Dick Williams, the gruff taskmaster who managed the A's to two World Series championships in the 1970s, died Thursday at a hospital near his Henderson, Nev., home of an aortic aneurysm.
Williams, who was 82, managed six major league teams and won 1,571 games in a 21-year career and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. He led three franchises to the World Series -- one of just two managers ever to do it (Bill McKechnie was the other). The championships that he won with Oakland in 1972 and 1973 were the Bay Area's first major professional sports titles.
Williams spent just three seasons with Oakland, but they were momentous ones. In 1971, his first working for volatile owner Charles O. Finley, he led the A's franchise to its first postseason appearance in 40 years as Oakland won the American League West with a 101-60 record.
Oakland was swept by Baltimore in the A.L. Championship Series but rebounded to reach the World Series the next two seasons, upsetting the Cincinnati Reds in '72 and beating the New York Mets in '73. Williams then resigned, fed up with the meddling Finley, particularly after a controversial incident involving second baseman Mike Andrews in the '73 Series. The A's won their third straight World Series in 1974 under Williams' successor, Alvin Dark.
Several former players said Williams galvanized the maturing talent on the early '70s A's, hammered home the importance of fundamentals and got them to play with the same kind of competitive intensity he always had as a scrappy 13-year major leaguer.
"I don't think we would have won the first two titles without him, because he did what a manager is supposed to do -- he got the best out of us," former pitcher Vida Blue said. "His attitude was, 'You may not like me, but you're going to respect me, and when all is said and done, you might even come over and thank me.' "
Sal Bando, the longtime team captain and third baseman, said Williams was the right man at the right time for those A's teams.
"It was Dick who really got us going and got our feet on a firm foundation," Bando said. "He was replacing John McNamara, who was as easygoing a manager as you could have, so we were all a little afraid of what might happen. But when Dick came in, the funny thing was he didn't have to say all that much because his reputation preceded him. We just fell in line."
"We were young and needed to understand how to go about winning and take the final step to become a great team," Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson told The Associated Press. "He was very important to that. He demanded excellence."
Before coming to the A's, Williams had taken over a ninth-place Boston Red Sox team and led it to the A.L. pennant in 1967, losing the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. He arrived in Oakland with a reputation as a stickler for detail.
"He was a teaching type of manager," Blue said. "He wanted you to know the fundamentals of the game. He hated mental mistakes. He didn't care about Reggie having a strong arm. He wanted him to always hit the cutoff man. He wanted you to run the bases smart. And he stood his ground on everything. He was tough, but he was fair."
Reflecting on those A's clubs during his Hall of Fame speech, Williams said, "That team was basically 25 versions of me. The score after nine innings was their only interest."
There were other considerations, though. A's broadcaster Ray Fosse came to the A's in a trade before the 1973 season and noticed right away that Williams acted as an important buffer between Finley and the team.
"We always got the impression that he was on our side no matter what was happening with Charlie," Fosse said. "Whatever happened between Charlie and anybody else, he was going to take care of it. So we were able to play without having any of that happening with us in the clubhouse."
In the infamous Andrews incident, the second baseman made two errors in a Game 2 loss to the Mets. Finley publicly derided Andrews and pressured him to sign an affidavit claiming he was hurt so he could be replaced on the roster. Williams, outraged, refused to play along and ultimately resigned.
"He wasn't going to take it anymore from Charlie," Bando said. "We were sad to see him go, but we understood it."
Finley succeeded in blocking Williams from managing the New York Yankees in 1974, but by the middle of that season Williams was running the California Angels. From there, it was on to Montreal, then San Diego and Seattle. He led the Padres to their first World Series appearance in 1984, losing to the Detroit Tigers in five games.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy and third base coach Tim Flannery both played for Williams during his Padres tenure. Their reflections suggested he hadn't mellowed with age.
"I would read Scripture every day to prepare for the lion's den I was walking into," Flannery said. "He forged you before that pressure situation would arrive. We all have a story. He calls you in and sits you down and says, 'You can't throw, you can't hit and you can't run. So hustle, because that's all you can do. We're looking for another second baseman right now, but, oh yeah, you're in there today, so don't screw up.' "
Bochy, a catcher then, said that after one particularly poor string of games by Padres pitchers, Williams called him into the office and asked him if there was any way he could hold the opposing team under five runs.
"That's the way Dick motivated to you," Bochy said. "It definitely had an edge to it."
Williams, born May 7, 1929, in St. Louis, was honored by the A's in 2008 for his Hall of Fame induction, and his uniform was retired on the outfield wall. Several of his former players attended the ceremony.
"I think that meant as much to Dick as any of the honors he received," longtime clubhouse man Steve Vucinich said.
Staff writers Joe Stiglich and Andrew Baggarly contributed to this report.