He was the pitching coach for the Nasty Boys. For Mario Soto and Jose Rijo. For Tom Browning and Danny Jackson. And he even coached The All-American Boy.
Stan Williams has fond memories of Cincinnati as both a player and a coach for several major league teams. His major league career spanned14 seasons with six teams and he won a World Series ring with the 1959 Dodgers. His career record was 109-94 and in 11 post season innings, he allowed just three hits and no runs. His second ring came with the 1990 Reds. And he very nearly won a third against the Reds in the 1975 World Series when he was a pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox.
Stan Williams pitched alongside the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, “Sudden” Sam McDowell, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant. He was teammates with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Lou Brock.
And he even heard Phil Linz play his famous harmonica. More on that infamous incident on a bus stuck in traffic in Chicago during a sweltering August day in the middle of a pennant race later.
I spoke with Stan Williams last week. The first interview centered on the Reds and a good place to start was that 1975 World Series.
“A lot of people forget that we played that Series without Jim Rice,” said Williams. “He broke his hand a few weeks earlier. He and Fred Lynn were both rookies and incredible players. Lynn had the best rookie season I ever saw.”
“Tiant won the first game and we had the Reds beat until the 9th inning of the second game. Then, Dave Concepcion hit that five-hopper up the middle and Griffey Senior tripled.”
After the Reds won Game 3 on the famous Ed Armbrister incident in the 10th inning, Tiant evened the Series with a 163-pitch complete game 5-4 win over Cincinnati. “[Manager] Darrell Johnson had a couple pitchers warming up in the 6th inning and I went to the mound to speak to Tiant and he was fuming. ‘This is my game’ he said, ‘It’s my game’ and I just told him to get his head on straight.”
Don Gullett threw a gem in Game 5 and three solid days of rain moved Game 6 back. Johnson chose to start Tiant again instead of Bill Lee. Asked if he had any input on that decision, Williams replied, “No one ever had any input with Darrell Johnson.”
“Not only that, he sent me to the bullpen for Game 7. He sent me to the bullpen. How can you communicate with your starting pitcher from there? It made no sense.”
Lee and the Red Sox built a 3-0 lead on Gullett’s wildness but then Lee made the mistake of throwing an eephus pitch to Tony Perez and a runner on first base. Perez hammered the ball out on Landsdown Street and it was 3-2 game. “Lee couldn’t leave well enough alone,” said Williams. “He threw that pitch earlier to Perez and we told him not to. But he had to throw that stupid slow curve to Tony Perez.”
The Reds won Game 7 and the Series. Johnson resigned the next summer “Resigned?” laughed Williams. “I”m not sure about that. But it was going to be either me or Don Zimmer managing the team and they chose Zimmer so my days there were numbered.”
In 1984, Reds General Manager Bob Howsam called and offered him the job as the pitching coach.. After back to back last place finishes in the NL West, the Reds had hired a new manager in Vern Rapp and a new coaching staff was being assembled. “Things didn’t go very well for us. We weren’t a very good team. I’ll just leave it at that,” said Williams.
By August and again in last place, an impatient Howsam fired Rapp and created nationwide headlines with the hiring of Pete Rose. “When Pete took over we had a good relationship, we got along very well. We had a great pitcher in Mario Soto. From the outside looking in, Soto looked liked a power pitcher. But once you watched him pitch you understood he was a good finesse pitcher. That changeup of his was devastating. He knew how to pitch. We had Bruce Berenyi who had good stuff but was inconsistent. He’d bounce those sliders up to the plate. John Franco was a good relief pitcher for the Reds too.”
“But late in the season, Pete came up to me and said ‘Stan you’ve done a great job for us but I made a promise to a guy that if I ever managed he would be my pitching coach’ and that guy was Jim Kaat. I knew Jim, he was a super-guy and a good teammate. So I understood where Pete was coming from. That happens a lot in baseball.”
Five years later, Stan got another call– this one from Lou Piniella. “He said, ‘Stan I got a chance to manage the Cincinnati Reds. What do you think?’ And I told him the Reds had a ton of talent, that it was a good fit for him. And man, did he light a fire under that team!”
He also hired Williams as the pitching coach. Williams’ 1990 staff was quite a bit better than the one he inherited in 1984. Included were the Nasty Boys (Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton), Browning, Jackson, Rijo and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.
“The Nasty Boys?” laughed Williams. “That was fun. I’d tell our starters just give us six innings and we’ll take it from there. They wanted the ball, always. They didn’t fool around. It didn’t matter if it was Myers, Charlton, Dibble, they just went out there and did it.”
“Dibble had the stuff to be a closer. I don’t take credit for his abilities because he was good. The only thing he couldn’t do was hold runners on base. He had that high leg kick. I remember one time he faced Pedro Guerrero of the Dodgers and Dibble threw him a 101 mile hour fastball and Guerrero just backed off the plate and laughed. He knew he had no chance. Then Dibble melted Guerrero’s knees with a slider. It was beautiful.”
“Rijo? I loved that guy. Always gave you 100%. Great guy, tough guy. And then we had the All-American boy,” said Williams referring to Armstrong.
“He started the season with an 8-0 record and started the All-Star game. Then he wanted to shut it down. He wasn’t happy with his mechanics. I said, ‘Jack work on your mechanics next winter. You’re 14-3 and can win twenty games. You fought to get there and now you want to shut it down?’ I couldn’t believe it. Neither could Lou. When we put together out post season roster we nearly left Jack off. We didn’t and he pitched good for us, both in the playoffs against the Pirates and against Oakland.”
Asked about the Reds four game sweep of the defending world champion Athletics, Williams said, “We put together a good plan based on our scouting reports. We thought we matched up well against them. They had great talent but so did Pittsburgh. So then in the Series Hatcher was incredible. Sabo was incredible. Rijo dominated them.”
Rijo beat Oakland in Game 1 and speedy Billy Bastes scored the winning run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 2 courtesy of a Joe Oliver hit.
“I pulled Browning out of Game 3 and he got upset<‘ said Williaams. “He didn’t want to come out. But we had the Nasties. So I told Browning ‘Mr. Piniella makes the decisions here not you’ and we won that game too.”
Rijo again dominated Game 4 and won the Series. It’s a good thing because the Reds lost Hatcher and Eric Davis to inuries. “I said after we swept Oakland we could have won 10 out of 10 but it would have been hard without those two guys,” laughed Williams.
“That 1990 team was truly special. They were fine people, good baseball players.”
I asked Stan Williams if he could choose one Reds pitcher of those he coached to pitch a must-win game, who would it be? It came down to Mario Soto and Jose Rijo.
“That’s a tough one,” said Williams. “Those guys were great, great pitchers. They had the heart, they had the talent. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t choose one over the other.”
That meant a lot coming for Stan Williams. He sugar coats nothing. “I always told my pitchers I was there to help them. If they were going good, I’d leave them alone. If they hit a rough spot, I was there to help them.”
(In the second and last article coming soon to redlegnation.com, Stan Williams reflects on heated pennant races with the Dodgers and Yankees, his experiences in Cleveland and Minnesota and who is best friend in baseball truly is)