Unyielding, gruff Williams was an innovator
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- As Dick Williams limbers up his vocal cords in preparation for his induction speech, it's time for a few testimonials from the players who helped him win 1,571 career games and earn a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.Let's begin with Tommy Hutton, who spent four seasons under Williams with Montreal in the late 1970s and early '80s. "I always respected what Dick did on the field," Hutton said. "But he was a gruff guy. You could get in an elevator with him in the team hotel, and he wouldn't say anything. I could go a couple of weeks and not hear from him." Then there's Mike Andrews, who played for Williams with the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics over a span of six seasons in the 1960s and '70s. "I consider Dick a friend, but I can remember going months without talking to him," Andrews said. "He would make you so damn mad, but it made me play harder -- like, 'I'll show him.' Other players quit. And when they quit, he got rid of them."
Finally, it's time for a few words from Sal Bando, third baseman and captain of the great Oakland teams that Williams managed from 1971 through 1973."I think we caught Dick at the right time," Bando said. "He was very fair and open to the guys who were the nucleus of those teams. But he could be hard on guys on the fringe. He expected you to work hard and be ready, and if he thought your mind was wandering or you were goofing off, he got on you. I remember him having a few drinks and airing guys out on the plane."
I'll never forget what he said when he took the captain's title from Yastrzemski. He said, 'There's only one chief, and that's me. Everybody else is the Indians.'
--Former Red Sox infielder Mike Andrews
Williams was a visionary in many ways, driven to a fault, and so principled and devoted to the game that he refused to take shortcuts. Yet the adjectives used to describe him typically include crotchety, grumpy, blunt, caustic, sarcastic, abrasive, uncompromising and demanding, along with a few things that might not make the editor's cut in your morning paper.During a recent Hall of Fame conference call, Williams admitted that his approach wouldn't translate very well to the modern era. "I'd get fired within a week," Williams said. "My style of play doesn't fit in with all these millionaires now. Listen -- more power to the player. He's getting that money, and they're bigger and they're stronger. But I don't think they know baseball as well as we knew it or still know it." Williams, who will enter the Hall on Sunday with Goose Gossage and four others, learned his baseball in the ultimate developmental lab. He broke into pro ball with Branch Rickey's Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and hit .260 with 70 home runs over a relatively undistinguished 13-year career in the majors.
Managing was a natural fit over the long haul, and when Williams' big opportunity arrived, he took it and ran with it.In the spring of 1967, Boston was regarded as a great place to swing for the fences, bask in the largesse of the team's beneficent owner, Tom Yawkey, and be content with finishing at the bottom of the American League standings. The Red Sox had endured eight straight losing seasons before Williams' arrival, and attendance was a meager 811,172 in 1966. The Red Sox were 100-1 long shots to win a pennant in 1967, and the Boston press wasn't exactly breathless with anticipation. "Another endless summer for Uncle Tom's Townies begins Saturday morning when recreation director Dick Williams asks them to try to touch their toes a few times and throw the baseball around just to get the feel of things," Boston Globe columnist Bud Collins wrote that spring. "He won't ask them to do anything hard right away, like catching the baseball. They will have trouble doing that in August, and to ask it of them now would only break their spirits before the season has begun."