'Impossible Dream' architect Dick Williams dies

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'Impossible Dream' architect Dick Williams dies

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Dick Williams, the man who took over as Red Sox manager in 1967 and was the catalyst for a baseball revitalization that reverberates to this day, died Thursday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 82.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, which reported the news, said Williams died of "what was believed to be a brain aneurysm."

Williams, elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 2008, is best known nationally for guiding the Oakland A's to back-to-back World Series titles in 1972-73 (he resigned, due to conflicts with owner Charles O. Finley, prior to the A's third consecutive championship in 1974), and for leading two other teams (Boston and San Diego) to the World Series. He is one of only seven managers to qualify for the World Series with both A.L. and N.L. teams.

But locally, he'll forever be remembered as the crew-cutted, hard-driving taskmasker who changed the culture of the Red Sox.

As a utility player with the Sox at the end of his career in 1963 and '64, he was disgusted by the players' casual approach to their jobs and management's inability (or unwillingness) to impose accountability or discipline on them . . . which had been the case almost from the day Tom Yawkey bought the team in 1932. Upon his retirement he was appointed manager of the team's Triple-A affiliate in Toronto, where he worked in 1965 and '66 while the parent club lost a combined total of 190 games.

Williams was promoted to Boston at the end of the '66 season and he promised things would be different in 1967.

Were they ever.

The 1967 Red Sox were coming off eight consecutive losing seasons, and three straight years of 90 or more defeats. (They lost 100 on the nose in 1965.) They hadn't been in a pennant race since 1955, hadn't been a serious contender since 1951, and hadn't won a pennant since 1946. Ted Williams' retirement at the end of the 1960 season had almost extinguished interest in the team; the average attendance for a game at Fenway Park during the post-Ted era of 1961-66 was 10,026.

"You couldn't give tickets away -- no one wanted them," remembered Rico Petrocelli, the shortstop of the '67 team, in a book he wrote about the team in 2007.

But in this wasteland, Williams saw opportunity.

I thought we hada good ballclub, he remembered in a 1984 television interview. Wewere short on pitching, but we had guys that could play . .. A lot ofthem were going through the motions.

Not anymore, they wouldn't.

Two of the greatest managers in Red Sox history -- Dick
Williams (left) and Terry Francona -- chat prior to a game
at Fenway in 2008.
Williams took charge with a forcefulness unseen in previous Red Sox managers. He stripped Carl Yastrzemski of the ceremonial title of captain, saying (in those pre-politically correct times) "I'm the chief and the players are Indians." He ran meticulous drills, pounding the fundamentals of baseball into the players. He laid down laws and (more importantly) he enforced them . . . consequences be damned. For instance: He put a weight limit on first baseman George Scott and benched Scott, one of his best hitters, for three straight games in Anaheim when he was overweight. The Sox lost all three games by one run, and Angels shortstop Jim Fregosi cracked, "We've got nine managers in this then-10-team league and one dietitian."

But it worked. The Red Sox stayed in contention through the first half of the season, caught fire with a 10-game winning streak in July that propelled them to the top of the standings, and scratched through a four-team pennant race that was one of the tightest in baseball history. And when they beat the Twins -- and the Tigers lost to the Angels -- on Sunday, Oct. 1, the last day of the season, Boston had its first pennant in 21 years.

"Tell Fregosi the dietitian won," Williams said in the postgame celebration.

It was more than just one team winning one championship. 1967 came to be known as the Summer of Love, but in New England it had a different meaning. This region's affection for its baseball team, numbed by years of mediocrity, was reborn. When the Sox returned home after the 10th consecutive win in July, 15,000 people were waiting to greet them at Logan Airport. A man caused a huge traffic tieup on the Southeast Expressway when he refused to enter the tunnel until he'd heard the result of a crucial at-bat on his car radio. It's said you could walk along any New England beach that summer and never miss a pitch of a game, as transistor radios blared from every blanket.

"John Lennon hadonce said that The Beatles were more popular than God," wrote Petrocelli. "In 1967, theRed Sox were more popular than The Beatles!"

Around here, they were. It was the year that the seeds of the fanaticism we see today -- Red Sox Nation, to coin a phrase -- were planted.

And Dick Williams was the gardener.

Williams would only manage the Sox for two more years. Unable to dial down his pedal-to-the-metal approach, he eventually alienated a vast number of the players and was fired just before the end of the 1969 season. He would go on to manage five other teams -- the A's, Angels, Expos, Padres and Mariners -- and finished his 21-year career with a record of 1,571 wins and 1,451 losses. His teams won four pennants and two World Series.

He remained active until the end of his life. Just two weeks ago he was at a Hall of Fame event in Cooperstown, mourning the recent deaths of Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Harmon Killebrew, Duke Snider and Sparky Anderson, and talking about the "rough" road ahead for one of his ex-players, Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer.

"I guess there are 53, 54 of us Hall of Famers left now," Williams said. "It's sobering."

Two weeks later, he himself was gone.

But his legacy in Boston will never be forgotten.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.

Massarotti: '0% chance Ortiz comes out of retirement'

Massarotti: '0% chance Ortiz comes out of retirement'

Tony Massarotti in the Cumberland Farms lounge believes there is 0% chance David Ortiz comes out of retirement.