Williams Resigns Himself to Obvious, Quits as Padre Manager

Times Staff Writer

Dick Williams became major league baseball’s first AWOL manager Monday when he missed the San Diego Padres’ 9:30 a.m. workout here.

Finally, Williams showed up at a morning press conference in San Diego to announce that he had resigned.

He began: “For the past few weeks, I have been asking myself, ‘Do I really want to manage the Padres another year?’ My honest answer, finally, was ‘No.’ ”


Padre owner Joan Kroc, who backed Williams after an apparent front-office schism this winter, concluded: “His (Williams’) leadership gave San Diego its first National League pennant. He taught us championship baseball, and he gave us the thrill of winning. . . . Dick, I’ll never forget that season we dedicated to Ray Kroc, the wonderful summer of 1984.”

She paused to kiss Williams on the lips.

As Williams said goodby at his press conference, pitchers and catchers were jogging around the training complex, already ridding themselves of their problems with Williams.

“I guess a lot of guys around here were up-tight around the guy,” third baseman Graig Nettles said of Williams. “I don’t know who the new manager will be, but most of the guys are happy.”

And as of Monday night, nobody knew who would replace Williams, although sources close to the team said former Oakland A’s Manager Steve Boros is the leading candidate and would probably interview with Kroc today. Boros, who is the Padre coordinator of minor league instruction, left Yuma on Monday afternoon as did Padre General Manager Jack McKeon.

McKeon refused comment Monday, saying the team would not name a manager until team president Ballard Smith returned from a business trip in Australia. Smith was due back late Monday night or this morning.

Boros, who could not be reached for comment, is a long-time friend of McKeon’s and coached in Kansas City when McKeon was manager there in the 1970s.

Although he is a leading candidate, Boros is not the only candidate. Others include:

--Jack Krol. The Padre first base coach said Monday: “Anyone would be interested in managing this club because it’s such a good club.”

Krol was a finalist for the St. Louis job in 1978 but lost out to Ken Boyer.

--Harry Dunlop. He was last year’s Padre bullpen coach before Williams asked that his contract not be renewed. Dunlop has managing experience at the Triple-A level.

--Joe Torre. An announcer last year with the Angels and former Atlanta Braves Manager, he said Monday that he has not been contacted but hopes to be.

“It (managing) is not out of my blood,” he said. “I enjoy what I’m doing, but I need a little more activity. Once you’ve been on the field, you like to stay there until you accomplish what you’ve set out to do. . . . I’d like to think they (the Padres) would be interested in talking to me. I’d be interested in talking to them.”

--Jim Fregosi. Currently St. Louis’ Triple-A manager, he interviewed for the last San Diego managerial opening after the 1981 season. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Padres, sources said, likely will hire their manager by Wednesday, when the entire roster is due to report.

Meanwhile, Williams will report only to his wife, Norma. She apparently has been after him to quit, but since Williams would not answer any questions Monday, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly his reasons for resignation.

One source close to Williams did say, however: “The players are why. The players got what they wanted.”

And Ozzie Virgil, Williams’ friend and third-base coach who also resigned Monday, said: “Dick has his ups and downs like anyone else. He doesn’t give in to players. He feels they should perform, and if they can’t cope or take criticism, that’s wrong. . . . I think that’s why he left. Because some of the players went hard on him.”

Yes, some players have been hard on him. Pitcher Andy Hawkins said Monday: “We had a perfect relationship last year--We didn’t talk. We were cordial to each other, but that was it. There’s always been (tension between Williams and the team). He always held a whip over us.”

Still, this is the earliest a manager has resigned in a season. The Philadelphia Phillies’ Eddie Sawyer held the previous record, quitting the day after opening day in 1960. Gene Mauch replaced him.

Williams apparently called Kroc this weekend to tell her the news. Kroc told Smith, who then called McKeon at approximately 2 a.m. Monday.

It was sudden. Williams appeared at a showing of the Padre highlight film about three weeks ago, and everything seemed normal. Originally he told McKeon he would arrive in Yuma by last Friday, and traveling secretary John (Doc) Mattei said Williams visited Yuma two weeks ago just to make his hotel arrangements.

But when Williams began thinking it over:

--It was agreed that he would meet privately with outfielder Kevin McReynolds to fix their strained relationship, but they never got together. Williams tried calling McReynolds once, but McReynolds wasn’t home. And Williams never called back.

--Williams was supposed to participate in a Padre luncheon in Vista last Thursday but canceled at the last minute with no explanation.

--He kept criticizing his team. One day, he told a Padre front-office person: “I’ve got five seventh-place hitters.”

In November, he strongly hinted to Smith and McKeon that he was ready to quit, and Smith told him to get back to them on it. Meanwhile, Williams’ right-hand man, Virgil, was let go by McKeon, since it was assumed Williams would not be back. But no one told Kroc about this, and she was incensed about being kept in the dark. And she supported Williams.

Then, Kroc, Smith, Williams and McKeon all met at Kroc’s home in La Jolla, and Smith later said at a press conference that Williams would be coming back.

For some reason, he changed his mind.

Had Williams not quit at this time, it could have been an explosive spring here. For one thing, the players were upset with the way Dunlop was let go. Williams, at that meeting at La Jolla, requested that Virgil return with him and that Dunlop leave. He said to the group: “Dunlop’s not one of my men.” And his request was accommodated.

Dunlop, one of the most popular coaches, certainly is closer to McKeon than Williams. But at the winter baseball meetings, Dunlop approached Williams and told him: “I didn’t know I was anybody’s man.” Williams turned away.

Meanwhile, Virgil hadn’t been happy with the way he’d been treated when McKeon released him in November, and he was determined not to speak with McKeon this spring. McKeon, sources say, was just as determined not to speak with Virgil.

So Williams’ quitting seemed in everyone’s best interest.

“Most players seem to be relieved,” Nettles said. “After all the stuff this winter, it would’ve been kind of tough for Dick and Ozzie to feel comfortable. I just hope the new guy understands people and treats people with their personality in mind. You can’t treat everyone the same. Some need a pat on the back, some need to be left alone.”

Reliever Goose Gossage, who used to play in the Yankees’ Bronx Zoo but who, you could say, now plays in the San Diego Zoo, said: “It’s just baseball. Nothing ceases to amaze me.”

Staff writer Chris Cobbs, in San Diego, contributed to this story.