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A Hall of Fame relationship

Rick Williams says his dad managed to win and give him a great childhood, too.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 1999


photo
Dick Williams, left, and son Rick spent many days at the ballpark. Dick Williams today learns whether he is entering baseball's Hall of Fame. [Times files, 1998: Jonathan Newton]
TAMPA -- Dick Williams was sitting among the crowd at Al Lang Field a year ago this week, not yet knowing if he was immortal. At that moment, on the other side of the bay, the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee was considering the former manager's credentials along with several other candidates.

And in the Devil Rays dugout, Rick Williams was working his first exhibition game as Tampa Bay's pitching coach.

Every so often, Rick would sneak a glance into the stands where his father sat. Around the seventh inning, word got to Dick that his candidacy had failed and the next time Rick looked up, his dad gave him the thumbs-down signal.

"It looked like he had tears in his eyes when he turned away," Dick Williams said.

The committee meets again today in Tampa and will consider Williams among numerous other candidates.

It is Dick's legacy that is at stake, yet in a way it is Rick's childhood too.

From the minors in Toronto, to the pennant in Boston, to the coaching job in Montreal to back-to-back world titles in Oakland, Rick Williams spent his summers at his father's side, learning about baseball and life. And not always in that order.

There were the days in Toronto in 1965-66 when Dick couldn't afford to have the entire family move with him, so Rick would keep his dad company in the summer while his brother and sister stayed in Florida with his mom. The pair were virtually inseparable from morning to night, spending days at the Triple-A ballpark and nights in small motels.

Dick would lose weight each summer and Rick said it was years later before he realized his father was using all of his meal money to make sure Rick was eating right.

The best times, Rick said, were on Sunday. After the game, a wrestling ring would be set up on the Maple Leaf Field for night matches. The Williamses would watch from upstairs while munching on press box leftovers.

"There'd be hot dogs left over that the press or the people who ran the scoreboard hadn't eaten. We ate like kings on Sundays," Rick said. "And I thought it was great. What better way for a kid to live?"

It would only get better for Rick and his dad. In 1967, Williams got his first managing job in the majors and took the Red Sox to their first pennant in 21 years. Later, it was Oakland where Williams won three straight division crowns and a pair of World Series titles.

And all the while, Rick was rubbing elbows with the game's greats.

He'd run errands for players like Carl Yastrzemski in Boston. By the early '70s in Oakland, he was a teenager throwing batting practice to Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi and playing games in the bullpen with Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers.

Those Oakland teams had some of the most free-spirited players in the game and Rick Williams was nearby for many of their off-field shenanigans. He smiles and shakes his head now, and you're not sure if he's thankful for the memories or grateful he survived them intact.

"I was in my early teens, and my friends in the summer were future Hall of Famers who liked to have fun," Williams said. "It was fun learning stuff from those ballplayers . . . and I had gotten to the age where I knew my relationship with the players would be better the less I said to my dad."

For his part, Dick Williams claims little credit for his son's successes. All that Rick has achieved in the game was earned, he said. And all of Rick's best qualities as a person should attributed to Dick's wife Norma.

"She raised them because she was around them all of the time, but we had some good times in the summer," Dick Williams said. "We'd be out at the park at 10 a.m. for a night game and Rick would hit or shag balls all day long. They were great times."

It's not as if Williams, 69, needs to validate his memories or his career, but the Hall of Fame has a calling that's hard to resist.

The best argument in his favor is the recent inductions of Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver because their resumes are similar. Each won four pennants. Williams and Lasorda each won the World Series twice, Weaver once.

Lasorda and Williams are also nearly identical in number of victories (Lasorda had 1,599, Williams 1,571) and winning percentage (Lasorda at .526, Williams .520).

What makes Williams' candidacy stand out is that he won on clubs with horrible reputations. The Red Sox had gone 21 years without a Series appearance; the Athletics were in a 41-year drought and the Padres had never been before Williams arrived.

He is one of seven managers to have won pennants in three different decades -- the other six are in the Hall of Fame.

"There's nothing I can say now, or should say about it. All I can say is look at my record. I managed 21 years and did a pretty fair job of turning some clubs around," said Williams, who has been a Yankees scout the past eight years.

"I'll let my record speak for itself."

 

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