Author's note: Dick Williams finally was elected to the Hall of Fame last year.
It was April, 1971. The Oakland A’s, favored to win the American League West under new Manager Dick Williams, were off to a bad start. Vida Blue was rocked by Washington, 8-0, in the Presidential Opener, and on a raw, cold day at the Oakland Coliseum, the A’s were swept in a double-header by Chicago. The team hit the road again, and continued to flounder. After losing, 10-5, to Kansas City on a Sunday, the club found itself bouncing through a thunder-and-lightning filled sky on the way to Milwaukee.
Williams fortified himself throughout the trip with scotch, in reaction to his team’s 2-4 record as much as the bumpy flight. By the time the plane touched down at Billy Mitchell Field, he was in a nasty mood. The players, relieved to be on <I>terra firma</I>, were in jovial spirits as they boarded the bus for the Pfister Hotel. As the bus rolled through the streets, traveling secretary Tom Corwin whispered to Williams that somebody had pilfered a battery-powered bullhorn, part of the plane’s emergency equipment.
Williams stood up, walked about a quarter of the way to the back of the bus, and faced the players.
“Gentlemen,” he began, “some of you think you can be pricks. But I’ve got news for you; I can be the biggest prick of all. I’ve been mild up to now.”
Williams then told his new team that there would be no more drinking on flights, and that if they knew what was good for them, everybody would stay in their rooms the entire trip, except to come to the ballpark.
Rollie Fingers threw a four-hit shutout the next afternoon (yes, Rollie Fingers), hitting three Brewers in the process. Blue tossed a two-hitter the next day, and Oakland went on to win 101 games and the division crown.
There are many different schools of thought. Some managers talk tough, but cannot or will not back it up. Dick Williams was the old school. He talked tough, and he backed it up.
Yesterday, the Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame announced that ex-Pirate infielder Bill Mazeroski and old-time Negro Leaguer Hilton Smith will be inducted into Cooperstown, but Williams did not make the grade.
Williams had been asked his opinion on the subject last week. Most guys reach into the Universal Cliché Handbook when confronted by such questions.
“If that’s God’s plan, then so be it.”
“I don’t worry about things beyond my control.”
“I absolutely deserve to be in there,” was Williams’ answer.
Williams Hall credentials are debatable, but the fact is that he was a first-class baseball man. He came out of Fremont High School in Los Angeles, a place that has produced more Major Leaguers than any high school in the country. Something that produces tough-as-nails managers must have been running through the water fountains at Fremont, because Gene Mauch came out of there, too.
Williams was not a great ballplayer, but like some other feisty Californians who would manage—Mauch and Billy Martin come to mind--he was a natural.
In 1966 he managed Boston’s AAA club to a championship, and the next year found himself in charge of a Red Sox team described as a “country club.” The team’s star, Carl Yastrzemski, was an overpaid, under performing outfielder. Williams lit a fire under Yaz, who won the Triple Crown and led Boston to within one game of the World Championship.
Williams could not get along with owner Tom Yawkey, one of the nicest guys in sports, and was fired a couple years later. In 1971 he was hired by The Anti-Nice. His name was Charles O. Finley.
Amazingly, these two fireballs were right for each other, for a while. Finley would call Williams at all hours of the day and night, at the hotel, at the park, at his home while barbequing on an off-day, to order line-up changes, roster maneuvers, different strategy.
Finely knew baseball and had a knack for scouting talent. The A’s were loaded, and in 1972 and ’73, the club won World Championships. At that point, Williams announced that he could no longer stand Finley, so he left to go to work for the loveable George Steinbrenner, who was in his post-illegal-contributions-to-Richard-Nixon period. Williams never actually did manage under George, who established a pattern of firing managers that lasted until the Joe Torre era.
Williams did return to lead San Diego to the Series in 1984, and had a 1571-1451 career record. One might speculate that had Williams been more personable with members of the press, like Sparky Anderson, he might be in the Hall. He and Bill McKechnie are the only managers to take three teams to the Fall Classic.
With all due respect to the loveable Bill Rigney, the Apostle Alvin Dark, the genius Tony LaRussa and the exalted Dusty Baker, Williams may just be the best manager in Bay Area history. Hall of Fame? If he had done what he did in New York, he would have been in there a long time ago.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
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