The man who got Ted Williams up off his big fat tackle box and back into baseball where he belongs impressed Williams immediately as "the smartest man I ever met—a hell of a smart guy." (At the art of sizing up people Williams is a first-impressionist.)
By securing the last of the .400 hitters for his Washington Senators, New Owner Bob Short in fact succeeded on a double piece of smart business: 1) he was able to talk Williams into managing, which no one else has been able to do since Ted quit playing eight years ago; and 2) he was able to talk Williams into managing the adynamic Senators, which no one would want to do without the kind of contract baseball managers never get.
Where Williams showed smarts of his own was in demanding and receiving precisely that: the kind of contract a baseball manager never gets. The total package is for more than $1.5 million. The contract runs five years, at $100,000 per year in salary, but payment will be spread over a much longer period. He also gets a gift of stock and an option to purchase more after the fifth year, so that Williams will wind up owning 10% of the club. He is designated as a vice-president. He cannot be fired but he can quit. The relatively leisurely five years he has to build a winner is unheard of in baseball.
Nevertheless, if after the first year Williams decides he was right all along—that managing a baseball team is an aggravation beyond human endurance—then he can kick himself upstairs, to be general manager or to adopt whatever role he thinks would serve the club best. If he wants only to get back to his wife, small son and fishing boat on the Florida Keys, he can do that, too. Short, in the meantime, was assured a quick return on his investment. Right away he had a bonanza in publicity: a name for the deprived Washington baseball fans to feed on, a museum piece come to life, and probably the most important name in baseball for the season to come. He paid a giddy price to get it, but that in itself makes for better promotion than if he had shopped for a bargain. Short simply followed the Sonny Werblin hypothesis that a $400,000 quarterback is a promotional asset rather than a fiscal liability. In competition for the fans' dollar at home, Short had also at least equaled the coup of Washington Redskin President Edward Bennett Williams in hiring Vince Lombardi.
February 24, 1969
The Senators being as uncharismatic a team as there is in baseball, Short is banking that thousands will come out—home and away—just to see Ted Williams manage. To see if he can manage. To see if he can keep his calm in the gale of a 10-game losing streak. Maybe to boo him if he can't. In Boston, Williams had a few steady followers who paid their way into Fenway Park for the express purpose of booing him.
Williams hated the boos and he reacted to them, sometimes sensationally, and there was a history of heavily publicized encounters with the Boston press. As a player, however, he could lash back by hitting home runs; he could slay his critics with brilliance at the plate. He always considered the manager's job unredeeming in this respect. He saw it, essentially, as a defenseless position. Years ago he turned down an offer to manage the Red Sox and declared that he coveted no other job.
Indeed, until the last moment before yielding to Bob Short's advances, Williams resisted the prospect of his actually being Out There on the Field, out there where you "make a blunder and everybody in the whole damn world knows it, and there's no doubt I would make some blunders, no doubt about it at all." The night before he flew north to meet Short, Ted sliced into a thick rare steak he had grilled on the patio of a friend's house in Miami (he takes charge of barbecues) and said, "The one thing, the only thing, that could make me change my mind is m-o-n-e-y. I haven't got it made yet. It may look like I have, I'm close but I'm not fixed financially. This might be the way. Let's face it," he said, "there's a price for everything."
As he examined his feelings further, however, it was clear—if not to him, then to his listener—that money was not the only motivation. He said he had had fishing and hunting unlimited for the past eight years. As much as he loved the idyllic life he had fashioned for himself, it had amounted to an awful lot of time spent on his rear end. Baseball remained his first love. He had been only on the fringes of it for eight years—as a batting coach for young Red Sox players in the spring, a job he found increasingly unrewarding. He had strong, intelligent opinions about baseball, about how to improve it. And he knew he had always been able to establish a rapport with its players and he was wasting it all talking to the walls. "This may be my last real chance to get back into baseball on my own terms," he said.
By this time Short's campaign to win him was proceeding apace. First Short had called long distance from Minneapolis, signifying his intentions. He indicated Williams could write his own ticket. Williams said he knew nothing about managing, he did not even know the players Washington had besides Frank Howard and a couple of others, and that he appreciated the offer but please try and get someone else. Then came a call from Joe Cronin, president of the American League and Ted's first manager in Boston. Cronin asked him to take the job. He said the league needed him. Baseball needed him.
Short called again. He volunteered to hop into his Lear Jet and fly down to Islamorada to close the deal. Williams, resisting the hard sell, said that would not be necessary, that he had to go to South Carolina for Sears anyway, and if Short could meet him in Atlanta that would be fine. In the meantime, Williams called a Sears executive to apprise him of what was going on. His $100,000-plus contract with Sears—personal services, endorsements, etc.—requires around two months of his time per year, and both he and the company value it highly.
Short and Williams met at the Marriott Hotel in Atlanta and talked through dinner. Short told him he had seen him play as a boy in Minneapolis in 1938. He said he had worn holes in his pants sitting on the bleachers watching Ted hit. They talked into the night. The next day Short flew Williams on to South Carolina. Short had won his point. "A self-made man," said Williams. "A smart man."
When Williams returned to Miami he was abubble with ideas. "I guarantee you we will win more games," he said. The first thing he wanted to do was move the fences in. "Maybe it will mean we will lose 7-6 instead of 2-1," he said. "But at least it will be more exciting." Short said he liked the idea. Williams said he was going to take a hard look at the background in D.C. Stadium. He said background can ruin hitters.
At Miami International Airport he was met with his first press conference. He still had not signed a contract, there being a few details remaining unsettled, nor had he signed it by week's end, but his enthusiasm left little doubt that he would become manager. The press conference was an acid test, and he handled it flawlessly. He gave the writers as much time as they wanted, and gave the stragglers extra time. He seemed to enjoy himself.
He said the most important thing he could do as a manager was to get his players "wanting to win." He was asked if he realized that great hitters like Horns-by and Cobb could not cut it as managers. He said he knew it, sure, "and they were great baseball minds. But they were not yes men."
He said he did not expect any trouble with the Washington press. He knew many of them from years past and they always had good relations. "There was only one little town I had trouble in," he said.
"Yes, and what are you going to do when you get to Boston?" a reporter asked. "Hide in the dugout," he said. A television sportscaster said he was amazed. "I can't get over how charming you are, Bush, this is so unlike you," he needled.
"Baloney," said Williams, raising his voice but grinning. "That just goes to show how little you know me."
Outside, Williams rented a car and pointed it south. "How is that?" he said. "Handled that without a hitch. I'm not worried about the press a bit, I'm not going to have any trouble in that department." He said the thing for him to do now was to go on a little diet and take off some of that stomach that had been accumulating for eight years. He wanted to look good when he got back in uniform.