In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: intimidation.
The meanest man in baseball during the 1960s might have been Dodgers pitcher Stan Williams. What made him so mean? “That’s a cinch,” he said with a grin. “What really inspired me to throw at a batter was if he came up to home plate with a bat in his hand. I never threw at anybody that wasn’t in my zone. All I wanted was one yard on each side of the plate. You get in my zone, you’re fair game.”
Teammate Ron Fairly said that he once saw Williams tack up a photo of Hank Aaron in the back of his locker and set to throwing baseballs at it. When asked what he was doing, Williams’ answer was simple: “Practicing.”
Even after his playing career, the pitcher made no effort to change his reputation, plying his unique brand of intimidation as pitching coach for the Red Sox, Yankees, White Sox and Reds over the course of a dozen seasons. He never felt much need to alter people’s preconceptions.
While coaching with New York in 1979, Williams was approached before one batting practice by Yankees catcher Cliff Johnson—himself 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., and known for his willingness to mix it up with opponents and teammates—who decided to call what he felt was Williams’ bluff. Johnson told him that if their career paths had intersected, a knockdown would have resulted in a less-than-friendly visit to the pitcher’s mound.
Williams didn’t hesitate. “Let me tell you two things,” he told Johnson. “Number one, you wouldn’t have had to come to the mound because I’d have met you halfway. And number two, number one isn’t going to change number two.”
This stopped Johnson in his tracks, mainly because he had no idea what Williams was talking about. He asked what “number two” referred to.
“The next time you come up,” said Williams, “whether you kicked my ass or I kicked yours, I’m going to hit you right in the neck.”
Johnson took a step backward and spat a familiar refrain to the old pitcher. “Oh man,” he said. “You’re crazy.” During the ensuing BP session, Williams, manning the mound, took it upon himself to back Johnson up with a succession of inside fastballs. Eventually, the big catcher was so far from the plate that he was bucking up against the inside of the batting cage. Good-natured intimidation between members of the same team is intimidation nonetheless.