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.
What Stan Williams might be best known for, at least among those in the game, is The List. And it’s only in talking about The List that it becomes clear that Cliff Johnson was wrong—Williams wasn’t crazy, he was clever. In the pitcher’s own words, it was “tongue-in-cheek intimidation.”
The List was compiled in a small notebook that Williams carried with him everywhere. He kept it in a pocket when dressed in civilian clothes, and under his cap when in uniform. Inside the notebook was written the name of anyone who had ever offended Williams’ baseball sensibilities during the course of a game, either through action or ability. Guys who hit him hard were noted next to those who showed him up. And accompanying those names were stars, added if a player committed a second or third transgression. Once a player’s name was adorned with three stars, he effectively became a dental patient—due for a drilling.
To get the word out Williams utilized his good friend, Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly, who would be enshrined in Cooperstown if the criteria for entry was based on one’s ability to start conversations with opposing baserunners.
“When the guy got to first base, (Fairly) would just say something to him like, ‘Watch out, you’re on The List,’ ” said Williams. “And then I’d have an edge.”
There are countless List-inspired stories, but the most interesting of them concerns the last man on it before Williams retired in 1973. His name was Barry Latman, whose name had been added to the notebook a dozen years earlier, 1961, when Williams was 24 years old and in his fourth year with the Dodgers.
During that season, Los Angeles played a spring exhibition game in Las Vegas against the Cleveland Indians. Williams was the Dodgers’ starting pitcher, but because it was an exhibition game, and because it was Las Vegas, and because he had stayed up until dawn, and because the first pitch was scheduled before noon, he wasn’t necessarily as sharp as he would have been had the contest counted. This is where his reputation proved counter-productive.
In the early innings of the game, Williams bounced a pitch off the helmet of Cleveland’s Bubba Phillips, which might have pleased the pitcher greatly had that been his objective. As it was, not only wasn’t the pitch intentional, but Williams was throwing so softly, he said, that “I wouldn’t have hurt him if I’d hit him in the neck.”
Nonetheless, teammates are expected to protect each other. As such, the next time Williams stepped to the plate he was drilled in the ribs. The pitcher’s name: Barry Latman.
“Stan never moved,” said Fairly. “He didn’t even try to get out of the way of it. Didn’t flinch. The ball hit him and he stood there for about three or four seconds.” The umpire finally ordered Williams to first base, but before he got there he stopped, turned to the mound and put to words the concept that kept opposing pitchers from plunking him more often: “Hey Barry, now it’s my turn.”
But this was spring training. Dodgers manager Walter Alston, wanting to avoid needless escalation, promptly pulled Williams from the game. “Stan was going to hit every batter that came up there,” said Fairly. “And knowing Stan, he’d have the entire ballclub charge the mound, but he’d say, ‘I’m still going to get one or two of you.’ You don’t fool around with a guy like that.”
Denied immediate revenge, Williams instead inscribed Latman’s name to The List. The only problem was that Latman played in the American League, Williams in the National, and the pair’s paths didn’t cross again for nearly a decade. In the interim, as Williams inched closer to retirement, he realized that his habit of continually adding opponents’ names to his notebook wasn’t really doing anybody any good. He decided to wrap it up, and the only way to do that was to stop adding opponents’ names. Thus, The List stayed static while Williams methodically cleared out everybody on it, one retaliatory strike at a time—until Latman’s was the only name left.
As Williams wound down his career with the minor-league Seattle Angels, he found himself sharing a locker room with another guy similarly playing out his own string—Barry Latman. When Williams realized who he’d be teaming with he laughed out loud. The two talked, sharing war stories as the old men in a clubhouse full of kids, and quickly developed a tight bond.
One day, Williams was assigned to pitch batting practice, and didn’t offer a moment of hesitation when his old foe stepped in against him. The surprised Latman quickly found himself in the way of a fastball.
“That’s for Vegas!” Williams yelled toward the plate. “If you don’t like it, come on out—otherwise the list is done.”
Latman stayed put. Mission finally accomplished, Williams threw his notebook away.