe, Hunter, and Suzuki have all done well against him; Mauer poorly. It's worth noting that Didi Gregorius is one of the top five coolest names in baseball, that should count.

Lineups (someone's missing for the Twins, I can't tell who):

Evil Empire Loves Kittens & Puppies
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF Brian Dozier. 2B
Chris Young, LF Aaron Hicks, CF
A-Roid, DH Plouuuuufe, 1B
Marx Teixera, 1B Miguel Sano, DH
Carlos Beltran, RF Torii Hunter, RF
Chase Headley, 3B Shane Robinson, ugh
JohnRyan Murphy, C Eduardo Escobar, 3B
Brendan Ryan, SS Kurt Suzuki, C
Stephen Drew, 2B Danny Santana, SS