The Oakland A’s of the 1970’s were a radical bunch who dominated the competition on their way to three straight World Series championships. Dick Williams led them to two of those titles until stepping away after 1973, worn down by years of an overbearing owner. But that is not the whole story. Dick Williams was one of only eight managers to win pennants in both leagues. He also became the second manager to lead three franchises to the World Series. Williams built a Hall of Fame career through hard work and a fierce desire to be excellent at what he did. This is his story.
Richard Hirschfeld “Dick” Williams was born on May 7, 1929 in Saint Louis, Missouri. After moving to Pasadena, California when he was 13, Williams attended Pasadena High School where he starred on the baseball team. After high school he ventured over to Pasadena City College where he continued his baseball education. He also played on the football team and during one game, Williams hurt his leg. His father ran onto the field to check on him but suffered a fatal heart attack.
Dick Williams always blamed himself for his father’s death and he would try to honor his father’s memory the rest of his baseball career. His father was a stern man and instilled in his children a fierce desire to strive for excellence. Wherever he went in baseball, Dick Williams always made sure that he did everything possible to not be a failure, to be nothing short of excellent. Following his time in Pasadena City College, Williams signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Dick Williams made his major league debut for the Dodgers in 1951. Playing in 23 games that first year, the first baseman batted .200 and drove in five runs. The Dodgers lost to the Giants in an epic pennant race that year, highlighted by the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. In the next six seasons, Williams struggled to appear in more than half the games. By the time he played more than 100 games in a season, he was spending time with two organizations, the Baltimore Orioles and the Cleveland Indians in 1957.
He stayed in Baltimore for the 1958 season and averaged .276, slamming four home runs and driving in 32 scores. Dick Williams spent the next two years with the Kansas City A’s. While in Kansas City, he drove in 140 runs and slugged 28 home runs. He returned to Baltimore for the 1961 and 1962 seasons where he drove in 42 scores and hit nine home runs. After spending two uneventful seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Dick Williams retired following the 1964 season. But he was not yet done with the game that he loved, for a legendary managerial career awaited him.
Immediately following his retirement, Dick Williams was hired to be the manager of the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate in Toronto, the Maple Leafs. He led the team to Governor’s Cup championships in 1965 and 1966. Following his second Governor’s Cup victory, Dick Williams became the manager of the Boston Red Sox. It was a magical run for the first time manager as Boston won the AL Pennant in 1967, his first year, and made it to the World Series where they faced off against the Saint Louis Cardinals.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Cardinal’s pitcher Bob Gibson was absolutely sensational in that era and defeated Boston in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series. Not all was lost as the city of Boston reignited their love for the Red Sox, a love which has only gotten stronger as the years go by. Williams showed the Red Sox how to study, how to win and how to conduct themselves as professionals. The Red Sox had winning records in each of the next two years but despite an 82-71 record, Williams was fired in the middle of 1969. However, his team’s record had nothing to do with his firing as he had an acrimonious relationship with team owner Tom Yawkey.
After spending a year coaching the Montreal Expos, Dick Williams was hired by his old boss and club, Charlie Finley and the A’s who were now in Oakland. At this point, the A’s were built to win and they did not disappoint, winning 101 games in his first year with the team. After being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS to end the 1971 season, a strange sense of calm and urgency washed over the A’s. They knew that they were good enough to go to the World Series and to win the championship. They refused to let the disappointing end to the 1971 season to deter their ambitions for the following season.
Led by Mike Epstein’s 26 homers, Sal Bando’s 77 RBI, and Joe Rudi’s .305 batting average, the A’s won 93 games and a 3-2 decision over the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. Against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, the A’s were up 3-1 before the Reds could force a Game 7. In the final game, the A’s won 3-2 behind the magnificent pitching of Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers.
The following year, the A’s won 94 games, defeated the Orioles in five games in the ALCS and again stamped their ticket to the World Series. However, strange rumblings were happening within the A’s organization. After two errors made by second baseman Mike Andrews, despite the fact that the A’s won 5-1, Charlie Finley tried to place him on the disabled list with a phony injury. The team was outraged and retaliated by threatening to boycott the rest of the World Series unless their teammate was back on the roster. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened and the next night Andrews was with the A’s when they traveled to New York. The Mets fans gave him a standing ovation, a rare occurrence for an opposing player.
After that incident, Dick Williams had had enough of his boss and announced that no matter the outcome of the Fall Classic, he would step down as the A’s manager at the end of the season. The A’s won the World Series in seven games and after three years at the helm, Dick Williams was again looking for a job.
Following his resignation from the A’s, Dick Williams had an offer from the New York Yankees to be their next manager. Unfortunately, Finley refused to let Williams out of his contract and Dick Williams was forced to look for work outside of baseball. The California Angels general manager Harry Dalton persuaded Finley to let Williams out of his contract and in a short while, Dick Williams was the Angels’ new manager. The Angels were a struggling franchise in those days and never came close to the playoffs in any of the three years that he worked in Anaheim. After starting the 1976 season 39-57, Williams was fired.
Shortly after, he was hired by the Montreal Expos in 1977. He finished those first two years in Montreal with a record just slightly under .500 but better days were ahead. In 1979, the Expos won 95 games and finished second in their division. The following year, they won 90 games and again finished second in their division. With a players strike midway through the 1981 season, baseball was in shambles as the schedule was divided into two halves. While the Expos did finish ahead in their division to get into the playoffs, Dick Williams was not a part of it, having been fired midway through the season.
The San Diego Padres hired him in 1982 and were willing to wait for him to build a contender. He didn’t disappoint, evenly splitting his wins and losses his first two years. The 1984 season was a magical one for San Diego. Led by Graig Nettles and Kevin McReynolds’ 20 home runs apiece, Steve Garvey’s 86 RBI, Alan Wiggins’ 70 stolen bases and Tony Gwyn’s .351 batting average, the Padres won 92 games on their way to the NLCS. After defeating the Cubs in five games, they lost to the Tigers in the World Series.
Dick Williams spent one more year in San Diego and then left to take the manager’s job with the Seattle Mariners. Three years and no playoff appearances doomed him and he was fired after the 1988 season. Though he had a second chance to become the New York Yankees manager, he turned down the offer citing his desire to retire. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and passed away on July 7, 2011.