Friday, July 8, 2011

Dick Williams' parade of second basemen and pinch-hitters

Dick Williams in 1972.
Dick Williams, Hall of Fame manager, died on Thursday.

He was, obviously, a manager of accomplishment -- two World Series titles with the Moustache Gang A's, a pennant with the "Impossible Dream" 1967 Red Sox (a season that really is the basis for New England's thriving obsession with the Sawx), franchise turnarounds in Montreal and San Diego.

But when I think of Williams, I think first of a bizzarely innovative strategy he deployed in September 1972, the season he won his first World Series with Oakland.

He had, that month, with the expanded roster, a flock of weak-hitting middle infielders and another flock of pinch-hitters. He responded to those circumstances by starting one second baseman (perhaps Dick Green) and pinch hitting for him when he came up. In would come another infielder (maybe Ted Kubiak); when he came up, Williams would pinch-hit for him. Now Dal Maxvil might play second, and when he came up, another pinch hitter, with Tim Cullen coming in ...

Williams could go entire games without letting his second baseman actually hit. Here's one such box score.

And then, on Sept. 19, he ran out of second basemen with this stunt. The game went 15 innings and Williams used two catchers, Gene Tenace and Larry Haney, at second base to cover the final five innings. The White Ssx scored two runs in the 13th in an inning that turned on Tenace failing to cover first base on a sac bunt.

The next year, with the DH rule in effect (and thus no need to pinch-hit for pitchers), one might have expected Williams to repeat the strategy, but he generally gave the second baseman an at-bat or two before beginning the parade -- perhaps to avoid running out of legitimate infielders.

The idea has stuck with me for decades. I can envision this year's Twins doing something similar this year if Alexi Casilla slumps again or if Tsuyoshi Nishioka never really gets his bat going. I doubt Ron Gardenhire is interested in irritating his infielders to that extent -- Williams was never accused of being a players manager -- but the personnel (if healthy) matches what Williams had in Oakland: Plenty of outfielders to pinch hit with, plenty of light-hitting infielders to pinch-hit for.

He could do it — but Williams never lasted long in any job, and his penchant for creating excessive friction was a significant reason. Pinch hitting for starters in the second or third inning is one way to create friction.

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