Dick Williams led four teams to league pennants, guiding two of them to world championships. Other than a late-career stint with the Mariners, Williams had success in every one of his managerial stops, most notably with the A’s, Padres and Red Sox.
He also came within a whisker of managing the Yankees, only to have the contract voided by the commissioner’s office. Now 82, the Hall of Fame skipper remains sharp in his recollections of his career, which he discussed during a recent visit to Cooperstown.
Markusen: Do people treat you differently now that you’re a Hall of Famer, and have been one for a few years now?
Williams: Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely. It’s quite a feeling, too. It’s “Mr. Williams this, Mr. Williams that.” But it’s Dick as far as I’m concerned. I know I’m getting up in age. You see these people that you’ve known for awhile, and they respect what has happened, going into the Hall of Fame. It’s been a tremendous thing.
Markusen: Looking back at your years with the A’s, do you keep in touch with some of the former players you managed? Are you able to talk to them from time to time?
Williams: Yes, Reggie [Jackson], and Rollie [Fingers]. I live in Las Vegas, and Rollie’s out in Vegas, too. I see [Gene] Tenace quite a bit, and [Joe] Rudi. And every once in awhile I’ll run into [Sal] Bando. I see just about all of them whenever we get together.
Markusen: You were known for being tough with your players. You were a disciplinarian, but when you talk to those guys now, do you sense that they realize you had their best interests at heart?
Williams: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Otherwise, they wouldn’t come by and see me. They realize what I was trying to do. That’s the way I was taught, and it was successful. With the [Brooklyn] Dodgers [where I played], that’s the way they were, too. I got all my learning and methods from the Dodgers.
Markusen: I’d like to talk about George Steinbrenner. Of course, he passed away last year. You almost became manager of the Yankees. In fact, you were introduced as Yankee manager at a press conference.
Williams: Well, I did end up working for him [as an advisor and consultant] for ten years.
Markusen: Any regrets that you didn’t have that managerial chance under Steinbrenner? Then you would have worked for both Finley and Steinbrenner as a manager and could have bragged about it.
Williams: I did work for George, but not as a field manager. [The deal was voided because Williams technically remained under contract to Finley.] But we came close. I left Finley because I had three years with him, and that was the most any manager had ever been with him. Finley was quite a different breed.
George, I thoroughly enjoyed George. George was a wonderful man. He did a lot of good things that people don’t know about. I had a good time my ten years working for him. My son Rick works for the Yankees now. He’s one of their chief scouts.
I can’t say enough kind things about George Steinbrenner. He was just terrific. He wanted to be the rough, old, gruff guy, but he really wasn’t.
Markusen: Looking back, after the 1973 season, if you had become manager of the Yankees, do you think you could have lasted a few years under him?
Williams: That’s hard to say. George might get mad at you one day, and you’re gone the next. It was hard to figure him out. Nobody really figured him out. But my association with him, after that period, for ten years was just tremendous.
Markusen: Who do you think knew more about baseball: George, or Finley?
Williams: Oh, George.
Williams: George, without a doubt. Finley was, I guess, what you would call a conniver. He was always trying to stir up the pot. He had a hate relationship with Bowie Kuhn. He wanted to be the “big show” and let everybody know it. But George wasn’t that way. George got the ink, but that was because George was in New York, and George commanded the ink.
Markusen: Looking back, are you somewhat amazed that Finley was able to have such success. He had such a skeleton crew in the front office, he had his hands in so many pots. Are you surprised that the A’s had the success that they did with all that stuff going on under Finley?
Williams: Well, all of the guys didn’t care for Finley. They played together, against Finley. That was the easiest managing job I had. And I left there [on my own]. I didn’t get fired. I left after three years. But he, he was different, he was a different breed. And his wife was a lovely woman. And she left him.
Markusen: So the players were on your side?
Williams: Oh, yes. I was like one of the guys. They knew how I operated. And I had to be stern a few times. But they played, and played well. We converted Fingers from a starter to a reliever; Charlie didn’t have anything to do with that. My coaches and myself did that. And Rollie was forever grateful.
Reggie was super. He was like one of my sons. He still is. We hug each other every time we see each other. And there was Catfish [Hunter]. We all went to Catfish’s funeral. He was just a great guy. But they were all great guys, Rudi, Tenace.
Tenace was my backup catcher, and then he established himself as quite a ballplayer in that Cincinnati series [the 1972 World Series]. We won that one without Reggie; he was on crutches. But he got us there with that slide at home plate in the final playoff game against the Tigers and [Woodie] Fryman. We ended up winning that series on Tenace’s only hit of the playoffs.
And then, for some reason, I started Tenace in the World Series, because I thought he was going to give me more offense [than Dave Duncan]. He hit two home runs in that first game.
Markusen: Dick, great to see you. Thanks for your time.