Chris Jaffe on Dick Williams

Over the past year or so, I’ve had the pleasure of reading through and offering comments on drafts of Chris Jaffe’s upcoming book, Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, 1876-2008. This work is both meticulously researched and vibrant, which means you’ll enjoy reading it now and referring back to it many times in the future as a definitive source on managers.

Because I was involved in the process, I won’t give the book an actual review like the good folks at Friar Forecast and Gaslamp Ball have done. Instead, with Jaffe’s blessing, I will publish an excerpt from his book that covers former Padres skipper Dick Williams. Enjoy!

Dick Williams

W/L Record: 1,571-1,451 (.520)

  • Full Seasons: Boston 1967-68; Oakland 1971-73; California 1975; Montreal 1977-80; San Diego 1982-85; Seattle 1987
  • Majority in: Boston 1969; California 1974, 1976; Montreal 1981; Seattle 1986
  • Minority of: Seattle 1988

Birnbaum Database: +526 runs

  • Individual Hitters: +136 runs
  • Individual Pitchers: +51 runs
  • Pythagenpat Difference: +72 runs
  • Team Offense: +216 runs
  • Team Defense: +51 runs

Team Characteristics: Williams’s Tendencies Database scores are surprisingly moderate. His squads normally do well, but rarely superbly. His teams usually played small ball, bunting and stealing. They received far more intentional walks than they doled out.

The Al Lopez commentary noted which managers had the oldest teams when the Tendencies Database scores for pitcher and hitter ages are combined. By the same approach, the following managers had the youngest teams:

Youngest Teams: Combined Pitchers and Hitters

Burt Shotton   0.844
Patsy Donovan  1.261
Dick Williams  1.389
Felipe Alou    1.394
Frank Robinson 1.467

Three of these managers worked for financially hamstrung teams forced by circumstance to play young squads: Donovan’s employers sold off their best players, and the Expos, who employed Alou and Robinson, lost them to free agency. Burt Shotton is the all-time champion of playing youngsters, but in some ways he had an easier chore than Williams. Shotton managed merely two teams. One can argue circumstances led him to play the kids. Williams, however, worked for a half-dozen franchises, making it difficult to the point of absurdity to claim that the situations he managed in forced him to play kids every time.

Dick Williams lived to break in fresh talent. On the 107 occasions a hitter had enough playing time to qualify for the batting title under Williams, 32 were age 24 or younger. Only nine were older than 30, almost all of whom were established stars Williams had no choice but to play. For instance, three were Tony Perez seasons in Montreal and two more were Steve Garvey campaigns in San Diego. Only six of the 61 pitchers who qualified for the ERA under him were older than 30, and three of those were only 31. He had nine ERA-qualifying seasons from hurlers age 22 or younger.

Williams went with the younger player whenever possible. He was fearless about putting kids in the game and would stand by them if he thought they had the talent, even if they initially faltered when establishing themselves. With that level of trust emanating from their authoritative skipper, rookies rarely fizzled on Williams. He not only gave prospects a chance, but more impressively he did it in a way that ensured they consistently reached their potential.

[Ed note: Here we skip several paragraphs discussing the numerous players Williams gave a break to with other teams]

In San Diego, Williams again played those without status. As had been the case in Montreal, Williams created a starting rotation mostly consisting of those he inserted into the role. He took a trio of men in their mid-20s with minimal major league experience — Eric Show, Dave Dravecky, and Mark Thurmond — and converted them all into regular starters. He also broke in a young Andy Hawkins, who went 18-8 for Williams in 1985. That quartet started almost half San Diego’s games under Williams. Rookie Luis DeLeon pitched very well in 1982, so Williams made him the club’s fireman in place of veteran Gary Lucas.

Half of the regulars in his 1984 pennant winning Padres lineup were those who got their first real chance to play under Williams. Upon his arrival in San Diego, Williams gave considerable playing time to Alan Wiggins, even though he initially had no position for him. When he settled on second for Wiggins in 1984, the infielder responded by stealing 70 bases and received some minimal MVP support. Also receiving token MVP votes in 1984 was Padre center fielder Kevin McReynolds, whom Williams had broken in the year before. McReynolds went on to have a nice decade-long run. Left fielder Carmelo Martinez came sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1984. Last, but certainly not least, Hall of Fame right fielder Tony Gwynn began his career under Williams.

Williams’s finale in Seattle showed some of his old eye for fresh talent. Immediately upon his arrival, he installed the slick-fielding Harold Reynolds at second base. Reynolds played almost every game Williams managed, earning selections to two All-Star games. Danny Tartabull also began his career in grand fashion under Williams, as he hit for both power and average in his first two full seasons.

That was as impressive a roundup of rookie successes any manager has had since John McGraw, made all the more noteworthy by the same pattern constantly repeating itself with different teams. It fit Williams’s most pronounced personality trait: a desire for control. Throughout his entire career and life he demanded control. In Boston, his litany of petty fines and rules eventually caused his ouster just two years after the team’s first pennant in decades. In Oakland, he voluntarily resigned after winning consecutive world titles due to owner Charles Finley’s nonstop interference. In Williams’s later stops his contentious, controlling nature kept causing him to wear out his welcome. Just as had been the case with John McGraw over a half-century before, a desire for control led to an interest in playing those with less leverage. Rookies are the least likely to rebel.

The above notes one clear difference between McGraw and Williams: McGraw stayed with one team for decades while Williams repeatedly wore out his welcome. However, that reveals more about how the job of manager has changed than it does about differences between the two men. The only person who outranked McGraw was the owner, who allowed him plenty of leeway (and eventually McGraw became a part owner himself). That was not the case for Williams, who butted heads with some of his superiors. When players got exasperated with Williams, they could appeal to upper management and have them intervene.

That being said, it would be a mistake to portray Williams as McGraw’s managerial clone. He usually had at least one player on his teams that McGraw would never have been able to tolerate. In Oakland, it was Reggie Jackson with his vain public persona. With the Expos, Williams worked with veteran flake Bill Lee. Williams learned to adapt his personality to some extent, but he still preferred to work with young players whenever possible.

Tagged as: , , ,

Comments are closed.