By taking over a ninth-place team and leading it to the pennant in his first year as a big-league manager in Boston, Dick Williams earned the reputation of being a turnaround artist that he built on later in Montreal and San Diego.
By taking over an emerging powerhouse in Oakland and leading the Athletics to back-to-back World Series titles to start a dynasty in the 1970s, Williams became a Hall of Famer.
Williams, one of only two managers ever to lead three teams to the World Series, died Thursday from a ruptured aortic aneurysm at a hospital near his home in Henderson, Nev., the Hall of Fame said. He was 82.
With his brash style, mustache and public feuds with owner Charlie Finley, Williams was the ideal manager for the A’s teams that won it all for him in 1972 and `73 and then again the following year after he resigned.
“He came to us at a very good time in our development and certainly for me as a young player full of talent … ,” Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said. “We were young and needed to understand how to go about winning and take the final step to become a great team. He was very important in that. He demanded excellence.”
He was able to get that out of his players in many of his stops, winning pennants with the Red Sox and San Diego as well as the championships in Oakland to join Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie as the only managers ever to take three franchises to the World Series.
He also helped build the Montreal Expos team that went to the playoffs in the strike-shortened 1981 season as he built on his success turning around struggling franchises with his no-nonsense approach.
“I owe Dick a lot,” said Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who played for Williams in San Diego. “The city and the Padres owe him a lot. I think a lot of fans bought right into it like the players did, like in `82, when he first took over, then `84 when we went to the World Series. I think the fans realized that his style of play, the way he wanted us to play, could be successful if we bought in, and we did.”
But he had his biggest success during three tumultuous seasons in Oakland in the 1970s. Williams led the Athletics to 101 wins and a division title his first year in 1971 before being swept by Baltimore in the AL championship series.
He then won World Series titles the next two years with Hall of Famers like Jackson, Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter as the A’s became the first team to repeat since the 1961-62 Yankees.
The final straw between manager and owner came during the ‘73 World Series. After second baseman Mike Andrews made two errors in a Game 2 loss, Finley publicly berated him and pressured him to sign an affidavit claiming he was hurt so the A’s could add another player to the roster.
“When Dick left, it was an odd termination,” Jackson said. “That was a weird deal, the Mike Andrews situation. We knew Dick was still a heck of a manager. It was really just a disagreement with ownership over the incident in the World Series and Dick stood up for the player.”
Before coming to Oakland, Williams was part of Boston’s memorable “Impossible Dream” team in 1967 that won the pennant for the first time since 1946 before losing the World Series in seven games to St. Louis.