May 7 – Happy Birthday Dick Williams

WilliamsDickDick Williams began his playing career as an outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodger organization. An injury to his shoulder while still in the minors sapped the strength in his throwing arm and forced Williams to become an infielder. The Brooklyn Dodger infield of the early fifties was loaded with All Stars so Williams sat the bench but instead of wasting his time there, he learned how managers made decisions and he learned how to become one of baseball’s great bench jockeys.

His big league career as a utility infielder would last for 13 seasons, the final two of which were spent with the Red Sox in 1963 and ’64. It was during this stay in Boston that the Red Sox business manager and soon-to-be GM, Dick O’Connell took notice of William’s unbelievable intensity and baseball smarts and helped him secure a player/coach position in the organization’s farm system. A year later, he was given the manager’s job with Boston’s triple A affiliate in Toronto and he led that team to two consecutive International League pennants. By then, O’Connell had taken over as Boston’s general manager and he promoted Williams to take over as manager of the parent club for the 1967 season.

It had been a long time since the Fenway faithful had seen winning Red Sox baseball. After the core four of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky had dissolved, the Boston front office had made a lengthy series of unsuccessful player personnel decisions. It also seemed as if the top qualification for being hired as the team’s manager had been that you had to be a drinking buddy of Tom Yawkey, the team’s filthy rich owner. That all changed when O’Connell and Williams came on the scene. Williams was able to make astute use of a rich vein of young talent emerging from the team’s farm system and his strict “do it my way or else” style of managing was the perfect tonic for a team that had grown lazy and uninspired during the earlier rein of Yawkey yes-men.

Williams stressed fundamentals, technique and an aggressive style of play. If you didn’t perform you didn’t play. If you didn’t behave, you were disciplined. He pulled all the strings perfectly during his first unforgettable “Impossible Dream” season as Boston skipper in 1967 and came within a few innings of winning a World Championship. He wasn’t able to repeat that miracle, but when Yawkey fired him during the last month of the ’69 season, he had converted a team with a “loser” reputation into one that no team in the American League looked forward to playing.

Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and passed away in 2011, at the age of 82. Here’s the capsule description of his managerial career that appears at the Hall of Fame’s Web  site: “Dick Williams embodied a hard-nosed style that brought success to previously underachieving teams. A big league player for 13 seasons, Williams would skipper the Boston Red Sox, Oakland A’s, California Angels, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners during a 21-year career. Only the second manager, along with Bill McKechnie, to win pennants with three different clubs, he won World Series titles with the A’s in 1972 and 1973, an American League pennant with the Red Sox in 1967 and a National League flag with the Padres in 1984. Williams ended his career with 1,571 wins and 1,451 losses.”

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