The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has announced an upcoming spring game between the Dodgers and Reds. It’s not particularly noteworthy news, but it was enough to remind me of a story that began during another spring training game in Sin City, and which also involved the Dodgers.
It featured Stan Williams, who is, hands down, my favorite crazy person in big league history. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, and with a red-hot fastball, Williams was not only willing to throw baseballs at hitters, he seemed to enjoy it.
The right-hander enjoyed moderate success over a 14-year career, but it was his utter devotion to the art of intimidation that set him apart. He and Don Drysdale alone made the Dodgers of the early 1960s one of the most terrifying pitching staffs ever assembled.
The Baseball Codes devotes nearly 2,000 words to Williams, but we’ll focus here on the List, a collection of names he kept in a notebook, which he updated whenever a hitter offended his baseball sensibilities. Once noted, a name stayed put until Williams was able to exact on-field revenge, at which point it was crossed off, case closed.
The best List story started in Vegas, during a spring training game in 1961 between the Dodgers and Indians, when Williams was 24 years old and in his fourth year in the National League.
Suffice it to say that the pitcher cared less about a noon exhibition than about enjoying the fruits of Las Vegas the previous night, into the dawn.
When it came time to take the mound, Williams was far from sharp—so much so that when he bounced a pitch off the helmet of Cleveland’s Bubba Phillips, it was one of the few times in his career that such a result was not what he had intended. (Not only that, Williams told us, he was throwing so softly that “I wouldn’t have hurt him if I’d hit him in the neck.”)
Still, Cleveland pitcher Barry Latman took up for his teammate and drilled Williams in response. Tempers flared, and when Williams was quickly removed from the game by Dodgers manager Walter Alston, he wasted little time adding Latman’s name to the list.
Because they played in different leagues, however, Williams never got his chance to retaliate. As his career progressed, more names got crossed off than were added, until finally Latman’s was the only one left.
I’ll leave it up to readers of the book to find out what ultimately happened between Williams and Latman, but will offer this detail: The next time they met was a dozen years later, as teammates on the Triple-A Seattle Angels — the final stop for each in his respective playing career.
The early line here says that the upcoming Vegas game, to be played March 31, won’t offer anything nearly so entertaining.