Red Sox reminiscent of Williams' '67 team
Both squads rebounded from losing seasons to reach World Series
BOSTON -- Asking this question 30 years earlier, I would have had to duck -- or run.
Dick Williams and I were walking through the Hall of Fame in the spring of 2008, and it was obvious this often turbulent, take-no-prisoners manager had mellowed. After all, he was going to be inducted into the Cooperstown shrine in July, so if there was ever a time to be Mr. Nice Guy, this was it.
So, here goes: "Why were you a virtual terror, a scary disciplinarian most of your days managing?"
Williams backed off from the exhibit he was watching and smiled. He reminded me of a grandfather this day.
"It was about getting the most from my players," Williams said, his voice calm. "You have to be demanding to reach that goal. I learned that from the Dodgers."
Williams was mostly a bench player with the Dodgers in the early 1950s.
The Red Sox and Cardinals are beginning a new World Series at legendary Fenway Park, and there's no way for me to look down on the field and not think back to 1967.
This is my 49th World Series; 1967 was the first I covered at Fenway.
And Williams was in the middle of it.
There are enormous comparisons. Most have been discussed and discussed by the mob of journalists searching for an angle.
To me, it starts with this: In 1966, Boson had suffered through eight straight losing seasons when the fiery Williams, at 37, was given a one-year contract by owner Tom Yawkey to turn the Red Sox around. The '66 Red Sox finished ninth in the 10-team American League. In 1967, when they won their first pennant since 1946, it became the "Impossible Dream" season and an important part of Williams' legacy.
The Red Sox, of course, were dreadful in 2012, finishing last, and their comeback under the guidance of John Farrell, the manager hired by owner John Henry, was déjà vu all over again.
Farrell often said during the just-completed season making the players believe in themselves was one of the keys to their success. He deserves much of the credit, because during a period before the All-Star Game when the season appeared to be unraveling, Farrell refused to make major changes in the lineup.
"They were the players who won all those games early, and [they] can do it again," Farrell said.
What Farrell did was change the culture -- on and off the field.
Williams, in '67, had the same approach.
"We had a lot of talent," Williams said. "They just weren't playing up to their potential; it had been nicknamed a 'country club.' I had to reverse that.
"Discipline was the big thing. When I took over, in Spring Training, I predicted we'd win more games than we'd lose. We won 20 more."
The 2013 Red Sox won 28 more games than they did last year.
"There were times when I'd bench players for their lack of effort," Williams added. "We worked very hard on fundamentals, which was the Dodger way. We needed to be more aggressive."
When Williams came aboard, the young players had a reputation for partying and just going through the motions on the field. He introduced them to the word pride, and with it came another word: winning.
The Red Sox came to life with a 10-game July winning streak, and they won the pennant on the final weekend of the '67 season.
Carl Yastrzemski, in his seventh season, cemented his Hall of Fame credentials. He won the AL Triple Crown (Yaz was the AL batting champion and the leader in RBIs, and he tied the Twins' Harmon Killebrew for home runs) and won the AL MVP Award.
Jim Lonborg won 22 games and the AL Cy Young Award.
Like this year, the World Series began at Fenway Park; the Red Sox were extreme underdogs against the powerful Cardinals.
Stan Musial was in his first year as general manager, and Red Schoendienst was the skipper. The Cards were led by Lou Brock, Roger Maris, Julian Javier, Mike Shannon, Dal Maxvill, Curt Flood, Orlando Cepeda (the NL MVP Award winner) and Tim McCarver.
And, yes, Bob Gibson.
Because Williams had pitched Lonborg the final weekend of the season, he had to hold back his ace in Game 1. Jose Santiago got the start, and although he pitched well -- his homer was the Red Sox's only run -- they lost 2-1.
Gibson, who sustained a broken right leg July 15 when hit by a smash off Roberto Clemente's bat and did not return until September, was the winning pitcher in the opener. He went on to win two more games and was named the World Series MVP.
Lonborg returned for the second game and pitched a 5-0 shutout. He kept the Red Sox alive and returned the Series to Boston, beating the Cardinals and 22-year-old Steve Carlton, 3-1, in Game 5 with a three-hitter.
The Red Sox, repeatedly on the brink of elimination, won Game 6, and it came down to the one-game shootout at Fenway.
Gibson vs. Lonborg. Both had won two games.
Boston's "impossible dream" ended at the hands of Gibson.
But not before Williams baited the Cardinals. He said his plans for Game 7 called for "Lonborg and champagne."
There was not champagne and not enough Lonborg. The Cardinals poured it on, winning 7-2.
Lonborg was hammered for seven runs and 10 hits during six innings. Gibby pitched a complete-game masterpiece, allowing only three hits. With that performance, he improved his record to 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA in World Series competition -- 57 strikeouts in 54 innings and only 37 hits allowed.
"That team was very special," Williams, who passed away in 2011, said during our 2008 Hall of Fame walkthrough. "I honestly felt we could win Game 7, but Gibson had been tough. Lonborg had been outstanding, plus I wanted to give the Cardinals something to think about."
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.