Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead

Dick Williams, RIP

Dick Williams, who passed away yesterday at age 82. In addition to being a Hall of Fame manager, he was also a stickler for the Code, and never afraid to retaliate when he felt it appropriate. He was at the helm of the San Diego Padres for their one-game war with the Braves in 1984, which Kurt Bevaqua called “the Desert Storm of baseball fights.”

That episode is detailed in The Baseball Codes. The following passage, however, was cut from the final edition. It details Williams’ understanding of the unwritten rules, even if his use of it was not always by the book. In honor of Williams, we present it here.

Dick Williams took over the Red Sox in 1967 as a 38-year-old rookie skipper, and guided a club that was coming off of back-to-back ninth-place finishes to the World Series. Still, amid acrimony and injuries to two key starting pitchers, Williams was fired before he could complete his third season—something about which he harbored resentment for years. Once Williams assumed managerial duties for other teams, he didn’t just want to beat the Red Sox, he wanted to destroy them.

Williams bunted whenever he could to advance runners into scoring position, even when games were well in hand. His baserunners tagged up from second on fly balls, even when leads relegated such tactics as unnecessary. And he squeezed.

If stealing second base with a big lead is enough to make an opponent’s head spin, squeezing is enough to blow it clean off his neck. There is no surer statement of we’re-going-to-pull-out-every-last-calculated-measure-in-our-playbook-to-push-another-run-across.

Williams took over the Angels in 1974, and during a game against Boston the following season his club used a hit, a walk and an error to extend its lead to 6-2 in the eighth inning. The manager knew just what to do. With runners on second and third and second baseman Jerry Remy at the plate, Williams called for a squeeze that extended the Angels’ lead.

“You do what the manager says,” said Remy, “but I knew it was the wrong thing to do.”

The next day, Boston pitcher Roger Moret threw at Remy with his first pitch of every at-bat, a subtle message that the squeeze was not appreciated. Fortunately for Remy, he missed all four times. “After the game, (Williams) said to me, ‘I guess I got you thrown at,’ ” said Remy. “I said, ‘I guess you did.’ ”

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