Williams never stopped believin'
Over five years, GM built White Sox into World Series champs
HOUSTON -- Ken Williams' face was a drenched mess. It was hard to tell what part champagne and what part tears. At times like these, it always is.
The reign, the introspection and the reflection had all just begun.
"It's taken a lot of sleepless nights," the general manager of the World Series champion White Sox said above the din. "A lot of heart ... a lot of worry that maybe this day would never happen."
When those sleepless nights drifted off into fantasy, this must have been the way Williams imagined it. But, of course, it never really happens just like this.
He enters the White Sox locker room, holding the gilded World Series trophy above his head. A spotlight finds him ... Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is cranked up to airplane hangar levels.
All the little knots of champagne-spraying players focus on him, and as he makes his way to the middle of the clubhouse, dozens of arms jut up and reach out for a touch of the trophy -- like subjects in King Arthur's court reaching for the Holy Grail.
It never happens just like that -- but on this night, it did.
"Personally, in sports, I've not had a greater feeling," said Williams, who in his five years as White Sox GM has not had a losing season -- and who now has the icing.
The end of the postseason, the end of the baseball year, the end of the ride afforded a rare moment of satisfaction for Williams, who between seasons undertook a daring reconstruction of the team and during this season was targeted for criticism at the slightest opening.
Williams traded away Carlos Lee's 31 homers and did not retain 30-homer man Jose Valentin nor Magglio Ordonez, and was already looking at opening up without Frank Thomas.
With the input of manager Ozzie Guillen, he turned to speed and defense and a high-ceiling pitching staff. Most critics questioned the direction. The feeling was Williams was merely blowing more smoke in the Windy City.
Not that the White Sox gave the wolves many early chances to howl, Williams' blueprint lapping the American League Central quickly.
But when that 15-game channel dried up into a 1 1/2-game puddle -- Chicago felt panic it hadn't known since that cow kicked over that bucket.
"You guys panicked," Williams said, meaning the media. "We didn't panic. There was no panic here."
|Upon completing their sweep of the Astros to win the 2005 World Series, the White Sox tied last year's Red Sox in winning eight straight postseason games en route to the championship, an all-time record.|
|* The Reds swept the Phillies in a three-game NLCS in 1976.|
Because Williams and his hand-picked manager, Guillen, never stopped believing. There is a reason Journey provides their soundtrack.
"When you build around defense and pitching," Guillen said, "your pitching is going to be even better because they're not going to be afraid to make mistakes.
"Our defense is the biggest reason we win the World Series."
Defense, in the person of shortstop Juan Uribe, absolutely was the biggest reason they won Game 4 of the World Series.
And the reason the White Sox have that defense -- in Chicago, the importance of baseball defense historically ranks considerably behind the quality of pizza crust -- is Williams.
Growing up in Northern California's Bay Area as a fan of the Oakland Raiders, Williams was influenced in a couple of ways.
One, catchy slogans. "Win or Die Trying," one must admit, is philosophically pretty close to "Just Win, Baby."
Two, assembling teams with players who have agendas. Williams does not own any black leisure suits, and frequently wears shirts more colorful than white. Still, the Al Davis method has helped end 88 dry years on Chicago's South Side.
The White Sox flourished with a cast of players exploiting second chances, anxious to make second impressions.
Bobby Jenks. Carl Everett. A.J. Pierzynski. Orlando Hernandez. Jose Contreras. Damaso Marte.
All crossed into Chicago across burnt bridges. All key components.
Teams which pride themselves on living in the moment always talk about turning the page. Well, the Astros today are turning the calendar, all the way to February 2006, because Williams didn't only turn the pages on years of mediocrity -- he tore them out.
"I don't know if people fully understand that our goal was not to put together a division winner," Williams said, "but a club that -- if it got into the playoffs -- had a chance to win.
"We didn't know. There were a whole lot of things we set out to do, that we were able to accomplish. Me, my scouting and player development departments -- we did what we were supposed to do.
"But the players ultimately are the ones who win or lose for you. So they deserve all the credit."
Williams fell silent for a minute. He withdrew, and you could virtually hear the wheels turning in his head.
Finally, he snapped back and said, "What the [heck]... we have the trophy now."
He had the trophy. He had brought it into the Chicago clubhouse. He had brought it home.
"I didn't realize it was so heavy, though," Williams said. "I was a little concerned there, with all the champagne coming at me, that I would be the first in the history of the game to drop it.
"I was concerned, with everyone pushing me and stuff, doing that whole ... I don't know ... mosh pit thing."
The White Sox had turned this entire October into their pit, in which they mashed everyone to the tune of a record-tying 11-1 record.
Pride in that was not enough for Williams. It intimidated him.
"No," he said, when asked if it was possible to expect such dominance. "It was impressive and humbling at the same time.
"The pride I feel in being with this particular group .... they're good guys, the kind of guys you make lifelong friends with."
And Williams is the man who brought them together. The ultimate satisfaction, on an ultimate night.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.