The late Dick Williams, doing what great leaders do
If you are not a baseball fan, or under the age of thirty, you probably never heard of Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams, who died yesterday at the age of 84. I never met Williams myself, but I have been indebted to him for four decades. I never told him the immense difference he made in my life, just by doing his job.
In the winter of 1967, I was a devoted fan of my home town team, the Boston Red Sox, and had been since 1962. Over that period I had listened to every single baseball game on my transistor radio when a game wasn’t on TV, which was most of the time, or when I wasn’t at the game, which was almost always the case. I was the only person I knew who followed the team, and for good reason: it was torture. The Red Sox were hopelessly mediocre on the way to awful, and hadn’t had a winning season in more than ten years.
It is a great character builder to follow the fortunes of a terrible baseball team. Almost every day, for six months, you are let down, and yet return to the scene of your despair the next, attempting to muster hope while steeling yourself against likely disappointment. You find yourself finding things to appreciate other than winning: the gallant veteran player who “plays the right way” (Eddie Bressoud, shortstop, 1962-1965); the exciting rookie who gives promise of a better future (Tony Conigliaro, right fielder—rest in peace, Tony); the unique talent who is worth watching for his own sake (Dick Radatz, relief pitcher, 1962-1966). These things help, but following a perennial losing team and caring about them is like being punched in the gut four or five days a week without knowing which day you’re getting it.
Since 1965, I had always reserved seats for the first day of the season and one of the last two home games, just in case those last games would be crucial to a (hahahaha!) Red Sox pennant drive. This was especially pathetic, since the team was getting worse. They had finished in a tie for 9th place in 1966, and as the 1967 season loomed, Vegas had them installed as 100-1 underdogs to win the American League pennant. In truth, the odds should have been longer. Nonetheless, I wrote the Red Sox and got my tickets, this time for the next to last day of the season.
The team was full of rookies and near rookies, and appropriately had hired a minor league manager, Dick Williams, to be the new skipper. Williams was something else, however: he was a gifted leader. One day, in the middle of Spring Training, a Boston scribe asked the new manager what the prospects were for the upcoming season. Would the team escape the cellar? Would there be forward progress? Williams’ answer was instant front page news:
“We’ll win more than we lose.” Continue reading