The emotional Williams is the only manager to win pennants with three different teams (the Red Sox, A’s, and Padres), as well as win titles in all four divisions. But despite his teams’s successes, he always alienated management and players alike with his driving, hard-bitten, “my way or the highway” attitude. He managed six different teams in a career that stretched over 21 years and often included clashes with similarly single-minded owners.
A versatile performer in his playing days, Williams played three positions over a 13-year career with five teams, starting in Brooklyn, including three separate short tours with the Orioles, and ending in Boston. In 1967 he took over a Red Sox team that had finished ninth the year before and guided them through a successful four-team pennant race, before losing the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games. Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey grew impatient when Williams didn’t repeat the feat in the following two years, and Williams’s relationship with his players, especially Carl Yastrzemski, started to deteriorate. Yawkey took Yaz’s side, and Williams was fired following a third-place finish in 1969.
After Williams spent a year coaching with the expansion Expos, Charlie Finley hired him to manage the A’s, a team with burgeoning stars on the verge of maturity. Williams, Finley’s 11th manager in as many years, guided the A’s to the division title in 1971, then to their first pennant in 41 years in 1972. Williams was often accused of over-managing, and it almost cost the 1972 Series. The A’s were up two games to one, and winning the fourth game 1-0 in the eighth inning. With two on, Williams replaced starter Ken Holtzman with Vida Blue to a chorus of boos. Blue promptly allowed the two runners to score. Williams was exonerated when A’s scored two in the top of the ninth on four straight singles, three by pinch hitters, to win the game. They went on to win the first of three straight championships.
The 1973 Series was famous for the Mike Andrews incident. In the second game, defensive replacement Andrews committed two errors in the 12th inning to allow the Mets to win the game and tie the Series at one game each. Finley ordered Andrews to write a “confession” of his errors and claim an injury, and then tried to drop him from the roster, bypassing Williams. Incensed, Williams swore he would quit at the end of the Series, which he did, after the A’s won a dramatic seventh game.
George Steinbrenner tried to hire Williams for the Yankees in 1974, but Williams was still under contract to Finley. Finley didn’t want Williams to work for Steinbrenner, and prevailed on AL president Joe Cronin to nix the deal for tampering. Although Williams was out of work, he was still entitled to manage the AL All-Star team. Earl Weaver, assigned the task by Cronin, stepped aside to let Williams manage the squad. Right after the All-Star break, Williams replaced Bobby Winkles as manager of the Angels. fter finishing no higher than fourth in three seasons, Williams moved back to Montreal, this time to manage. After leading the team to second place finishes in 1979 and 1980, he was fired in September 1981, as his replacement Jim Fanning led the Expos to their only post-season appearance. In 1982, Williams went back to California as the manager of the Padres. He took the Padres to their only World Series in 1984, where they were overwhelmed by the much stronger Tigers. Williams spent the last three years of his career managing for tight-fisted George Argyros in Seattle, but decided early in the 1988 season that he had had enough of both cheap management and mediocre players, and retired.