Had Dick Williams foreseen even half the problems that confronted him on his return to the managerial profession, no doubt he would have retained his job as a "drudgery-of-work breaker" for a Florida-based conglomerate. His first baseman carried a camera in his back pocket and 30 surplus pounds around his waist. His 40-year-old pitcher wore size 14 shoes and favored a tantalizing underhanded slowball. And his designated hitter was a tire salesman who claimed he had not touched a ball since he "threw one wild last October and ended up on the disabled list."
For Williams, managing Conn's Kings in a Greater Hartford (Conn.) Softball League game for a local charity served as a perfect refresher course in the arts of lineup structuring, umpire baiting and dugout communication on the eve of his new assignment as manager of the California Angels, the worst team in the American League. As always, the mustachioed Williams acted promptly and decisively. He ordered the first baseman, Jerry Margolis, to give the camera back to his wife. He humored the pitcher, Lenny Ginsberg, by telling him the rotation would be "Ginsberg today and Nolan Ryan tomorrow." And he told the designated hitter, Mike Andrews, to shorten up on his aluminum bat and "get a hit for Charlie." Andrews gulped. "Charlie?" Then he struck out on Rocco Brancati's changeup.
By Charlie, Williams meant Charles O. Finley, the irascible owner of the Oakland Athletics. Williams and Andrews both left Finley's employ following the 1973 World Series, Williams resigning as manager after winning two straight world championships, Second Baseman Andrews receiving his unconditional release after a celebrated sore-shoulder incident that temporarily sentenced him to the disabled list. Andrews now sells tires in Dorchester, Mass. Williams was a corporate internal-motivation specialist in Palm Beach until two weeks ago when Finley, who had legally blocked Williams from managing the New York Yankees, decided to allow the Angels to sign him to a 3½-year, $350,000 contract as replacement for Bobby Winkles. "You can never predict what Charlie's going to do," said Williams, still stunned by Finley's about-face.
Williams left the softball game in West Hartford after two scoreless innings and flew to California for his rendezvous with the Angels, a team in turmoil. As he studied his new personnel, it occurred to him that the Angels somewhat resembled the Boston Red Sox he had inherited in 1967. "The Red Sox finished half a game out of last place in 1966 only because they happened to play three less games than the last-place team," Williams said. "But I knew the Red Sox weren't a last-place club, and we won the pennant in 1967. Well, I also know that the Angels are not a last-place club."
Still, the Angels had problems. In his parting blast, Winkles blamed Frank Robinson for most of the club's troubles, suggesting that Robinson had interfered too frequently in Winkles' relationships with younger players and had meddled in his managerial decisions on the field. To resolve any such potential conflicts, Williams immediately appointed Robinson the captain of the Angels—the team has never had one—and gave him the powers of a coach. "Frank was very instrumental in helping me develop a strong association with Reggie Jackson," Williams said. "He's a leader, and he's a winner. If Frank has something to say, I want the young players to listen. And if he wants to make suggestions on the bench, I will listen."
Ironically, Williams returned to baseball against Finley's Athletics. The Angels had expected 8,000 for the Monday night game, but Williams lured a paid audience of 16,405 into the stadium at Anaheim and received a 45-second standing ovation when he jogged from the dugout to home plate for a pregame meeting with the umpires and Oakland Captain Sal Bando. "Hi, Cap," Williams said to Bando.
Sticking with his planned rotation of Ginsberg and Ryan, Williams started Ryan, who had tossed a one-hitter in his previous game. Ryan was even wilder than Ginsberg, but he was ahead 3-2 going into the eighth inning. On the bench Williams was relaxed; he knew that Ryan had an astonishing 42-0 record for games in which he took a lead into the eighth inning. Make that 42-1. In the Oakland eighth, Bando doubled home Bert Campaneris to tie the score, moved to third base when Ryan threw a wild pitch while giving Reggie Jackson an intentional walk and scored the winning run on Joe Rudi's sacrifice fly.
By the time the Athletics left Anaheim, they had won four straight games from their old manager, and at week's end, after losing to Cleveland twice, Williams was still looking for his first Angel victory. Maybe he needs a "drudgery-of-work breaker" himself. Oh. His softball team? Ginsberg pitched a 6-0 shutout.