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

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

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Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

NEW YORK -- It had the potential to be the most awkward celebration ever.

In the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, before their game was complete, the Red Sox became American League East champions, by virtue of one other division rival -- Baltimore -- coming back to beat another -- Toronto -- in the ninth inning.

That eliminated the Blue Jays from the division race, and made the Sox division champs.

But that ninth inning reversal of fortune was about to visit the Red Sox, too.

Craig Kimbrel faced four hitters and allowed a single and three straight walks, leading to a run. When, after 28 pitches, he couldn't get an out, he was lifted for Joe Kelly, who recorded one out, then yielded a walk-off grand slam to Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees celebrated wildly on the field, while the Red Sox trudged into the dugout, beset with mixed emotions.

Yes, they had just lost a game that seemed theirs. But they also had accomplished something that had taken 158 games.

What to do?

The Sox decided to drown their temporary sorrows in champagne.

"As soon as we got in here,'' said Jackie Bradley Jr., "we quickly got over it.''

From the top of the eighth until the start of the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox seemed headed in a conventional celebration.

A two-run, bases-loaded double by Mookie Betts and a wild pitch -- the latter enabling David Ortiz to slide into home and dislodge the ball from former teammate Tommy Layne's glove --- had given the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Koji Uehara worked around a walk to post a scoreless walk and after the top of the ninth, the Sox called on Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out all but two save opportunities all season.

But Kimbrel quickly allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and then began pitching as though he forgot how to throw strikes. Three straight walks resulted in a run in and the bases loaded.

Joe Kelly got an out, but then Teixeira, for the second time this week, produced a game-winning homer in the ninth. On Monday, he had homered in Toronto to turn a Blue Jays win into a loss, and now, here he was again.

It may have been a rather meaningless victory for the Yankees -- who remain barely alive for the wild card -- but it did prevent them the indignity of watching the Red Sox celebrate on their lawn.

Instead, the Sox wore the shame of the walk-off -- at least until they reached their clubhouse, where the partying began in earnest.

It had taken clubhouse attendants less than five minutes to cover the floor and lockers with plastic protective sheets. In a matter of a few more minutes, the air was filled with a mix of beer and bubbly.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wore a goggles and only socks on his feet.

As the spray reached every inch of the clubhouse, David Ortiz exclaimed: "I'm going to drown in this man.''

Defeat? What defeat?