Williams had blueprint for success
Hall of Fame skipper built winners with old-school methods
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Managers in the Major Leagues are called upon to fill a multitude of roles: tactician, teacher, motivator, disciplinarian, psychologist, father, big brother, favorite uncle, even referee. Nevertheless, those who remain in dugouts for extended periods do so through one primary factor: winning.
"That's what managers are paid to do, win ballgames," said one of the three former managers on the Veterans Committee for Managers and Umpires that elected Dick Williams and Billy Southworth to the National Baseball Hall of Fame last December. "We can talk all we want to about building character and grooming players for future success, but what keeps a manager in his job is winning games. That is the bottom line of the profession."
That is why Williams earned the position he will take Sunday on the podium at the Clark Sports Center, where he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Williams built winning teams throughout a managerial career that was not without its controversial episodes. His method was decidedly old school at a time when the game was undergoing cultural changes, but the Williams way was more often that not the blueprint for success.
The induction ceremonies, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. ET, can be seen live on MLB.com.
Williams, 79, will have an A's cap on his plaque, which is appropriate. It was in Oakland where he had his greatest string of success with three American League West titles, two pennants and two World Series championships. That group of colorful, mustachioed players, often at odds with maverick owner Charles O. Finley, made headlines on and off the field yet was a dominant force in the early 1970s.
"It was an easy club to manage because all the players hated Charlie, and I was seen as one of the boys," Williams said in May when he toured the Hall. "Mike Epstein and Reggie Jackson had a fight in the clubhouse. The day we beat Detroit in the playoffs to clinch the pennant in 1972, Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue got into it because Blue Moon had to come out after five innings and I used Vida the final four [ruining Blue's chance to start Game 1 of the World Series]. That was the way it was on that club."
The A's championships came against Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" in 1972 and the underdog New York Mets in 1973, and both seven-game World Series are among the most memorable in history. Despite the success, Williams walked away from the organization weary of Finley's intrusions and intended to sign a contract with the New York Yankees, whose owner, George Steinbrenner, was just as hands-on as Finley in those days.
Williams' career might have taken an entirely different route had he joined the Yankees in 1974, but Finley had control of his contract for that season and demanded the Yankees trade two top prospects, pitcher Scott McGregor and outfielder Otto Velez, to acquire the manager. Steinbrenner bristled at the cost and went in another direction, hiring Bill Virdon. Williams ended up going to the California Angels, one of his few stops that did not produce a winning team.
Before and after his time in Oakland, Williams steered two franchises that had not won anything for long stretches to pennants. Even though the Boston Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game World Series in 1967, that year's "Impossible Dream" team is fondly remembered throughout Red Sox Nation. Williams turned around a club chided by the phrase "25 players, 25 cabs" into a coherent unit.
It wasn't easy. During Spring Training, retired Hall of Famer Ted Williams bolted camp in protest to his namesake's "my way or the highway" approach.
As Dick Williams recalled, however, Teddy Ballgame was at Fenway Park shaking players' hands during the World Series. The highlight of the '67 Red Sox season was Carl Yastrzemski winning the Triple Crown, the last time a player has done so in the Major Leagues.
Williams, who would later manage such Hall of Famers as Reggie Jackson, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Nolan Ryan, Gary Carter, Tony Gwynn and Goose Gossage, called Yaz's feat in '67 the greatest single season he ever saw a player have.
In 1984, Williams became only the second manager in history to take three franchises to the World Series when the San Diego Padres won their first pennant, in their 16th season, but lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games. Again, Williams credited the experience of veterans such as Gossage, Craig Nettles, Steve Garvey and Gary Templeton for their strong influence on rising stars such as Gwynn and Kevin McReynolds.
The only other manager to get to the World Series with three different teams was Bill McKechnie, for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925, the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1939 and '40. Like Williams, McKechnie also won two Series (1925, '40). He was elected to the Hall by the Veterans Committee in 1962 when Williams was still an active player as an outfielder-first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles.
All these years later, Williams will take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame for a career that more than satisfied the bottom line for managers.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.