Williams reflects on interesting career
HOF inductee discusses his days as a manager at press event
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Phyllis Merhige, Major League Baseball's senior vice president for club relations, was the monitor for the news conferences at Cooperstown High School on Saturday and began by asking reporters to turn off their cellular phones.
Sure enough, as Goose Goosage was answering a question, a cell phone rang. It happened to belong to the person sitting next to him, Dick Williams, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday along with Gossage.
"I can't talk right now because I'm in a press conference," Williams told the caller.
He hung up, but less than a minute later, Williams' phone rang again. He gave the next caller the same message and finally turned the phone off.
It was a welcome break in the tension of a weekend that challenges the nerves of those entering the Hall. It also was a view at what Williams might have experienced if there had been cell phones in the early 1970s, when he was the manager of the Oakland A's under one of the game's most intrusive owners, Charles O. Finley.
Williams became so frustrated by Finley's hands-on style, with orders coming regularly from Finley's Chicago office, that Williams quit after the A's won their second consecutive World Series in 1973.
"I was leaving Oakland with Mr. Finley's best wishes," Williams said. "He said he wouldn't stand in my way. This was done at our victory celebration after we had beaten the Mets in 1973."
Finley quite famously did stand in Williams' way, however. There was a year remaining on Williams' contract when he signed a three-year deal with New York Yankees second-year owner George Steinbrenner.
"It was a three-year contract, but it lasted about two weeks," Williams recalled. "When Charlie found out he could get some compensation, he went after the Yankees asking for their two top prospects, [outfielder] Otto Velez and [pitcher] Scott McGregor. Well, I wouldn't have traded for Dick Williams either for those two people, so it didn't materialize. We lost the hearing against Charlie with American League president Joe Cronin ruling against us. The Yankees went the other way right away and brought in Bill Virdon."
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As for what might have been, Williams could only imagine how often Steinbrenner would have rung him up in the dugout.
"George wasn't keeping too many managers around at that time," Williams said. "He went through quite a few managers in those years ['70s and '80s], including Billy Martin three or four times [five, actually]."
Williams wasn't sure where his next job would be.
"I wasn't going back with Charlie," Williams said. "I made up my mind about that."
Living then in Singer Island, Fla., Williams was contacted by John D. MacArthur, founder of Bankers Life and Casualty and creator of a financial empire valued at more than $6 billion. At the time, MacArthur was considered the third-wealthiest person in North America behind J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes.
"He knocked at my door and introduced himself," Williams said. "He said, 'I think you're getting a raw deal, Dick, and I want you to come down to see me tomorrow morning.' I had breakfast with him at 7 o'clock. He said, 'I want you to come work for me.' He paid me more than Charlie paid me. He said, 'You never take a step backwards.' I still don't know what my job was with Mr. Mack, except everywhere he went, I also went. He treated me exceptionally well. When the Angels got permission to talk to me in the middle of the year , he negotiated my contract, and I proceeded to lose my first 10 games with the Angels."
More winning would come later on in Williams' career, especially in San Diego, where with Gossage's help, he steered the Padres into their first World Series in 1984. Williams pioneered the use of closing relievers with Rollie Fingers of the A's and had success with Gossage as well in roles far different from today's closers, who usually are limited to one inning.
"Some guys make a nice living pitching only the ninth inning, although I did see [Mariano] Rivera pitch [1 2/3 innings] last night in a 1-0 victory," Williams said. "I'm sorry to keep harping on this. I go back to the old school where I want a four-man rotation.
"I had Rollie Fingers who became a reliever because he was a poor starter. The closest it got for him to start the more nervous he got. We stuck him in the bullpen and brought him into games with nothing on the line a few times, and he did well. So we promoted him to the middle innings to get a big hitter out, and eventually we put him in the stopper role, but his stopper role wasn't one out or one inning. I pitched him eight innings in a ballgame one day.
"I go back to the more you throw, the stronger you're going to be, and I have some people who agree with me. Ferguson Jenkins believes in the four-man rotation. My pitchers thrived on it. Catfish Hunter would pitch, be off a day, throw on the side, be off a day and pitch again. And on that throw day, he'd do go down in the bullpen and be ready if we needed to help out Rollie -- if we had used Rollie three or four days in a row.
"I don't like the five-man rotation, never have, never will, so I'll never manage again."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.