July 07, 2011
Location and situation never mattered much to Dick Williams. If Tony Stewart is the driver you want no matter what the ride, then Williams may have been the manager you wanted no matter what the team.
Indeed, the Hall of Fame manager, who died from a brain aneurysm at age 82 on Thursday, built a good case as baseball's most successful vagabond over his illustrious career. He managed six teams over 21 seasons, compiling a 1,571-1,451 career record and leading enough champagne celebrations to drown an entire resume. He won four pennants with three different teams and was the first to win more than 90 games in a season with four. That pretty much ensures his obituary will be written in a number of different ways across the continent.
In Northern California, the first mention will be Williams' stewardship of the 1972 and '73 World Series title teams and his fiery relationship with Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley.
In Boston, it will be 1967, Williams' rookie season and the year that he led the "Impossible Dream" Boston Red Sox through a crowded AL pennant race and into a World Series Game 7 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
In Southern California, it'll be about 1984, when Williams led the San Diego Padres to 92 wins and the first World Series appearance in franchise history.
In Montreal, it'll be about the five seasons he spent with the Expos — all five of his other stops only lasted three or fewer — and how he won 90-plus games with the 1979 and '80 teams that came up just short.
His time with the California Angels and Seattle Mariners aren't as noteworthy in those specific team histories, but his remembrances will be threaded with similar themes: A hard-charging skipper who knew how to put the whip to his team and get good results. That tactic may have only worked for so long with professional athletes, but it made him the Rick Carlisle of his day. In other words, a guy you wanted to hire if you wanted to win.
Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2008 and was just in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame Game (see above with Goose Gossage and Ozzie Smith). He was a great character ("Unlike La Russa, I'd never pass a bar," he once said) and a good ambassador for the game long after he left his last gig with the 1988 Mariners.
May he rest in peace.