'Impossible Dream' architect Dick Williams dies

191542.jpg

'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.

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

red_sox_porcello_buccholz_kelly_052316.jpg

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

BOSTON -- Avoiding the big inning isn’t just a major concern for Red Sox pitching, it is for all pitchers, at any level.

They can be used as benchmarks for a pitcher’s worth, given one’s ability to minimize the damage, and are in general big momentum shifters.

In each game of the Cleveland series Boston’s starting pitchers were presented with an inning that had potential on running awry.

And each handled it differently.

Joe Kelly took care of business. Rick Porcello minimized the damage and moved on. And, in typical fashion, Clay Buchholz didn’t do well -- even though he managed to log a quality start.

Kelly’s big inning came in his 30-pitch fifth inning, where he lost his perfect game bid -- and gave him no chance at completing the game -- with three walks.

But despite a lapse in control and pressure mounting with runners in scoring position, he held down the fort.

He was able to stay in them moment and work through his worst inning unscathed.

“[I] just got a little bit out of my mechanics and tempo from the stretch,” Kelly said on his fifth inning struggles following Saturday’s 9-1 win. “The pitches still felt good. The life on the fastball felt good [and] the breaking stuff felt sharp. It was just a matter not getting that timing down with my mechanics and just being a little bit to late on getting my arm extended.”

The following day Porcello took the mound and was off once again. John Farrell credited it to a lack of sink on Porcello’s go-to pitch, which is definitely a problem if that’s the case.

But there’s a lot to be said about a pitcher who doesn’t have his best pitch, yet still goes out and pitches a good game (even if it doesn’t get marked as a quality start).

And there’s even more value in the fact that on a bad day, Porcello can still get out of a jam.

“I was overthrowing and out of my game a little bit,” Porcello said on his rough second inning in Sunday’s 5-2 win. “In the third inning I just tried to get the ball down and get some quick outs.”

He also explained that he tries to simplify his approach in starts when he doesn’t have everything working.

“[You] just regroup mentally and battle through it,” Porcello said. “[I was] just trying to keep the balls in the ballpark and let the defense make the plays behind you like they did today.”

Kelly and Porcello set a positive tone to end the series with the Indians after Buchholz had proven that even the Quality Start statistic is misleading at times.

“The one pitch to [Jason] Kipnis is the difference in this one tonight,” John Farrell said following Buchholz’s start Friday. “What we’ve seen is when it’ been a home run, it’s probably been a walk that’s mixed in . . .The home runs are going to happen I think we all look at the base runners leading up to where he puts himself into a little bit of a corner where you don’t have much margin for error with men on base.

“And then there’s been a fastball that’s leaked back to the middle. And that was the case again tonight. He’s trying to crowd Kipnis and to keep the ball in on him and it ends up on the inner half. To me I don’t know if it’s focus, it’s a manner of falling behind in the count and the walks are factoring. We’re working to get him over that hump.”

The “one pitch” being the issue for Buchholz got him a pass for a few starts -- not to belittle the issue, it still is one -- but putting runners on in excess is the righty’s big problem.

He’s clearly still not comfortable throwing from the stretch (never mind bring the game to a screeching halt) and that needs to change. Fact is pitchers throw out of the stretch more often than not.

And going back to the “one pitch” being the problem. It seems more often than not that it’s Buchholz’s “front-door” two-seamer that is supposed to start at a lefty’s hip and scrape the inner edge of the plate.

But once again it wound up catching too much plate, even more barrel and parking itself in the outfield bleachers.

The question beckons, “When will he stop using that pitch so frequently?” It is absolutely a valuable weapon, but if Buchholz has to see that the risk-reward isn’t in his favor.

Regardless, Buchholz needs to take a page out of Kelly and Porcello’s book. Simplify to minimize the damage.

He might even get a standing ovation like Kelly and Porcello when they got pulled.

Report: Shane Victorino released by Cubs

victorino.jpg

Report: Shane Victorino released by Cubs

Shane Victorino's career may be approaching the finish line.

The 35-year-old outfielder's attempt to catch on with the Cubs is over, as Carrie Muskat of cubs.com reports he's been released. He had suffered a calf injury in spring training and was sidelined for about a month-and-a-half, then hit .233/.324/.367 in Triple-A Iowa. 

Victorino's first year in Boston, 2013, was far and away his best, as he hit .294/.351/.451 with 15 homers and 61 RBI in helping the Red Sox win the World Series. His next two seasons were riddled with injuries, and the Sox traded him to the Angels last July at the deadline for infielder Josh Rutledge. He struggled in Anaheim (.214/.292/.286 in 98 at-bats) and was allowed to become a free agent at the end of the season.