In his aptly titled autobiography, No More Mr. Nice Guy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95), Dick Williams comes as close as anyone has to the newspaper columns of Westbrook Pegler, who did not have a good word to say about anyone. Williams, a former manager of the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, California Angels, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and West Palm Beach Tropics (of the senior league) accomplishes this feat with the help of enough scatological allusions to fertilize Iowa. The list of people Williams trashes is too long to recount here, but suffice it to say that it includes virtually everyone he has ever worked for and who has ever played for him.
Some of the names are predictable. Indeed, it takes no particular talent for malice to detest Charlie Finley, the disagreeable former owner of the A's. Similarly, to suggest that former Mariners owner George Argyros is a cheapskate seems, in the light of what happened to that woebegone club under his stewardship, to be stating the obvious. But No More Mr. Nice Guy contains some surprising entries. The late Tom Yawkey, the widely revered old moneybags of the Red Sox, was, in Williams's uncharitable opinion, a meddler, kibitzer and bullscatter. And the beloved Boys of Summer, those Brooklyn Dodgers of the early 1950s, were, in Williams's eyes, cliquish and cold to young players, "ones like me who were dying for their leadership."
Williams even directs barbs at the cuddly likes of the Phillie Phanatic. Once, when that verdant mascot gamboled dangerously near Williams while the manager was changing pitchers, dour Dick advised him, "You don't leave this mound right now, you little green——-, I'm going to kick your ass."
However, Williams reserves his most enduring contempt for the contemporary player, who, in his view, is an overpaid, undermotivated, poorly trained, pampered, lazy, good-for-nothing crybaby. If, for example, players don't like earning a living in Montreal, it's not Montreal's fault. Writes Williams: "Modern-day baseball players don't like your city, not because of your city but because they are baseball players. They live in a small world in which they have accepted certain things as absolute truths. To the modern-day player, a foreign country is Cleveland. A foreign phrase is, 'My turn to buy.' A fancy restaurant is someplace their agents take them, agents whose turn it is to buy. To the modern-day player, culture is a portable compact disc player. History is a box score. Literature is a thick book he leaves on his clubhouse chair for all to see, a book he may one day even read. And for the modern-day player, differences arc not to be tolerated."
October 21, 1990
Bounders such as these could scarcely be expected to understand a manager like Williams. And they didn't. Williams, in fact, constructed a philosophy out of the sociocultural abyss that separated him from his players: "No matter what some great baseball philosophers who have never worn a uniform say, players give you 100 percent not because they want something but because they hate something. Me, I gave 100 percent because I hated losing. Others hated failure. For the ones who treated losing and failure lightly, I figured I'd give them something even better to hate. Me. I tried to make some players win just to show me up."
Though he managed some dreadful teams, Williams did win. He took Boston to the World Series in his rookie year (1967) as a big league skipper. He won consecutive World Series with the brawling A's of '72 and '73, teams that hated their owner even more than their manager. Finally, he guided the Padres, a club that had never before won anything, to the '84 World Series.
Williams is tough, all right. However, as anyone who has ever dealt with Williams knows, he's not quite the gunslinger he makes himself out to be in these pages. Williams is an intelligent man who sometimes, in spite of himself, exposes a softer side. About the Padres, who won the pennant by overcoming a two-games-to-none deficit against the Chicago Cubs in the best-of-five National League Championship Series, Williams lowered his guard long enough to write: "By God, I thought, sometimes all of baseball's——-can be worth it. Sometimes your wins really are perfect, with no strings, with nothing but feelings you haven't had since you were a child. Sometimes this game really can be beautiful."
Could those words, by any chance, have been written by a nice guy?