Friday, July 8, 2011

Dick Williams 1929-2011

Baseball lost one of it's all-time greats yesterday. Former player and Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams died in Las Vegas from an apparent brain aneurysm. He was 82 years old.

As a player, Dick Williams was good enough to play in over 1000 games in 13 seasons at the major league level. He made three pinch hitting appearances in the 1953 World Series as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1964 he finished his playing career as a member of the Boston Red Sox with a .260 career batting average.

It was as a manager that he became a Hall of Famer. Immediately after retiring as a player, he spent three seasons managing in the Red Sox farm system. In 1967, prior to the start of the season Williams was named the new manager in Boston. The season before taking over the team finished ninth and the franchise had not won a pennant in 21 years. His first season he led the "Impossible Dream" Red Sox to the World Series, where they lost the Cardinals in seven games. Under his command, all-star Carl Yastrzemski was stripped of the title "Captain" because Williams didn't want anyone to question who was in charge. Refreshed and focused after having the heavy yolk of peer leadership removed, Yaz went on to win the last triple crown in baseball history.

In 1972 & 1973 he managed the Oakland A's to the first two of what would be three straight World Championships. These powerful and colorful A's teams included superstars like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Sal Bando and Bert Campaneris. He shocked his team and the baseball world after he announced he was quitting the Oakland dynasty immediately following the 1973 World Series. The reason: Williams had had enough of owner Charlie Finely and was angry at the embarrassing attempt to remove second baseman Mike Andrews from the roster with a phantom injury after Andrews had made a pair of errors earlier in the series. The A's went on to win a third straight ring under Alvin Dark in 1974.

George Steinbrenner actually named him as the manager of the 1973 Yankees, but it never happened. Feeling jilted after giving Williams his "best wishes", Charlie Finley filed a suit in federal court to prevent Williams from going to New York. His claim was Williams was still under contract with the Athletics. Finley apparently demanded two Yankee prospects in exchange. The Yankees balked and hired Bill Virdon instead. Finley eventually relented and Williams became manager of the Angels in the middle of the 1974 season and stayed in Anaheim for 3 seasons.

Dick Williams went on to manage the Montreal Expos, where he was unexpectedly fired in the middle of 1981 season. That '81 Expos team went on to deliver the only playoff appearance in franchise history. He also managed the San Diego Padres, where he led the Padres to the 1984 National League pennant and a trip to the World Series against the Detroit Tigers. He finished his managerial career with three seasons in Seattle. The 78 wins his 1987 Mariners delivered was the most in the first 14 seasons of the franchise. In 1993, George Steinbrenner was finally able to hire Dick Williams, this time an adviser and scout. He remained with the Yankees for 10 years and undoubtedly had a hand in building the Yankees teams that won three straight World Series titles from 1998-2000.

In his 21 years as a major league manager Williams finished with a .520 winning percentage, four pennants, and two World Series Championships. He is one of two managers in baseball history to lead three different teams to World Series appearances. Dick Williams was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by Veteran's Committee as Manager in 2008. His Hall of Fame plaque shows him wearing an A's cap.

In addition to being a great manager, it is my opinion that Dick Williams was blessed to wear some of the most interesting and memorable (and most colorful) uniforms in baseball history.


wiedep said...

Williams was a paranoid nutcase.

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