Hall of Fame skipper Williams dies at 82
Won pennants with Red Sox, A's, Padres; enshrined in '08
The irascible man, known almost as much for his caustic tongue and grumpy demeanor as he was for his baseball acumen and success, has died, leaving the Hall of Fame without one of its most recent inductees. Dick Williams, a critical component in the Red Sox's Impossible Dream, the Athletics' World Series hat trick and the Padres' first World Series appearance, died Thursday morning.
Williams passed away two months after his 82nd birthday, 23 years after his final day managing and nearly three years after his Cooperstown induction. He made a mark in several big league cities as a player of modest skills and bench-jockeying expertise and as a manager who demanded performance and elicited success.
He and Lou Piniella are the only two men to produce 90-win seasons with four clubs -- Williams' were the Red Sox, A's, Padres and Expos -- and Williams and Bill McKechnie are the only managers to bring three franchises to the World Series.
Williams managed 21 seasons, his teams winning 1,571 games, 101 by the 1971 A's. Only 17 others managed more victories. The composite winning percentage of his six teams was .520, the 90th highest of all time.
Because of that ranking and perhaps because of his sense of others' regard for him, Williams doubted he ever would gain entry into the Hall.
"I'll tell you, when I died I was planning on having my ashes spread around the ballpark up there -- Doubleday Field," Williams said three summers ago. "I thought that might be the closest I got. I was hoping it would happen, but I didn't know if it would ever really happen."
Williams' son Mark told MLB.com Thursday that the family intends to follow through and have his father's ashes spread at the Hall.
Williams was in Las Vegas, his home for many years, when he passed. Plagued by a series of aneurysms, he died because of one just above his heart some 45 minutes after he was hospitalized. Mark Williams said his father had undergone multiple surgeries in later life to eliminate the problems, but that doctors were unable to repair the one that proved fatal.
Dick Williams is the sixth Hall of Famer to pass since May last year. Robin Roberts, Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, Duke Snider and Harmon Killebrew are the others.
"It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to Dick Williams today," A's managing partner Lew Wolff said Thursday in a statement. "He was a brilliant and feisty leader, and universally recognized as one of the greatest managers in Major League history. Beyond his status as a Hall of Famer, Dick's name will forever be associated with the Oakland Athletics, as he led the team to back-to-back World Series titles in 1972 and 1973, and played a key role in bringing the Bay Area its first ever team world championship. A's fans and our franchise will always have a warm spot in their hearts for Dick Williams. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."
Richard Hirschfeld Williams' greatest success came in '72 and '73, when he worked for renegade owner Charlie Finley in Oakland, creating an Odd Couple relationship. Finley and Williams had Oscar Madison traits. The colorful A's teams that included Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Sal Bando and Bert Campaneris became the first entry to win successive World Series since the Yankees of 1961 and '62. They denied the Reds in seven games in '72 and the "Ya Gotta Believe" Mets the following October, also in seven games.
Williams is depicted wearing an A's cap on his plaque in the Hall of Fame.
"[The Hall] asked me my opinion, and I said the Oakland A's and that was their thought," Williams said before his induction. "I like this [experience], and whatever they say, I'm going to do. This is the pinnacle. I've been fortunate to be on two World Series winners, but this, this is the ultimate goal, I would think, of any player or manager or baseball executive. It certainly is for me."
Not all baseball people found Williams' coarseness and unyielding manner unlikeable. Hall of Famer Rich Gossage had unconditional praise for the man who took the Padres to the World Series.
"I was elated to see that Dick [was elected]," Gossage said in 2008. "He deserved it. He's one of the best managers of all-time, in my opinion, and he's the best manager I ever played for. And that's taking in some great managers."
"He was a player's manager in a sense," former A's catcher Ray Fosse said Thursday. "Of course, Charlie was very tough on managers, but we always got the sense that Dick Williams was on our side no matter what was happening with Charlie. He was saying he had our back. There were so many things that went on that we had no clue about, and that's the way he wanted it. He wanted us to know that he was our manager, and no matter what happened, he had us.
"We knew things were going on, but Dick never let us know what was happening. We played to win and he was a very, very good manager. He was well-respected. ... I know that every one of those players that played for him is very sad. He was very well-respected, and what more can you say about playing for someone that you want to play hard for."
Williams is the fifth manager from his era to be inducted in the Hall. Anderson of the Reds and Tigers, Whitey Herzog of the Cardinals, Rangers and Royals, Tom Lasorda of the Dodgers and Earl Weaver of the Orioles are the others.
The A's were World Series champions in '74 as well, beating the Dodgers in five games. But Williams, intolerant of Finley's interference and also the owner's disparaging treatment of second baseman Mike Andrews during the '73 Series, had resigned. He was replaced by Alvin Dark.
Soon after his resignation, Williams agreed to manage the Yankees for second-year owner George Steinbrenner and create another relationship with potential for great dischord. Steinbrenner had Felix Unger tendencies. But Finley objected to the move, insisting he owned the rights to Williams' managing. Finley prevailed, and Steinbrenner hired Bill Virdon.
By midseason 1974, Angels owner Gene Autry persuaded Finley and hired Williams, who served as manager for the Anaheim franchise through the team's first 96 games in 1976.
"I thought he was a really good baseball man," said fellow Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who pitched for Williams in Anaheim. "I thought he loved the game and he expected the game to be played the right way. He wasn't tough to play for from my perspective. You knew his expectations, and if you play the game the way it's supposed to be played, he didn't mess with you. The players who had problems were the ones who didn't work hard enough or didn't give 100 percent when they were out there."
By the end of Williams' Angels tenure, Steinbrenner had hired Billy Martin. So Williams moved to the Expos in 1977. There he remained through 81 games in 1981.
The Padres were his next project. He took over at the beginning of 1982 and after three sesaons, he had reached the World Series for the fourth time. The Padres of Gossage, Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, Eric Show and Bruce Bochy upset the Cubs in the NLCS, but were streamrolled by the Tigers in the World Series.
A three-season tour -- 1986 through part of 1988 -- with the Mariners followed.
Williams' first World Series experiences were only slightly more successful than his run with the Padres. The Red Sox's Impossible Dream and the stellar Triple Crown season produced by Carl Yastrzemski fell one game short in October, 1967. The Sox were denied by the arm -- and the bat -- of the great Bob Gibson in seven games.
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The sharp tongue that distinguished Williams became evident long before he managed. His skills as a player were not necessarily enough to keep him at the big league level with the Dodgers in 1951. But manager Chuck Dressen knew his former outfielder-turned-infielder could distract opponents when he deftly applied his needle.
Williams spent much of his early years on the dugout steps, taunting. He played in merely 112 games over five seasons with Brooklyn's Boys of Summer before the Orioles claimed him off waivers.
Orioles manager Paul Richards had great admiration for Williams' sense of the game, and in his tours with the Orioles and the Colt 45's, he acquired Williams four times.
The would-be manager also played with the Indians, the Kansas City A's and the Red Sox, accumulating 2,959 at-bats, 70 home runs, 331 RBIs and 358 runs. His best came with the A's in 1959, when he produced career highs of 16 home runs, 75 RBIs, 72 runs and 488 at-bats. He batted .288 the following season as a near regular and .260 in his career.
The Red Sox offered Williams a Triple-A coaching job in 1965, and he was promoted to manager during the seasons when a franchise shift became necessary. Williams' team won Governor's Cup championships in the International League in 1965 and 1966, prompting the Red Sox to appoint him as successor to Billy Herman, whose two teams had placed ninth. Hence, the term Impossible Dream emerged in '67 when the Sox still were in the race in August.
They won their first pennant in 21 years on the last day of the season, earning Williams forever a place in New England baseball lore.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.