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Career baseball man, Tampa Bay area resident Jimy Williams dies at 80

Brady Williams grew up in baseball, spending summers in clubhouses as dad Jimy forged a career that would include three stints as a big-league manager (with the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Astros) and 13 seasons as a coach, building a reputation of the sport’s higher order as a good baseball man.

It wasn’t until Brady finished his own playing career, after four seasons in the minors with the hometown Rays and three in independent leagues, and started coaching in the Tampa Bay system in 2006 — where Jimy was also working as a special instructor — that he understood why his father was so highly respected.

“I didn’t really realize it until, honestly, my first year of coaching of how good he was‚” Brady, now the Rays’ third-base coach, said Monday. “I just thought he was my dad and he just taught me baseball. I got to see first-hand the passion and the enthusiasm that he had for the game, and it just resonated. It was very easy for someone to listen to him talk about baseball, way more than any other instructor that I’d been around.

“And that’s kind of the moment I said, ‘Man, my dad is a really, really good at teaching baseball.’ ”

That Jimy Williams was. And the longtime Tampa Bay area resident was remembered fondly for his exceptional career when news spread that he had died on Friday at age 80 at a hospital near his Palm Harbor home after dealing with a series of health issues.

“He just battled,” Brady said. “Honestly, he just battled age, really. At 80 years old, little things can affect you in a big way.”

Jimy spent 45 years in the game, reaching the majors briefly as a player, appearing in just 14 games with the 1966-67 Cards. But he made it memorable, striking out in his first at-bat against one Hall of Famer (Sandy Koufax) and getting the first of his three career hits off another (Juan Marichal).

With his playing days cut short by a shoulder injury, he moved to his next career.

After managing six years in the minors he joined the Blue Jays as third base coach in 1980. He was named to manage the Jays in 1986, going 281-241 in three-plus seasons. After six years as third base coach for the Braves, including their 1995 championship, he was hired to manage in Boston.

Jimy led the Red Sox to two wild-card playoff berths, winning 1999 American League Manager of the Year honors, but was fired in August 2001, having posted a 414-352 record. He was hired a few months later to manage the Astros, and went 215-197 in 2 1/2 seasons.

Overall, he was 910-790 over parts of 12 seasons.

He took the special instructor job with the Rays for the 2006 season, then joined the Phillies as bench coach for 2007-08. His last game in a big-league uniform was the World Series clincher against the Rays.

“He went out with a bang, winning a World Series,” Brady said. “That’s kind of how he wanted it.”

Jimy spent much of his retirement around his Pinellas County home with wife Peggy. They had four kids, with another son, Shawn, who manages in the Phillies system, and daughters Monica (an all-state swimmer at Dunedin High) and Jenna.

Health problems eventually became an issue, but Jimy was able to make it to Tropicana Field for 2023 opening day, Brady’s first as a big-league coach. As a surprise, Brady rented a suite and invited Jimy’s Fresno State college roommates.

“That was awesome, like a life moment,” Brady said. “That was the last time, really, that he was somewhat normal. He came to one other game after that, but he really enjoyed that weekend.”

As word spread Monday of Jimy’s passing, condolences poured in via calls, texts and social media posts.

“It’s been really special,” Brady said. “Just the amount of players that reached out, it kind of tells you the story.”

And is a great reminder how widely appreciated his father was.

“Baseball is a small world in a sense,” Brady said. “Once you’re in, you know a lot of people, but what you don’t realize is how many people one person can affect.

“Whether it was how to run the bases better, how to hold a ball better, how to maybe hold the bat better, how to do a relay a little better. How to do a (pitcher’s fielding drill) better. He just had a way. There were just so many areas that he knew so much about, and his passion to teach it, players just fed off of that.

“I think the best I can say is that he wanted every player to do the best they could when they either played for him or were around him.”

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