EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2008

Impossible Dream manager sees similarites with Rays

Bill Burt

From where Dick Williams was sitting — he really was resting in a chair at his Henderson, Nev., home — the 1967 Boston Red Sox had two things the playoff-bound 2008 Tampa Bay Rays didn't have.

"Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg," said Williams.

"We had two guys that had career seasons at the same time. You could always count on either one of them. (Triple crown winner) Yaz had one of the greatest seasons ever for a player. He was special. And Lonborg (22-9, 3.16 ERA) was our ace. Tampa is very good. But it doesn't have anybody like those two."

Other than that, says Williams, the two Cinderella teams are like looking in a mirror. Or an old movie.

"I look at Tampa's club and they have a bunch of kids who are gung-ho about playing the game," said Williams, who this summer was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after being voted in by the Veterans Committee.

"We had some kids, too, other than Yaz. I had managed some of them in Toronto (the Sox AAA farm team) the previous two seasons."

Williams also sees a similarity in styles.

"They do the little things to win. The go for one run. They move runners over," said the 79-year-old Williams. "They are about pitching and defense. So were we. I have to say I'm impressed."

There are other similarities. The Red Sox finished ninth, 26 games out of first place in 1966, and the Rays were a last-place team, 30 games out of first, in 2007.

But Boston had some young talent.

"I told everyone in spring training that we would win more than we lose," said Williams, repeating a phrase that has long since become famous. "I saw we had some good, young talent like Tony Conigliaro, Rico Petrocelli, Mike Andrews, Reggie Smith and George Scott to go with Yaz, who was only 27. I wasn't sure about our pitching, but with Lonborg and Jose Santiago we had something to work with."

Williams said he had heard the same thing about the Rays, that their best years were ahead of them.

"It was like us in that nobody expected us to be as good as we were as soon as we were," said Williams.

Which, of course, brought out the naysayers who predicted the Red Sox would eventually crumble in July, August or September, just like people have been saying about the Rays.

"To be honest, I didn't even listen to that stuff," said Williams. "You can't. I couldn't control what had happened before I was there. Heck, the reason I was there was they weren't a good club. And I had managed Toronto to two straight Governor's Cups. I didn't care what people said. I just wanted us to focus on playing good, hard baseball each day."

The Impossible Dream team has received a lot of recognition the last few years with the 40th anniversary and the two recent World Series championships. The '67 club, of course, lost a seven-game classic to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals in the World Series.

While he spent only three years of his 20-year career managing the Red Sox, he marvels at the interest in his 1967 team.

"I had a lot of success and spent a lot of time in places like Oakland, California, Montreal, San Diego and Seattle, too," said Williams. "Heck, I was a scout and consultant with the Yankees for 10 years after I was done managing. My son works for the Yankees now as a scout. So I root for a lot of teams."

But he does respect what the Red Sox have been able to do, especially last season.

"That was a great team that won the World Series," said Williams. "That was a perfect blend of young talent with experienced veterans. And God, they had pitching. The Red Sox are going to be good for a few years."

As for the Rays, Williams admits there is a rooting interest there, too, because of the fact that few people believe in them.

Williams has never met Rays manager Joe Maddon, who recently admitted he was a St. Louis Cardinals fan during that '67 World Series.

"When you see players that don't ever quit, I credit the manager," said Williams. "He's different than I was because it's a different era. I was a sore ass a lot more. He seems to be very relaxed and more of a players manager. I was never that way. I could never be that way. But Joe Maddon has found a way to get players to be hungry. I respect that."

As for Maddon's new "mohawk" haircut, which he did to prove his team unity, Williams laughed when asked if he would have done the same thing.

"Are you kidding me?" he shouted.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.