Williams misses being GM, but not toll it took on him
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- By Thanksgiving last year, Kenny Williams was bouncing off walls.
He had ceded the title of general manager of the White Sox to Rick Hahn in late October, slipping into the role of executive vice president.
"I drove my fiancée batty," said Williams. "The offseason is the most active time for a general manager -- trying to put together a club, talking to other general managers about trades, talking to agents about free agents.
"I purposely left Rick alone that first month, except when he called and asked me an opinion. Then one day I walked into his office and said, 'I need to know if you need more involvement from me, less involvement or about the same.'
"He said, 'Absolutely more.' I thought, 'Thank God.'"
It's not that Williams submerged himself into the offseason duties, but he did play a role, always making sure he did not get in Hahn's way, but avoiding the work withdrawal pains he had been suffering.
And this spring, he's right alongside Hahn, evaluating the White Sox, discussing organizational philosophy, but always respecting Hahn's territory.
Standing on the sideline is not an easy chore for Williams. He doesn't turn 49 until April 6. And remember, Williams was a wide receiver/kick returner at Stanford when the White Sox signed him as a third-round Draft pick in 1982.
He has a full-speed-ahead work mentality. It comes with a price.
"That [general manager] job is something I grew to love," said Williams. "Unfortunately for me, it also came with an intensity I never got a handle on. I'd watch every out of every game like it was NFL Sunday, only it was 162 games a year.
"Even if we won, if we had a player or two in a slump or a pitcher feel a twinge, I would carry that home with me. I constantly went through a mental checklist at night. I couldn't sleep.
"I lost three friends in their early 50s, guys who had broad diversion and achieved success in the private world. They had massive heart attacks and died. At some point, I realized I couldn't let what I do be so all-consuming that it affected me."
Easier said than done.
"When I took the [general manager] job, I said at the press conference I wanted to bring multiple championships to Chicago and I was going to exhaust myself making sure I got it done," said Williams. "I did exactly that, exhausted myself, but we only won one championship."
The White Sox swept Houston in the 2005 World Series, the franchise's first title since 1917. They lost to Tampa Bay in four games in the 2008 American League Division Series.
Williams at one point reached out to John Schuerholz, then the Braves' general manager, and asked him for advice on how to balance his life.
"I told him, 'You've been at it a long time. How do you do it?'" Williams said. "He told me if I found the answer to that, call him. I said, 'You've been a general manager 25 years. You're Johnny Smooth, and you don't have an answer? Then who does?'"
Doctors tried to help Williams at least get sleep. Initially he was given a prescription for Ambien, but, "I had bad dreams beyond deliver." So for the last 10 years he was a general manager, he was switched to Lunesta, "and still only got 3 1/2 hours sleep a night."
"But since October, I've only take [a sleeping pill] three times and I generally get six hours of sleep a night. I am sharper, more focused, more energetic."
Williams admits he misses the grind, but knows he's better off without it.
He also knows he is fortunate that Hahn was available to be promoted to general manager, which allows Williams to remain an active participant in decision-making. The two worked together for more than a decade, and have what Williams feels is a very good relationship.
"The best way to put it my situation is I am to Rick what Jerry [Reinsdorf, White Sox owner] has been to me," said Williams. "Although Jerry is still very much a part of things, and has the ultimate say on what we do at the end of the day, I retain some veto power."
The challenge, said Williams, is making sure Hahn doesn't get caught in the same all-consuming trap that engulfed him.
"He has young kids, and he has to find time to enjoy them, too," said Williams. "If one of them has a soccer game or baseball game, he has to be able to break away and be there."
"Yeah, when I said that to Jerry, he laughed," said Williams. "He said, 'You couldn't figure it out for yourself.'"
Isn't that the key to being a good mentor?
You know the old saying, "Do as I say, not as I do"?
It's Williams' new mantra.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.