This writeup is going to be hard. Boston Red Sox fans are either going to send me flames via /msg or burn an effigy of tes in the catbox. This one's going to be real hard. We're talking Bill Buckner hard, folks.
Jimy Williams was a professional baseball player in 1966 and 1967, as well as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays from 1986 to 1989, but the reason he will be remembered is for his highly tumultuous reign as manager of the Boston Red Sox from the start of the 1997 season until he was canned in the middle of a 2001 pennant race in which his team had a higher winning percentage than it did the previous year.
And do you know what the clincher is?
When the dust of the 2001 season settled, the voters for the American League manager of the year (a group of baseball analysts and sportswriters) voted Jimy as the fourth-best manager in the American League for the 2001 season.
If he was keeping the team in the thick of the playoff hunt, improving the team's record over the previous year, and was respected by peers and analysts for the job he had done during the year, why was he fired?
Because the players hated him, the fans seemed to hate him, the Boston media seemed to hate him, and most importantly, the general manager hated him.
Jimy Williams was born on October 4, 1943, in Santa Maria, CA. He was a solid baseball player in his youth, and thus won a scholarship to Fresno State University. He graduated from Fresno State University with a B.S. degree in animal science in 1965, but he excelled at baseball. In each of his last two years, he was named to the All-California Collegiate All-Star team.
This talent did not go unnoticed by the professionals, and he was signed by Red Sox scout Bobby Doerr in the summer of 1965. He started out playing shortstop for Waterloo of the Midwest League, and climbed through the minor league ranks the rest of the year, finishing the season at AAA Pawtucket. During the winter, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he had two short cups of coffee in 1966 and 1967, but was never good enough to really stick. He returned to the minors and bounced to the Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos before retiring as a player in 1971.
His managerial career started in 1974, starting off with the Quad Cities of the Midwest League. He would manage in the minor leagues for the next six years, reeling off five winning seasons and a few pennants. In early 1980, he was hired as a coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, and he would remain in that position until 1986, when the managing job was offered to him. The Blue Jays teams in those days was slightly above mediocre, yet Jimy reeled off three winning seasons in a row. In 1989, however, he was replaced by Cito Gaston thirty six games into the season, sitting at a record of 12-24. The team that Gaston inherited would go on to be World Series champs in a couple of years.
In 1990, he was hired again as a coach by the Atlanta Braves, and he stayed in Atlanta until after the 1996 season, when the managing job in Boston opened up and he moved to the Boston Red Sox to start the 1997 season. Little did he know he was moving into a personal dream ... and a personal nightmare.
His first three years with the Sox went quite well. Even in the face of season-ending injuries to several key players, as well as the departure to free agancy of others, Jimy led the team to a wild card finish in 1998, and then repeated in 1999. It was the first time the Red Sox reached the postseason in consecutive seasons since 1915 and 1916. In 1999, his team defeated Cleveland with a dramatic, come-from-behind victory in the Division Series and the team played in the ALCS for the first time in 13 years. For this success, Jimy was named the 1999 American League manager of the year.
2000, however, was a different story. The team's general manager had brought in slugger Carl Everett from the Houston Astros to strengthen the team's batting. Despite hitting .300, what Everett really brought to the team, however, was dissension. 2000 was a season marred with injuries, backstabbing, and threats of Williams being fired, yet somehow he survived the onslaught. The team managed to finish the season with a winning record.
In 2001, the team brought in another slugger, Manny Ramirez, who was supposed to be the team's savior. This season started off with the same dissension as the last, except this time around, the team's four primary players all went through significant bouts with injuries as well. Ace pitcher Pedro Martinez, star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, and the two addititions all went down with injuries for significant pieces of the season. Yet Williams again survived. He implemented some rather unusual managerial techniques, including juggling the lineup on a daily basis and a heavy rotation of players. The veterans on the team didn't like this approach and, with Duquette on their side and well-placed comments to the media turning the fans against him, Jimy Williams was fired in the middle of a pennant race with a 65-53 record, a better winning percentage than the 2000 team had.
Did he deserve it? Ask two different people the same question and you'll get two different answers. My opinion is that he didn't deserve it, but it was the best way out of the mess in Boston without butchering the entire team. I see him as a very logical scapegoat, especially since he wasn't close to perfect himself. It is worth mentioning, though, that Williams came in fourth in the 2001 AL manager of the year voting and, after he left the team, they struggled down the stretch to finish only 82-79, 13.5 games back of the division winners, the New York Yankees.
Fortunately, his future looks bright. Jimy Williams was named the manager of the Houston Astros starting with the 2002 season and he now has a fresh slate with a solid core of players. We shall see whether or not he truly is a poor manager who had some lucky strokes, or is actually a good manager with unusual techniques.