Monday, September 18, 2006

Change of tune? | Yankees' Williams may retire to further music career

Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams is contemplating retirement, though not for the usual reasons. It isn't because age or diminishing skills have taken their toll; judging by this year and last, Williams' skills, at age 38, are far from depleted after patrolling the Bronx outfield for the last 16 seasons.

Instead, Williams is considering leaving the game to further a career in music. Williams told that the lure of family and music are making him think twice about returning to the Yankees next year.

"One day I feel like coming back, one day I feel like my family wants me back," said Williams, who's batting .281 in a part-time role, 32 points higher than in his disappointing 2005 season. "I think I could probably play a couple more years. But there are actually a couple things that are making me think a little bit more." If he left, Williams said, "a little would be about family, a little about music."

Williams always envisioned himself playing baseball until he absolutely knew he couldn't play anymore, and "in some ways that's what I still want to do," he says. In other ways, this could be it for Williams, the beloved Yankee who's one of the franchise's all-time clutch hitters but who's also an accomplished classical guitarist. He composed seven songs on his '04 debut album, The Journey Within, which received favorable reviews.

Two teammates predicted that Williams would return to the Yankees next year, but Williams isn't ready to commit. The Yankees have a crowded outfield picture with four starters already tied to the team for '07 -- Melky Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon -- even if, as expected, Gary Sheffield's $13 million option isn't picked up.

After suffering through a season in which he hit .249 while struggling to determine his role on the club, Williams badly wanted to come back to the Yankees this season -- "I didn't like that too much," he said -- that he didn't entertain any outside offers and returned for only $1.5 million, an unusual 90 percent pay cut. The move didn't help a bargaining position affected by the notion that few can envision him playing elsewhere. Now, his value improved, he's somewhat less certain he wants to return.

"I'm trying to have as much fun as I can," says Williams. "At this stage of my career, every year seems like it could be my last. I feel like what I need to do is savor and take advantage of every opportunity that remains."

If he does leave, guitar in hand, he'll go out on a great note. Williams has been serenaded with cheers every time his name has been announced at Yankee Stadium this season, and he has responded with an unexpected resurgence.

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