Dick Williams’ “Impossible Dream” began in Toronto

In his candid biography “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Dick Williams admits he was a “designated smart ass” during his playing career. A chronic shoulder injury hampered him as a player and eventually relegated him to a bench jockey role, where he became an expert at getting under the skin of opposing players. In 13 seasons with Brooklyn, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City and Boston, Williams hit a respectable .260 and belted 70 home runs, but his baseball savvy was evident and his appetite for winning was insatiable.

After the 1964 season, Neil Mahoney, the Red Sox minor league director, offered the then 35-year-old an opportunity to manage the club’s Triple-A affiliate Toronto Maple Leafs in 1965. Despite the meager salary (nearly half of the $18,500 he made in his last year as a player) that accompanied the position, Williams accepted the post and his legendary managerial career began. It was in Toronto that Williams’ reputation as a brash, confrontational, win-all-at-costs skipper would be born.

Leaf players responded to his crusty, old school style by winning championships in 1965 and 1966. But his crude, combative ways did offend some players. In Williams’ biography, he describes a confrontation he had with Leafs pitcher Mickey Sinks. Towards the end of the 1966 season, Sinks walked into Williams’ office to inform him that he didn’t plan on pitching in the post-season without assurance that he would be placed on the Red Sox roster at the end of the season. Williams said he couldn’t make that guarantee. Sinks then asked his manager if it was Williams’ choice, would his volatile skipper put him on the big league roster? Almost before Williams could say no, Sinks punched Williams in the eye and attacked his tell-it-like-it-is manager. The fiery dugout boss eventually got Sinks into a bear hug before the team trainer intervened.

After Sinks was escorted from the room, an unpleasant odor lingered. At first Williams wondered what it could be, but the cantankerous manager soon discovered that in the combative excitement, he had, ahem, crapped his pants. Clearly an advocate of crude clubhouse humor, Williams, according to his biography, called a clubhouse meeting the next day and showed his soiled pants to his players, reportedly telling them, “You mess with me, I’ll shit all over you.” The players chuckled, but the ever intense Williams added, “If this is what it takes to win, everybody in this room will be wearing diapers.”

While it’s doubtful many of his players wore diapers, his Toronto teams were champions. Among the future major leaguers he groomed in Toronto were Reggie Smith, Mike Andrews and Joe Foy. His success in Hogtown would earn him the Boston Red Sox managerial job in 1967. In what has become known as the “Impossible Dream” season, Williams would transform a ninth-place team into American League pennant winners. The 2008 Hall of Famer would also pilot the Oakland A’s to two World Series titles (1972, 1973), and manage the California Angels, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners. His successful four-and-a-half season tenure with the Montreal Expos will be highlighted in a future blog entry. But it was in Toronto that Dick Williams’ “Impossible Dream” began.

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