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Williams' way of life shows he's no thug

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000


OAKLAND, Calif. -- So Boston general manager Dan Duquette thinks Gerald Williams is a thug?

This is a man who wouldn't buy himself a car or own a house until last year because he was intent on sending as much money as he could to help his mother, 12 brothers and sisters, and 26 nieces and nephews better their lives.

This is a man who spent time during the 1994-95 players strike advising troubled youth in his rough-and-tumble hometown of LaPlace, La., and still works with a police officer friend there to help the community.

This is man who is one of the most soft-spoken, and well-spoken, people you will find in a baseball clubhouse, even if he tends to drift toward the esoteric.

This is a man who ESPN's Peter Gammons calls "one of the finest human beings in the business" and who Alex Rodriguez describes as "one of the most saintly people" around.

This is a man who if he wasn't playing baseball likely would be, and still may become, an educator or a counselor.

This is a man who calls his mother virtually every day.

This is a thug?

"Gerald is intensely bright, extremely well-read and without question one of the most principled and decent people you could ever meet," said Seth Levinson, for 13 years Williams' agent, attorney and dear friend. "If I had one sentence to describe him, that would be it."

Williams prides himself on being a professional. And maintaining that professionalism is virtually a sacred trust to him.

That is why he says the fallout from the now-infamous Aug. 29 game with Boston has troubled him, because people didn't see him for what he is.

"I try to always be respectful and mindful of others, as I've been taught," Williams said. "And that's why this is pretty much a disheartening event for me, because of that which I believe in and that a situation like this didn't allow me to have a true representation of that which I choose to."

People didn't know Williams had reason to believe Pedro Martinez was going to throw at him. They didn't know Williams nearly had his career ended in the minor leagues when his right hand was broken after being hit in a similar situation.

Williams cherishes his privacy, preferring to stay quietly out of the limelight. He will give of himself endlessly to help his teammates, but wants none of the credit. Ask him after a game about a key hit, and he'll tell you how well the Rays' pitcher threw. Dote on his impressive individual accomplishments, and he'll remind you that it's a team game.

Inquire about his remarkable generosity with his family, about buying a car and a house for his mother (who raised him alone) well before he bought his own, about ensuring his relatives can put food on their tables, about offering to help them further their educations, and you get a quiet smile: "That's not something I wish to speak on."

Williams doesn't want to come across holier-than-thou, claiming he is no different than anyone else, except for priorities.

"I'm happy just being able to inhale and exhale," Williams said. "Material things have never been something that ruled my life. What I try to do are the things that are most important for me to have happiness and that doesn't necessarily come through the possessions that I have. Perhaps it's the joy that others may feel about what I'm able to do to help them gain, or have some type of success, that will ultimately allow them to become a better person and basically allows them to have a better quality of life.

"That's what I see my purpose as. Most people struggle to understand what their purpose is. Maybe I'm blessed in that area."

Does that sound like a thug to you?

SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Mike DiFelice can relate to what Ryan Rupe went through. DiFelice was playing for Class A St. Petersburg in 1993 when doctors told him he had a blood clot in his right arm, requiring three months of treatment and surgery.

"You're young and strong, playing a game, and somebody tells you you have a blood clot and in a span of 30 minutes you're in an ICU unit and there's talk that if the clot moves you could die," DiFelice said. "It shakes you up a little bit."

HOO-RAYS: The Cubs remain interested in pursuing a trade for Vinny Castilla, reportedly assigning their top scout to track him the rest of the season. ... Outfielders Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton were named to Howe Sportsdata's All-Teen Team.

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