Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dick Williams, RIP

When Dick Williams came calling, pitchers like
Goose Gossage often didn't want to see him.
Dick Williams, one of the top managers of the '60, '70 and '80s, and a Hall of Famer, died today. Williams was one of those old-school tough guys who didn't take guff from anyone, even his employer.

As a kid, I loved the Oakland A's. Williams was their manager when they won two of their three straight World Series. The team featured colorful figures like Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris and Rollie Fingers on the field and Charlie Finley in the owner's box.

Everything I've read about Williams since paints a portrait of a disciplinarian who insisted things be done his way. He used that to take charge of the circus that was the A's back then. It didn't seem to matter whether Reggie stirred controversy or Finley was the center of attention, Williams kept the team winning; they were the best team of the '70s. (Sorry Big Red Machine, you finish second in my rankings.)

Maybe only a strict manger could have run a team like that successfully. In the end, it was too much for Williams. He quit the A's after three division titles and two world championships. He'd had enough of Finley and his style. For those who are too young to remember, Finley was part carnival barker (that was the fun part) and part George Steinbrenner (think tyrant).

As I got older I learned more about Williams. As a young manager he took the Boston Red Sox to the AL pennant in their "Impossible Dream year, 1967. That was the year that rising star Tony Conigliaro was beaned. And that beaning, which Conigliaro never totally recovered from, is connected to the only negative on Williams career.

It's a hard one to figure. For some reason, the manager, whose players profess respect for him, never visited his injured star in the hospital. Conigliaro never forgave him. Williams, who had never much liked Tony C dating to their days as roommates as players for the Sox, apparently forced himself to forget the beaning happened.

Perhaps it was, as some suggest, a defense mechanism so he could run the ball club during the pennant race. Whatever the case, it's a shame. A case of being too disciplined.

It's a strange incident in Williams' career, but it can't overshadow his greatness as a manger -- he took three different teams, the Sox, A's, and '84 Padres, to the Series -- and the respect he earned form players on his later teams.

"Dick would go to the mound and say, 'If you don't this guy out, you'll be in Triple-A tomorrow,'" former Padres infielder and current San Francisco Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery told ESPN in a recent interview. "And then he'd send the guy to Triple-A. He would do it. I say it all the time: Dick Williams taught me how to play this game and Dick Williams taught me how to become a coach. He made me the player I was, even though I was just a grunt."

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