When I was in Maine last Thursday, I tuned into the Red Sox-Orioles game and learned that former MLB manager Dick Williams had passed away at the age of 82 of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
Williams had an undistinguished career in the bigs in the 1950s and early 1960s playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Athletics and Boston Red Sox. But as a manager he would find his calling. In 1967, the 38-year-old Williams turned a moribund Red Sox franchise with his hard-nosed, no nonsense approach into a winner and gave Boston its first American League pennant in twenty-one years. That season was became known as The Impossible Dream.
Unfortunately, this approach proved to be his undoing in Boston. By September 1969, Williams was out of a job after fining Red Sox superstar Carl Yastrzemski for not hustling. Yaz complained to Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey who sided with his top player against Williams.
Williams was then hired to manage the Oakland A’s in 1971. He would guide them to back to back World Series titles in 1972 and 1973. However, he resigned following the ’73 Fall Classic when mercurial A’s owner Charlie Finley forcibly benched A’s infielder Mike Andrews for a pair of errors in Game 2 of the Series.
In 1984, Williams would be at the helm of the San Diego Padres first National League pennant winning team. The Padres would face the Detroit Tigers in the World Series who were managed by Sparky Anderson. Williams and Anderson went toe to toe in 1972 when the A’s bested Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds. But this time around, the Padres were no match for the Tigers. Williams is remembered for letting Goose Gossage convince him to pitch to Kirk Gibson with first base open in Game 5 of that Series. Gibby hit Gossage’s first pitch into Tiger Stadium’s right field upper deck. Interestingly, Williams and Gossage would be inducted together into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Yet I remember Williams best from his days with the Montreal Expos. After a less than pleasant stint at the helm of the California Angels, Williams was hired to manage the team in 1977 after the Expos lost 107 games the previous season. After some growing pains in ’77 and ’78, the Expos turned into one of baseball’s best teams in 1979 with an outfield of Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine, an all-star catcher in Gary Carter not to mention the likes of Larry Parrish, Rodney Scott, Steve Rogers, Woodie Fryman and Tony Perez. The talent was there. They just needed someone to prod them and not gently. The Expos came within a heartbeat of winning the NL East but came up short against Willie Stargell’s “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates. Ditto for 1980 when they came up short against the Philadelphia Phillies via a long homerun by Mike Schmidt on the final weekend of the regular season. It is easy to forget when Canadians embraced the Expos and when fans flocked to Olympic Stadium. Indeed, I would attend my first MLB game in Montreal on August 30, 1981 to see the Expos fall to the Atlanta Braves 5-4 in 12 innings.
Of course, it was in 1981 when the Expos would finally hit paydirt making their only post-season appearance in franchise history. However, Williams would not join them. In early September (a little over a week after I saw him in uniform), Williams was abruptly fired and replaced by longtime Expos front office man Jim Fanning. Would the Expos have had a Blue Monday had Williams remained in the dugout? Would there still be major league baseball played in Montreal? We will never know.