By taking over a ninth-place team and leading it to the pennant in his first year as a big-league manager in Boston, Dick Williams earned the reputation of being a turnaround artist that he built on later in Montreal and San Diego.
By taking over an emerging powerhouse in Oakland and leading the Athletics to back-to-back World Series titles to start a dynasty in the 1970s, Williams became a Hall of Famer.
Williams, one of only two managers ever to lead three teams to the World Series, died Thursday from a ruptured aortic aneurysm at a hospital near his home in Henderson, Nev., the Hall of Fame said. He was 82.
Before coming to Oakland, Williams was part of Boston’s memorable “Impossible Dream” team in 1967 that won the pennant for the first time since 1946 before losing the World Series in seven games to St. Louis.
The Red Sox had finished ninth in the 10-team American League the previous year, helping form Williams’ reputation as a master of the turnaround.
“One of the best managers I ever played for, Dick was very instrumental in accomplishing the Impossible Dream,” Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski said in a statement released as the Red Sox hosted the Orioles.
With his brash style, mustache and public feuds with owner Charlie Finley, Williams was the ideal manager for the A’s teams that won it all for him in 1972 and ‘73 and then again the following year after he resigned.
“He came to us at a very good time in our development and certainly for me as a young player full of talent … ,” Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said. “We were young and needed to understand how to go about winning and take the final step to become a great team. He was very important in that. He demanded excellence.”
He was able to get that out of his players in many of his stops, winning pennants with the Red Sox and San Diego as well as the championships in Oakland to join Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie as the only managers ever to take three franchises to the World Series.
He also helped build the Montreal Expos team that went to the playoffs in the strike-shortened 1981 season as he built on his success turning around struggling franchises with his no-nonsense approach.
“I owe Dick a lot,” said Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who played for Williams in San Diego. “The city and the Padres owe him a lot. I think a lot of fans bought right into it like the players did, like in ‘82, when he first took over, then ‘84 when we went to the World Series. I think the fans realized that his style of play, the way he wanted us to play, could be successful if we bought in, and we did.”
But he had his biggest success during three tumultuous seasons in Oakland in the 1970s. Williams led the Athletics to 101 wins and a division title his first year in 1971 before being swept by Baltimore in the AL championship series.
He then won World Series titles the next two years with Hall of Famers like Jackson, Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter as the A’s became the first team to repeat since the 1961-62 Yankees.
But fed up with Finley’s meddling style of ownership, Williams resigned after the 1973 title instead of sticking around for what turned out to be a third straight championship season.
The final straw between manager and owner came during the ‘73 World Series. After second baseman Mike Andrews made two errors in a Game 2 loss, Finley publicly berated him and pressured him to sign an affidavit claiming he was hurt so the A’s could add another player to the roster.
Williams and the A’s players were outraged by the way Andrews was treated and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn blocked the roster move. Williams ended up resigning after the season.
“When Dick left, it was an odd termination,” Jackson said. “That was a weird deal, the Mike Andrews situation. We knew Dick was still a heck of a manager. It was really just a disagreement with ownership over the incident in the World Series and Dick stood up for the player.”
Williams also took over a last-place team in Montreal and helped build that club into a playoff team. Williams was fired in September 1981, just before the Expos made their only playoff appearance.
He then led the Padres to their first playoff berth and first NL pennant in 1984. San Diego lost to Detroit in five games in the Series that year.
“He knew how to win,” said Rangers pitching coach Andy Hawkins, who pitched for Williams on the Padres. “He got the most out of his people, he demanded the most out of his people and he got it. He handled his pitching staff real well, I ended up throwing real well for him. I liked him as a manager, I sure did. He was a tough man to break in for, but as a veteran, he was great to play for.”
Gwynn said he found out the hard way that if a player made a mistake and didn’t own up to it, Williams would pull him out of a game.
He said he didn’t hustle on a grounder to second with a runner on third with two outs in a game at Cincinnati early in the 1984 season. The second baseman dropped the ball but picked it up and had time to throw out Gwynn.
“Dick yanked me out of game right there in the third inning. He told me to go upstairs and get dressed and wait for him in his office. I had to wait for six innings or so, wondering, ‘What is he going to say?’ I said, ‘Hey, I screwed up, I didn’t run down the line.’ He said, ‘You’re damn right, that could have been the difference, we would have won the game, because if you were in right field, you make the play that Bobby Brown didn’t that cost us the game.’ It was classic Dick Williams. He wasn’t afraid of anybody. He wasn’t afraid if you had (service) time or success. Goose (Go ssage), (Steve) Garvey, (Graig) Nettles, if he needed to say anything to anyone, he would. Again, lesson learned. That didn’t happen again.”
Williams had an overall record of 1,571-1,451 in 21 seasons, also spending time with the Angels and Seattle Mariners. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after being elected by the Veterans Committee.
“Well, he wasn’t like they are today. He could raise some hell,” said baseball lifer Don Zimmer, who played with Williams in Brooklyn in the 1950s. “Great manager. He really knew what he was doing.”
Williams was back in Cooperstown, N.Y., last month when he managed both teams at the Hall of Fame Classic at Doubleday Field in a legends contest featuring six Hall of Famers and 20 former major league stars.
One of his former players in Montreal, Hall of Famer Andrew Dawson was there and said he was shocked when he heard the news Thursday that one of his favorite managers ever had died.
“He was just one of those guys. I respected him, I admired him for the simple reason that as a young player I didn’t feel pressure underneath him,” Dawson said. “He just said, ‘Have fun, go out and play the game to the best of your ability.”’
There was a moment of silence with Williams’ picture up on the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium before New York played Tampa Bay. Williams previously worked for the Yankees, and his son became a scout for the team.
Williams also played 13 years in the majors for the Dodgers, Orioles, Indians, A’s and Red Sox. He had a .260 career average with 70 homers and 331 RBIs as mostly a part-time player. He retired after the 1964 season and soon began his career as a manager. There will be no funeral services held.