One Man's Bagpipe Is Another Man's Harmonica

June 15, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH--Odds are you're either a bagpipe lover or a bagpipe hater, with not much room in the middle. (Sample question from the cheap seats: Why did the chicken cross the road? Answer: To get away from the bagpipe recital. Sample question 2: What's the definition of a gentleman? Answer: Someone who knows how to play the bagpipe, but doesn't.)

What's that got to do with the U.S. Open? One of the rituals at Spanish Bay, just down 17 Mile Drive from Pebble Beach, is the daily visit from a bagpiper. It works for me, but I get how one man's masterpiece is another man's earache. Sort of like the harmonica. Every time I hear a bagpiper play, I can't help but think of "the harmonica incident," one of the classic anecdotes in the brilliant book, Ball Four, Jim Bouton's still-unmatched insider's look at baseball during the 1960s.

Bouton was a member of the New York Yankees in 1964 when a particularly demoralizing loss to the White Sox in Chicago left some Yanks with--let's stick with the music theme--tight piano wires.

Shortstop Phil Linz, bored in the back of the team bus, pulled out his harmonica and decided to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb," infuriating Manager Yogi Berra in the front of the bus. Berra, in no uncertain terms, yelled back and told Linz to end the concert. Linz, who couldn't hear Yogi's message through all the chatter, asked Mickey Mantle, "What did he say?" And Mantle, bless him, a Hall of Famer on and off the field, replied, "He said to play it louder."

Linz resumed, and a mild rumble ensued. All these years later, I can't hear a bagpiper without smiling and thinking, *Play it louder.

--Mike O'Malley*