McAdam: Williams changed culture at Fenway

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McAdam: Williams changed culture at Fenway

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- Think of Red Sox history as a movie, say, like The Wizard of Oz.

Through 1966, they were drab and mostly uninteresting, as though seen in black-and-white.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. In 1967, almost overnight, they appeared in color -- vibrant, bold and captivating.

What we now know as Red Sox Nation was born during the season of the Impossible Dream, when Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown and Jim Lonborg won the Cy Young Award.

But Dick Wililams called the shots. Every last one.

"Even with the years Carl and Jim had,'' said former second baseman Mike Andrews, "we never would have won the pennant without him. No way. He put all the parts together and he orchestrated everything.''

Williams went on win two straight World Series with the Oakland A's in 1972 and 1973 and won another pennant with the 1984 San Diego Padres, but for a generation of New England baseball fans, he will forever be identified with the 1967 Red Sox when the franchise permanently captured the hearts of the region.

A surprise choice to manage the Red Sox in the winter of 1966, Williams, true to his bold nature, made a startling prediction upon his hiring: "I'll say one thing -- we'll win more than we lose.''

Today, such a statement would be a given for a franchise whichlast had a losing season in 1997. But pre-1967, it was heresy. The previous year, the Sox had finished a half-game out of last place in a 10-team league. The Sox had last won a pennant in 1946.

The notion of contention was, at best, far-fetched. But not to Williams.

"At the time, I thought, 'He's right, because he won't have it any other way,' '' said Andrews. "That kind of confidence was exactly what Boston needed at the time.''

Before Williams's arrival, the Red Sox were an underachieving bunch, a collection of individuals rather than a true team. Discipline and accountability were non-existent and owner Tom Yawkey, wary of losing, had grown detached.

Williams established a new tone right from the beginning. He stressed hard work and fundamentals and played no favorites.

"To turn around the franchise, they needed someone tough,'' said Andrews. "Dick was the toughest they could get. He was unforgiving.''

The new manager's demanding style was a shock to the veteran players, even after they had been warned by those who'd spent time under Williams in the minors --Andrews, Reggie Smith, Joe Foy and others -- about what to expect.

Williams wasn't above clashing with players, or publicly chastising them. He famously likened talking to first baseman George Scott to "talking to cement.'' And late in the summer of 1969, when he benched Yastrzemski, a favorite of Yawkey, for a perceived lack of hustle, he probably wrote his own pink slip, delivered two months later.

But Williams got results. Young players such as Andrews, Smith and Rico Petrocelli blossomed. Veterans such as Yastrzemski took their game to the next level.

"I remember talking to a ('67) teammate once,'' said Andrews. "I said, 'Isn't it amazing that we all had our best years playing for him?' He would just prod you to be the best.''

Williams wasn't much for communicating with players. It was a different era with few guaranteed contracts and little player security. He didn't feel the need to explain his actions.

He could be gruff and intimidating. Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy remembers his rookie season of 1975 with the California Angels, when Remy made the mistake of being thrown out trying to steal third base.

"He wouldn't talk to me for two weeks,'' recalled Remy.

He constantly used the threat of a return trip to Triple-A on young players and wasn't afraid to wield his authority.

But few could match his baseball acumen.

"He was the most knowledgeable guy I ever played for,'' said Remy. "A lot of the things they do now with video, he did on his own. He was way ahead of everyone else. He was always two innings ahead, very sharp.''

And despite his crusty demeanor, Williams could be principled and loyal. When Oakland owner Charlie Finley attempted to fire Andrews for committing two errors in the 1973 World Series, Williams strongly backed his player over his owner . . . and resigned in principle over the incident when the Series was over.

"The way he stood up for me was just wonderful,'' marveled Andrews. "He had character. He was his own man. I just loved the man.''

He managed into the late 1980s, but by then the game -- or more accurately, the culture of the game -- had passed him by. Players wanted explanations and Williams wasn't the explaining type.

"I don't think he ever would have changed,'' said Andrews with admiration. "He was who he was.''

In the end, Williams didn't manage the Red Sox for as long as Butch Hobson, who got to finish his third season. He managed far fewer games than Eddie Kasko, who replaced him but never took the team to the playoffs. But his impact was incalculable.

Without Williams, there would have been no Impossible Dream. And without the Impossible Dream season, the Red Sox, as we know them, would be very, very different.

Said Andrews, who may well have played more games under Williams than any other major league player: "He turned the whole tide from that point on.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Infielder Marco Hernandez may make the Red Sox roster after all.

Fellow infielder Josh Rutledge, the presumptive 25th man on the Red Sox, suffered a left hamstring strain on Tuesday against the Pirates, according to reporters in Florida, including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

If Rutledge isn’t ready for opening day, Hernandez, a left-handed hitter, may have his crack. 

The question is whether the Sox would be comfortable without a right-handed bat to complement both Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland on the corners. Rutledge was going to give the Sox that right-handed look they sought. (When Hanley Ramirez's shoulder will be healthy enough to play first base is unclear, but isn't expected to be too long.)

Neither Rutledge nor Hernandez has played first base in the majors or minors.

A big-league rookie last year, Hernandez has done decently against lefties at the upper levels of the minors, hitting .328 vs. them at Triple-A Pawtucket last season in 67 at-bats. He hit .315 in 54 at-bats at Pawtucket, with a .318 average against them that season in 88 at-bats for Double-A Portland.

Rutledge is a Rule 5 draft pick who has to remain on the major league 25-man roster the whole season or the Sox risk losing him. Placement on the disabled list doesn’t affect his status unless he’s on the disabled list for a very lengthy time.

An alternative option is Steve Selsky, who has first-base experience, but he's already been optioned.

Farrell defends Sox' shoulder program, but he first raised the issue

Farrell defends Sox' shoulder program, but he first raised the issue

Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t scream “fake news" on Tuesday,  but he might as well have.

The only problem is he seems to be forgetting his own words, and his reliever’s.

Righty Tyler Thornburg is starting his Red Sox career on the disabled list because of a shoulder impingement. 

Another Dave Dombrowski pitching acquisition, another trip to the disabled list. Ho hum.

But the reason Thornburg is hurt, Farrell said, has nothing to do with the Red Sox’ shoulder program -- the same program Farrell referenced when talking about Thornburg earlier this month.

“There’s been a lot written targeting our shoulder program here,” Farrell told reporters on Tuesday, including the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. “I would discount that completely. He came into camp, he was throwing the ball extremely well, makes two appearances. They were two lengthy innings in which inflammation flared up to the point of shutting him down. But in the early work in spring training, he was throwing the ball outstanding. So to suggest that his situation or his symptoms are now the result of our shoulder program, that’s false.”

Let’s go back to March 10, when Farrell was asked in his usual pregame session with reporters about Thornburg’s status.

"He is throwing long-toss out to 120 feet today," Farrell said that day. “He’s also been going through a strength and conditioning phase, arm-wise. What we encounter with guys coming from other organizations, and whether it's Rick [Porcello], David [Price], guys that come in, and they go through our shoulder maintenance program, there's a period of adaptation they go through, and Tyler’s going through that right now. We're also going to get him on the mound and get some fundamental work with his delivery and just timing, and that's soon to come in the coming days. Right now it's long toss out to 120 feet.”

So Farrell volunteered, after Thornburg was taken out of game action, that the shoulder program appeared involved. 

Maybe that turned out not to be the case. But Farrell's the one who put this idea out there.

On March 11, Farrell was asked to elaborate about other pitchers who needed adjusting to how the Red Sox do their shoulder program.

“Rick Porcello is an example of that. Joe Kelly,” Farrell said. “And that's not to say that our program is the end-all, be-all, or the model for which everyone should be compared. That's just to say that what we do here might be a little more in-depth based on a conversation with the pitchers, that what they've experienced and what we ask them to do here. And large in part, it's with manual resistance movements on the training table. These are things that are not maybe administered elsewhere, so the body goes through some adaptation to get to that point. 

“So, in other words, a pitcher that might come in here previously, he pitched, he’s got recovery time and he goes and pitches again. There's a lot of work and exercise in between the outings that they may feel a little fatigued early on. But once they get those patterns, and that consistent work, the body adapts to it and their recovery times become much shorter. And it's one of the reasons we've had so much success keeping pitchers healthy and on the field.”

Except that Kelly has had a shoulder impingement in his time with the Red Sox, last April, and so too now does Thornburg.

In quotes that appeared in a March 12 story, Thornburg himself told the Herald’s Michael Silverman that he didn’t understand the Red Sox throwing program.

Thornburg said that after the December trade, he was sent a list of exercises from the training staff. The message he did not receive was that all of the exercises were to be performed daily.

“I kind of figured that this is a list of the exercises they incorporated, I didn’t think this is what they do all in one day,” said Thornburg. “I thought, ‘here’s a list of exercises, learn them, pick five or six of them,’ because that was pretty much what we did in Milwaukee.”

But according to Farrell, Thornburg’s current state has nothing to do with the program -- the same one Farrell himself cited when directly asked about Thornburg before.

Maybe the program was the wrong thing to point to originally. But Farrell did point to it.

"This is all still in line with the shoulder fatigue, the shoudler impingement and the subsequent inflammation that he's dealing with. That’s the best I can tell you at this point," Farrell said Tuesday. "Anytime a player, and we've had a number of players come in, when you come into a new organization, there's a period where guys adapt. Could it have been different from what he's done in the past? Sure. But to say it's the root cause, that’s a little false. That’s a lot false, and very short-sighted."

Hey, he started it.

Thornburg is not to throw for a week before a re-evaluation.