I REALLY thought Dick Williams was going to win a Division with the Mariners. It seemed like it was inevitable.
When you consider what a Johnny Appleseed of unusual post seasons Dick Williams was responsible for, the Mariners seemed like the next logical step. It didn’t quite work. It almost did.
Williams was from Pasadena, not far from where I a typing this right now. He played as a reserve with the Brooklyn Dodgers during their “Boys of Summer” glory days, pinch hitting 3 times in the 1953 World Series. He spent the later 1950’s and into the mid 1960’s bouncing from team to team. He went to Baltimore, Cleveland, the Kansas City A’s and back to the Orioles and finally with Boston.
After the 1964 season, Williams retired from playing and wound up, after a strange affiliate shift, becoming the manager of the Toronto minor league team. He endeared himself to Red Sox management with his coaching style in 1965 and 1966 that in 1967, he was named manager in Boston.
Now remember what the Red Sox were in 1967. The notion of “Red Sox Nation” and Boston being in love with their team and Fenway Park being the center of the Olde Towne was not even conceivable then.
The Red Sox had not been to a World Series in 21 years. Boston was, and read this carefully, apathetic to the Red Sox. The team stunk. Fenway Park was empty. That bag of shit Tom Yawkey was threatening to move the Red Sox unless they got a new multipurpose stadium, preferably a dome.
Read that again. The Red Sox were going to MOVE FROM BOSTON UNLESS THEY GOT A COOKIE CUTTER OR DOME STADIUM. That’s where the Red Sox were in 1967.
Williams took over the team. They were involved in the greatest pennant chase in baseball history, winning the AL Pennant on the final day of the season. Suddenly Boston was in love the Red Sox. Everything that we associate with Red Sox nation and romance about Fenway Park can be traced to 1967. It wasn’t Ted Williams and “The Teammates.” That is retroactive Baby Boomer nostalgia. We could have had the Atlanta Red Sox if we weren’t careful.
After 3 years in Boston, Williams left and in 1971, he joined the A’s. Now let’s remember what the A’s were. They were a vagabond franchise, having left Philadelphia for Kansas City in the 1950’s and leaving Kansas City for Oakland in the 1960’s, the team was not relevant since the days of Connie Mack.
They were considered to be a joke franchise, first with the KC A’s acting like a de facto farm team for the Yankees. Then, under Charlie Finley, the team had mules on the field, bright green uniforms, long hair, mustaches and the goofy looking bunch was constantly threatening to move.
Under Dick Williams, the insanely talented team won the AL West in 1971 and the World Series in 1972. The team had not had an October since 1930 and under Williams, they won back to back Championships. A dispute with ownership had him resign after the 1973 World Series. The team won again in 1974.
OK, things didn’t work out when he tried his hand with the California Angels. But in Montreal, he took over a strange team that had never even had a winning record in 1977. With talent blossoming, they contended in 1979 and 1980 until the final day of the season. They made the playoffs in 1981, but again, clashing with ownership caused him to resign before October. GM Jim Fanning piloted the team in October, but it was Dick Williams design.
The next year he was in San Diego, another team that had never contended EVER. A strange little franchise with brown uniforms and tucked away next to the desert, Mexico and the ocean, the Padres also threatened to move early in their existence. In Williams’ third year with the club, they won 92 games and the NL West. Then they stunned the Cubs in the NLCS before finally falling to the Tigers in the World Series. He had successfully managed teams in each league to the World Series. One year later he was gone, only to find a new job a year later.
In 1986, he was in charge of the Mariners. Now, remove the Angels and look at his resume. Lackluster Boston franchise? Pennant. Confused and ridiculed A’s franchise? Back to back titles and a dynasty. Irrelevant Expos franchise? Contender and built into a playoff team. Small potatoes San Diego franchise? Pennant winner.
With that in mind, taking over Seattle, a club that from 1977 to his arrival in 1986, had never ever seen a .500 club and threatened to move, looked like the next inevitable pennant.
One thing the Mariners had in 1986 was some raw talent all over the field. There was raw power in Alvin Davis, Ken Phelps and Jim Presley. Rookie Danny Tartabull also provided 25 dingers. Phil Bradley was a solid all around hitter. Harold Reynolds provided speed. A slew of young hitters were coming up through the pipeline.
There was talent in the pitching staff. Mike Moore and Mark Langston both had ace stuff and Billy Swift was a top prospect.
If this group could gel in a weak AL West, Williams would have his next magic act. Then came 1987. The AL West was wide open. The defending champion Angels and perennial contender Kansas City seemed to be the cream of the crop. But the Mariners had one of the strongest infields in baseball and a 19 win season from Mark Langston.
By mid May, they were tied for first place and were above .500 into June. By July, they were hovering near first place. On July 10, they were 3 1/2 games out of first place. The Twins were in first, but hardly a juggernaut. The A’s and Royals were a few games out. If they could keep close, the AL West could go to Seattle.
Instead they finished 34-42 the rest of the way. They finished with a 78-84 record, 7 games back of the Twins. Those Twins would go on to stun Detroit and beat a hobbled St. Louis team for the World Series. What could have been for the Mariners if they had a better second half.
Williams would leave midway through 1988, his final year. The next year, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson arrived, laying down the foundation of Seattle’s first playoff push that would come 6 years later.
I really loved that Mariner team in 1987. They were fun, exciting and had some real hope. The problem was that Langston was talented and Moore was talented but they could never have their solid years in the same year. Had they had that 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, Williams might have been able to add Seattle to his Hall of Fame resume of success.
Williams didn’t need Seattle for his miracle worker reputation. It just would have been a lot of fun if he did win there.