Dick Williams was the manager of the Angels when the 1976 season began.
Winning teams sprung up wherever he went before Seattle with one exception: The California Angels. Dick Williams became the manager of the Angels in 1975 a year after sitting out the 1974 season. He had resigned from the A’s after clashing with Charlie Finley. He left on top with the A’s as back to back World Series champs.
He couldn’t go manage another team for a year because of his contract, even though George Steinbrenner wanted him to take over the Yankees.
In 1975, he took over the Angels, a team that had never finished in second place between their creation in 1961 and the 1974 season. They only had 4 winning seasons despite the support of owner Gene Autry.
Dick Williams became manager in 1975 and they had a disappointing 89 loss season. He was the manager going into 1976. You will notice the manager listed on this 1977 card is of Norm Sherry and NOT Dick Williams. Spoiler Alert: Dick didn’t make it through the season.
The AL West was kind of up for grabs in 1976. The A’s were in flux and new teams like the Royals and the Rangers had images of the AL West dancing in their heads. So why not the Angels? Besides, they had a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation of Frank Tanana and Nolan Ryan.
The season could not have started worse for the Angels. They were swept by the A’s in the opening series of the year. April featured a 4 game losing streak and a 6 game losing streak. They finished the first month 5-12.
Dick Williams kept his “My way or the high way” approach to managing which is terrific on a team loaded with All Stars and future Hall of Famers like he had with Boston and Oakland. In California, he had a bunch of OK players, washed up players and Bobby Bonds in a slump.
He held a practice in the hotel lobby during a road trip using a whiffle ball and bat. Mainly he did this to humiliate the team and show how they couldn’t break anything.
Eventually the players had enough and made their displeasure known to management.
96 games into the season, the Angels were 39-57, 20 games out of first place and in the cellar. Dick Williams was out. Norm Sherry was in.
The team responded with a 3 game winning streak. Under Sherry they were 37-29 and climbed out of last place to finish the season 76-86.
The honeymoon with Sherry was short lived. This card was issued in 1977. By the time the season was over, Sherry was out and Dave Garcia was in. Garcia started the 1978 season as manager but was replaced by Jim Fregosi.
Man, Mr. Autry never had Steinbrenner’s reputation of switching managers at an alarming clip but there seemed to be a Merry Go Round in Anaheim!
Fregosi was the Cinderella fit, leading the Angels to the Division Title in 1979 and was going to be the Angels manager for good… or at least until 1981 when Gene Mauch took over.
Lots of skippers in California but so few won there. Not even the great Dick Williams could pull it off. Maybe it had more to do with the players.