Commentary

'Impossible Dream' skipper dies

Updated: July 8, 2011, 10:12 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams, who was the skipper of the 1967 "Impossible Dream" Red Sox team that reached the World Series, passed away Thursday. He was 82.

Williams died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm at a hospital near his home in Henderson, Nev., the Hall of Fame said.

The Red Sox had finished ninth in the 10-team American League the previous year, helping form Williams' reputation as a master of the turnaround. The Sox ended up losing the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Williams managed the Red Sox for three seasons (1967-69) before moving on to the Oakland Athletics, with whom he won two World Series in his three seasons there (1971-73). He subsequently managed the California Angels, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners during a 21-year managerial career.

In his three seasons in Boston, he compiled a 260-217 record (.545 winning percentage). During his career he had a 1,571-1,451 record (.520 winning percentage), won two World Series and four pennants.

The Red Sox held a moment of silence in the memory of Dick Williams before Thursday night's game at Fenway Park.

"Dick Williams inherited a Red Sox team that had finished with a losing record in eight consecutive seasons and immediately set a new tone and course," Red Sox principal owner John Henry said. "Dick was an outstanding leader who demanded excellence and accountability from all his players, leading the Impossible Dream Red Sox to the 1967 AL pennant that forever changed baseball in New England."

[+] EnlargeDick Williams
AP Photo/Gail BurtonIn his three seasons in Boston, Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams compiled a 260-217 record.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona sat in his office in the corner of the Red Sox clubhouse Thursday afternoon and recalled what it was like to know Williams.

Francona was 22 when he made his major league debut with the Montreal Expos on Aug. 19, 1981. Williams was his manager.

"It was in Houston and I was supposed to start, and Nolan Ryan was pitching," Francona recalled. "That's when they had the air controller's strike, so I got to the game in the fifth inning. I found my way into the dugout and he said, 'Kid, you're leading off next inning.' There was no 'hello,' no nothing. That was Dick.

"Then I remember in my third game I didn't get a bunt down and he met me at the dugout and reminded me that I better get the bunt down or I'll be doing it in [the minors].

"I also remember making a base-running play where I took an extra base, and I just happen to look up when I got to second and he was standing up and he reacted. I remember thinking, 'This guy cares.' He didn't want you to know that."

Williams managed Francona for only three weeks before the Expos fired him and replaced him with Jim Fanning.

"He was gruff, to say the least," Francona said of Williams. "He was a brilliant manager, and everybody knew it.

"I actually spent more time talking to him when he became a special assistant with the Yankees. I went to watch a B-game once over in Tampa and he was talking to me. I was like, 'Damn, Dick. When I played for you, you wouldn't talk to me.' And he laughed like crazy, but everybody mellows. He was a really good baseball man."

Francona played in the minors with Williams' son, Rick, at the Double-A level. Francona's father, Tito, and Dick Williams were teammates with the Baltimore Orioles during the 1956 season.

"I've kind of known the family for a while," Francona said.

Francona also recalled a conversation he once had with Williams when the Hall of Fame manager said he would not want to manage in today's game.

Francona explained his reasons that he believed Williams was a brilliant manager.

"He was just ahead of the game," Francona said. "He was way ahead of the game. You knew when you were going to hit, why you were going to hit and who you were going to hit off of."

Francona has been around Boston long enough to know the rich history the Red Sox have in New England and said he agrees with those who believe the 1967 Sox, managed by Williams, represented the rebirth of the love affair this region has with this team. "I've heard enough to know that they recaptured this region that year," Francona said. "It sure seems like people fell in love with the team that year."

Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after being elected by the Veterans Committee.

Williams was back in Cooperstown last month when he managed both teams at the Hall of Fame Classic at Doubleday Field in a legends contest featuring six Hall of Famers and 20 former major league stars.

"Dick Williams' lasting legacy will be his innate ability to lead, turning franchises into winners wherever he managed," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said. "No one wore the mantle of Hall of Famer more proudly than Dick. We will miss him in Cooperstown."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

EDITORS' PICKS