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It would be impossible to forget Williams

Goose Gossage and Dick Williams led the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1984. Goose Gossage and Dick Williams led the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1984. (Mike Groll/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
July 28, 2008

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Dick Williams said he hasn't managed a game in 20 years, so he's lost touch. At 79, his hair is whiter than ever, he walks slower, and he's not as sharp as he once was. He also doesn't think he's tough.

Tough on himself? Well, that's for sure. He called his Hall of Fame induction speech yesterday "screwed up" because he mixed up his notes, couldn't find his place, and often rambled.

What he was clear about, however, was his role in creating the sports phenomenon of Red Sox Nation. He did that by managing the Impossible Dream team of 1967, the ninth-place-to-first-place Red Sox who did indeed win more games than they lost - just as Williams brashly predicted in spring training before that glorious season when baseball became king in Boston.

"We started that Red Sox Nation," said Williams. "And they've won two championships since then. New York is great, but Red Sox fans are the most knowledgeable and ardent baseball fans."

Williams, who was voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee, has always understood the great impact he had on Red Sox baseball, but in his speech he failed to point out he was being enshrined as an Oakland Athletic, having led those incredibly talented teams to World Series titles in 1972 and '73. However, Williams said he did his best work with the Montreal Expos in 1979 and '80 and he also was the first manager to bring the San Diego Padres to the World Series, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers in 1984.

While Williams is well-known for bringing out the passion of Red Sox fans, another of yesterday's honorees, Billy Southworth had a similar impact in Boston. Southworth guided the Boston Braves to the National League pennant in 1948 after the team had failed to finish first in more than 34 years. Of course, he did have Johnny Sain (24 wins) and Warren Spahn (15) in his rotation.

Because the Braves left Boston after the 1952 season, and because there aren't many left who remembered Southworth, his contribution to Boston sports sometimes gets overlooked. But those who chronicled Southworth's performance in '48 rank it among the greatest feats in Boston sports. The Braves lost to the Indians in the World Series.

Southworth managed 1,748 games and wound up with a .597 winning percentage, which ranks fifth all-time. His Cardinals won at least 105 games each season from 1942-44 and he won the World Series in '42 and '44.

Williams is familiar with Southworth because Williams grew up in St. Louis. Williams once used one of Southworth's old tricks in a game - the fake intentional walk against Johnny Bench. Gene Tenace, the catcher at the time, called for an intentional ball, but the pitcher threw a strike. The A's won the game.

Williams acknowledged former Sox farm directors Neil Mahoney and Ed Kenney for giving him the chance to manage Triple A Toronto, a team he led to two consecutive titles. He thanked former general manager Dick O'Connell for giving him the chance to manage the team in 1967 after Billy Herman had been let go. Williams's Sox lost in the World Series to the Cardinals and Bob Gibson in seven games. The hard-throwing Gibson listened as Williams called him "the best righthanded pitcher I ever watched."

"My stay lasted three years and I got dumb in 1968 and 1969 after I lost Jim Lonborg and Jose Santiago and Tony Conigliaro, who was on his way to becoming one of the greatest righthanded power hitters in the game," Williams said.

Williams managed fellow inductee Goose Gossage in San Diego in 1984. Gossage talked Williams out of walking Tigers outfielder Kirk Gibson in the eighth inning of Game 5 with the Padres trailing, 5-4. Catcher Terry Kennedy held up four fingers per order of Williams, but Gossage shook it off. Gibson blasted a three-run homer that secured the Tigers' victory.

"And you know Dick, my only regret about the World Series is that I should have listened to you and I should have walked Kirk Gibson," Gossage said.

Williams responded, "If it wasn't for you, Goose, we wouldn't have been in that position to begin with."

Williams recalled his playing career as utilityman and noted that baseball executive Paul Richards "acquired me four different times. Come to think of it, he got rid of me four different times."

Williams also managed the Angels and Mariners. He worked for what he called "10 wonderful seasons" as a special adviser to George Steinbrenner. He said that many years earlier he nearly became manager of the Yankees, but the A's wanted compensation to let Williams go and Steinbrenner wouldn't do it.

As he walked around after the ceremony, Williams recalled fondly what he'd started in Boston in his first major league managing job.

"At the time, I never knew what we started. But so many people have come to me over the years and thanked me for starting a reign of great baseball in Boston. Heck, [Terry] Francona even played for me and he's done an incredible job. He did what I couldn't do - win a championship. But the team I [managed] there - Yaz and that incredible year, Lonborg, Santiago, all the kids we had, was special. I guess it was the perfect place at the perfect time. It started things off for me. Got me to where I am today. So even though I left sooner than I thought I might, I'll never forget it."

Nor will Boston ever forget Williams.

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