Dick Williams waited a long time to get the Cooperstown call. He was inducted into Cooperstown this year as a manager. Before he was a skipper, he was a player with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1951-54, 1956), Baltimore Orioles (1956-57, 1958, 1961-62), Cleveland Indians (1957), Kansas City Athletics (1959-60) and Boston Red Sox (1963-64).
After his playing days were over, he managed the Red Sox (1967-69), Oakland A’s (1971-73), California Angels (1974-76), Montreal Expos (1977-1981), San Diego Padres (1982-85), and the Seattle Mariners (1986-88). He is a man that has had diverse roles in major league history with many clubs. He is the only manager to lead four different teams to 90-plus wins, and one of seven managers to win pennants in both leagues.
Williams was a sharp-tongued manager at times. He was strict, sometimes polarizing, but always had winning on his mind. His career record was 1,571-1,451, and he carried home two World Series Championships, both with the Oakland A’s. Williams was inducted by the Veterans Committee this year.
“I am just glad I made it while I am still alive!” Williams cracked. “It is the ultimate achievement for a professional baseball player.”
Williams’ career highlight was the two championships with the Athletics in 1972 and 1973, but there was another season even earlier that helped seal his immortal credentials.
“I also have fond memories of the 1967 ‘Impossible Dream’ team with the Boston Red Sox,” Williams said. “We lost to the Cardinals that year, but what a special season. Getting to the World Series with San Diego was special, too.
“The Oakland A’s had me throw out the first pitch at the opener this year, and that was special. They put up a sign down the left field line there honoring me this year, plus they sent me a couple dozen Oakland A’s shirts, so I will be advertising them for a while!”
Boston Red Sox fans and collectors love the 1967 team to the point where it’s almost as if the team won the championship that year.
“Boston had not been a contender for 21 years, since 1946,” Williams recalled. “We were a 100-1 shot, and I was a rookie manager. They took a chance on me. The Red Sox had kind of a country club atmosphere, and I was in charge of helping turn that around. I was strict, not particularly always well liked, but nobody turned their World Series rings back in that year.
“I never saw anybody have a year like Carl Yastrzemski had that year in all phases: running throwing, hitting, power and clutch play. I have had some good ones play for me, but Yaz was the best,” Williams continued. “You can point to that year as when the Red Sox started to turn things around as a franchise. They call it ‘Red Sox Nation’ now, and I believe it started that year. The New England area is the best sports region in the country in my opinion – all sports.”
The Montreal Expos are now defunct, but Williams enjoyed his time there.
“I loved it there. That is a shame the city lost its club,” Williams said. “We did well in Montreal while I was there. We ended up winning the second half of the strike-shortened year in 1981, but ended up losing to the Dodgers that year with Rick Monday’s home run off Steve Rodgers.
“I managed up until the last month of that season, when president/general manager John McHale let me go because he did not think I could bring the Expos to the World Series. But I loved my time there and we drew well over 2 million people per year while I was there. We had three rookie outfielders in Warren Cromartie, Ellis Valentine and Andre Dawson. Gary Carter was a young catcher. We had Larry Parrish and acquired Dave Cash, Chris Speier and Tony Perez to help the infield. The Expos lost 107 games in 1976 and three years later, we won 95 games but lost out to Pittsburgh.”
I asked Williams about his memories of Tony Conigliaro.
“I roomed with Conigliaro in 1964, which was his first year up and my last year as a player. We did not get along too well, and we were never real good friends. He was a young, handsome, 22-year-old who had all the females and their aunts after him.
“I remember the tragic day he got hit with the pitch from Jack Hamilton. He got hit bad,” Williams continued. “Tony was an aggressive player and sometimes hung a bit over the plate. I was the manager that day, Rico Petrocelli was on deck, I believe, and we were the first two out there. What a career he could of had! There is no animosity – you never want to see a player get hurt on the field like that. Tony’s brother Billy was my centerfielder in Oakland until he busted up his knee.”
As far as autographs, Williams has been very fan friendly over the years, often sending facsimile signed postcards to collectors who have written him requesting an autograph.
“My mail has been getting pretty heavy since the Hall-of-Fame induction announcement,” Williams said. “What we do now is request a donation for Child Haven, which is a charity in Las Vegas, or you can make a donation to the Las Vegas Mission. My signing has helped both charities financially, and I am proud to help.
“My son helps me with the signings. It is $10 for a flat and $25 for a baseball, big pictures and bats. You can request a Hall-of-Fame inscription, there is no extra charge for that. Earl Weaver has done a similar thing with charities, and my agent Dick Gordon recommended I consider this charity route, as well. It is a good thing.”