“No one, and I mean no one knows the game better than Jimy,” said Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick.1
Jimy Williams became a baseball lifer, signed to his first professional contract by the Boston Red Sox. After a brief big-league playing career, he won a world championship ring as the third-base coach for the 1995 Atlanta Braves and then — after returning to the Red Sox as field manager — was named American League Manager of the Year in 1999.
He worked 12 years as a major-league manager, for the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Astros. He worked another 15 years as a coach, 13 as third-base coach for the Jays and Braves and two as bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Williams began as an infielder, signed in 1964 by the Red Sox. He was right-handed, listed at 170 pounds and standing 5-feet-10.
Born as James Francis Williams on October 4, 1943, in Santa Maria, California, a town on the Central California coast 65 miles north of Santa Barbara. Williams and his sister grew up 18 miles away in nearby Arroyo Grande, a beach community of 3,200 residents.
“He grew up poor,” wrote Richard Justice, “one of seven children born to an Irish mother who taught in a one-room schoolhouse and an Irish father who tried to make a living as a cattle rancher on the central California coast.”
“He learned to ride a horse shortly after he could walk. He showed cattle at 4-H shows. He decided he wanted to be a ballplayer, and a high school teammate remembers him spending hours in the batting cage, then playing in a midnight basketball league.”2
His father died when he was a teenager.
Williams graduated from Arroyo Grande High School in 1961. He had run cross-country as well as playing baseball and basketball. During his senior year, Williams created a distinction that would stick with him for the rest of his life. For his first 17 years, Williams had spelled his first name with two m’s. As a prank he signed a term paper “Jimy” to see if he could get by. He did and it remained. “I guess I could make up a better and more dramatic story. But that’s all there is to it,” he explained to Jerome Holtzman of the Chicago Sun Times in 1987.3
In addition to giving his name a unique spelling, Williams began to write headlines with his play on the baseball diamond. His performance at shortstop drew praise. On the advice of his high-school coach, Williams joined the powerhouse program at nearby Fresno State. The Bulldogs had finished third in the College World Series in 1959 and won league titles in 1961 and 1962. They were coached by a future ABCA Hall of Famer, Pete Beiden, who instilled a high regard for fundamentals and teaching skills in Williams.
The one sport he played at Fresno State was baseball. His play in the 1963 and 1964 seasons earned him selection to the all-California Collegiate Conference team. He graduated from Fresno State with a BA degree in agribusiness. He played one summer for Sturgis in the Basin League. During the summer of 1964 Williams played shortstop and batted leadoff on the Alaska Goldpanners, a summer collegiate league team that sported future major leaguers Tom Seaver, Graig Nettles, Gary Sutherland, and Curt Motton. The Goldpanners were ranked as high as second in the National Baseball Congress during the season.
Williams enjoyed hunting and fishing in his spare time.4
After signing with the Red Sox, credited to scouts Glenn Wright and Bobby Doerr, Williams’s first assignment was to Iowa where he played 115 games for the Waterloo Hawks in the Class-A Midwest League. As a young shortstop, he hit for a .287 batting average (.354 on-base percentage), with 2 homers and 31 runs batted in. His 125 base hits ranked second in the league.
It was his only year in the Red Sox system. They did not protect him and in November 1965 he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft.
The Cardinals had Williams in the major leagues the very next year, and his big-league debut came on April 26 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. After 5½ innings, the Dodgers had a 4-0 lead and manager Red Schoendienst had Williams take over at shortstop. His one at-bat came in the top of the eighth. He was facing Dodgers starter Sandy Koufax. He struck out.
Williams pinch-ran in another game, and came in for defensive purposes in a third game. On May 7, in a home game against the San Francisco Giants, who took a 13-0 lead in the top of the third inning, Williams pinch-hit for Tracy Stallard. He was facing another future Hall of Famer in Juan Marichal; this time he grounded out, shortstop to first. But he stayed in the game, and when he faced Marichal again in the bottom of the fifth, there was nobody out and the bases were loaded. He singled to center field for his first hit in the majors and his first run batted in. Facing reliever Ron Herbel in the eighth inning, he singled to center again. He was 2-for-3 in the game, but the Giants won 15-2.
Williams was given his first start the next afternoon and he singled his first time up and walked his next time up in four plate appearances. He appeared in three June games and four in July, but July 17 was his last game. He and a couple of other Cardinals began tours of duty with the Army Reserve.5 Williams did his initial two weeks, then went off to Fort Campbell and Fort Leonard Wood for a six-month tour of duty.6
Years later, looking back at his debut, Williams said, “I can remember my first big-league hit, but when you only get three you can remember them all.”7 He was 3-for-13 at the plate, for a .231 average.
In 1967 Williams spent most of the year splitting his time between Double A (Arkansas Travelers, Texas League, batting .208 in 28 games) and Triple A (Tulsa Oilers, Pacific Coast League, batting .226 in 61 games.) He was called up in September but appeared in only one game — a start on September 21 against Atlanta. He grounded into a double play and struck out, and Tim McCarver pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh, singling in a run that tied the game, 2-2. The Braves won the game, 4-2. He was, however, a member of the Cardinals team that won the 1967 World Series against the Impossible Dream Boston Red Sox.
In his major-league stint, Williams was flawless in the field, handling 14 chances without an error.
In 1968 Williams played in 129 games for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians (Pacific Coast League), batting .226 with 2 homers and 34 RBIs. That October he was drafted by the Montreal Expos as the 32nd pick in the 1968 expansion draft.
In 1969 Williams played for the Vancouver Mounties but appeared in only 35 games. He hit .258. Over the wintertime, he had suffered a shoulder injury moving furniture and it hampered his shoulder throughout 1969, resulting in an early return home to California for treatment and rest. In 1970 he began the season with Buffalo and moved to Winnipeg when the team relocated there in mid-June. In 109 games, he hit .230.
Williams started 1971 with Winnipeg but was traded to the New York Mets on June 16 for minor-leaguer Tony Canzano. He played in 62 games for the Tidewater Tides in Norfolk. Statistics are not readily available. Justice described how he left the game as a shortstop. “His playing career ended after he injured his shoulder in a freak accident, flinging a Styrofoam cup so hard he could hear the tendons in his shoulder rip.”8
Williams spent the next two years working at the Short Way, a convenience store in St. Louis. “When a Fresno State teammate offered him a job as a minor-league manager, he grabbed it and began his climb up baseball’s ladder.”9
He spent six seasons as a minor-league manager and arrived in the big leagues for good when Bobby Cox hired him to coach third base for the Blue Jays in 1980.
He was working for the California Angels in his first minor-league slot, managing in Single A for the 1974 Quad Cities Angels in Davenport, Iowa. The team finished in first place in the Midwest League South standings, but won just one game in the best-of-three playoffs.
In 1975 Williams was moved up to Double A, managing the El Paso Diablos (Texas League). That team finished 62-71. He played in six games, his last as a player. He was 2-for-17 (.118) with a pair of RBIs.
His next four seasons were all in Triple A. In 1976 and 1977 Williams managed the Salt Lake City Gulls, his first year being the youngest manager at that level in baseball. A minor-league manager can only try to make the best of it, given the players he’s accorded. In 1976 the Gulls were 90-54. They lost in the playoffs but Williams was named the All-Star manager. In 1977 they finished second. Over the wintertime after the 1976 season, he managed Obregon in Mexican League baseball.
Williams and Peggy welcomed their first child, Monica, in 1978. Her birth was followed a year later by a brother, Brady. The family later grew with the addition of son Shawn and daughter Jenna.
Jimy Williams spent 1978 in the Cardinals system, and managed the Springfield Redbirds to a third-place finish. His stay in the Cardinals organization was brief. Art Teece, owner of the Salt Lake City Gulls, lobbied new Angels executives to bring Williams back to the organization. “Bringing Jimy back was a key in my resuming a working agreement with the Angels,” Teece explained.11
Back with the Angels and Salt Lake City in 1979, the Gulls finished in second place but swept both Albuquerque and Hawaii in the two rounds of playoffs. Williams was once again the Manager of the Year.
Williams returned to the majors as Bobby Mattick’s third-base coach, working for the 1980 Toronto Blue Jays. He spent the six seasons (1980 through 1985) handling the hot corner. Jimy and Bobby Cox joined forces when Cox arrived in Toronto in 1982.
Cox was named general manager of the Atlanta Braves for 1986. Jimy Williams was named field manager of the Blue Jays. For three years he led the Jays to winning seasons. The 1987 team finished with 96 wins and in second place. Toronto had led the division by 3½ games with seven games remaining on the schedule. Injuries to Ernie Whitt and Tony Fernandez contributed to the team losing every one of the final seven games of the season and they fell short, just two games behind the Tigers in the AL East.
The Blue Jays finished only two games out in 1988 as well, though in a tightly-bunched field that saw them tied for third place. They won nine of their last 10 games, and 15 of their last 18.
Williams joined the Braves in 1990 for the first of seven seasons as third-base coach, once again working under Bobby Cox. He developed a solid reputation for working closely with his players. He took some pride in helping keep sharp those who weren’t on the starting nine. “The one thing I always tried to do as a coach is talk to players that aren’t starting,” he said. “Telling them you have to play your nine innings before the game. That way if you get your opportunity, you’re prepared. The only way to do it is to play your nine innings during practice. Develop a good work ethic — so you’re not just out there doing things, but you’re doing them properly. So that realistically, when you get into a game, the game is easier than what you’ve been practicing.”13
After three consecutive sixth-place (last place) finishes from 1988 through 1990 and not having finished above fifth place since 1984, the Braves became dominant in the NL East, finishing first for every one of the next 15 seasons (1991 through 2005), save for a second-place slot in the strike-shortened year of 1994. Had the teams played out the final 58 games of the year, there was plenty of opportunity for the Braves to have claimed first place that year, too. The one year they won the World Series was 1995, beating the Cleveland Indians in six games.
One of the most unforgettable moments with the Braves (how often does one have a US president run onto the field after a game and make a beeline to congratulate a third-base coach?) was at the end of Game Seven of the National League Championship Series in 1992. The Braves and Pirates battled it out for six games. Game Seven was in Atlanta and the Braves were losing, 2-0, heading into the bottom of the ninth. The Braves got one run and loaded the bases, but there were two outs. Pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera singled to left field, the ball fielded by Barry Bonds. Instead of settling for the game being tied, Williams waved baserunner (and first baseman) Sid Bream all the way home from second base. As told by Richard Justice, “President Jimmy Carter leaped from his box seat and ran across the field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Instead of joining the wild celebration, Carter jogged down the third-base line and shook hands with Braves third-base coach Jimy Williams, congratulating him on the decision to send the slow-footed Bream home on the pinch-hit off the bat of Francisco Cabrera. Williams had challenged the strong arm of a left fielder named Barry Bonds by waving Bream home, and in the aftermath of that trip to the World Series, Cabrera became something of a folk hero in the South while Williams was an all-but-forgotten subplot of the story.”14
After the 1996 season, Williams was hired by the Boston Red Sox as their field manager. Kevin Kennedy was out after a third-place finish. The Red Sox did distinctly worse, falling to a fourth-place finish, 20 games out of first, in 1997, but they made the wild card in both 1998 and 1999. Each time they lost. In 2000 the Red Sox finished second in the AL East, only 2½ games behind the Yankees, but they didn’t win the wild card. Williams didn’t make it through a full fifth year with Boston. He had once disciplined superstar Pedro Martinez for showing up late, removing him as starter for that day’s game and replacing him with Bryce Florie.15 He had begun to wear through his relationship with GM Dan Duquette, and was undercut when the GM took center fielder Carl Everett’s side in a controversy when Duquette clearly should have backed his manager as a matter of course.16 He also confounded the local media at times, with folksy-sounding sayings. As Chad Finn wrote in 2016, looking back at Red Sox managers over the prior 40 years, “He spoke in bewildering aphorisms (‘If a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its booty’), wore a flat-brimmed hat before it was in style, and didn’t play patty-cake with the media. He seemed uncool. You had to pay attention — or recognize that he was competing with some mighty Yankees teams with a roster of Nomar, Pedro, 20 role players, and three sore-armed former aces — to realize that he was savvy and sly in all the right ways. He’s probably the most underrated manager in recent Red Sox lore.”17
Williams was not one who sought the limelight. “The game is about the players,” he would say, and not about him. Richard Justice later wrote that he would dodge even innocuous questions such as why he wore number 3 with Houston. Justice added, “Williams would rather run down Texas Avenue with his hair on fire than discuss himself.”18
The Sox had been in first place throughout June but went 14-17 after the All-Star break. After 118 games Williams was relieved of his duties and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan served out the rest of the season as manager.19 Mike Port served as interim GM in 2002 and the Red Sox team was sold to a new ownership group.
At the end of 2001, Williams quickly found a new job and was hired as manager of the Houston Astros. Braves GM John Schuerholz looked back on Williams’s time with Atlanta. “I always believed that when we had Jimy, we were the most fortunate team in major-league baseball. Every time I watched him work, whether it was on a bunt defense or infield play or defensive positioning, he was a consummate, hard, exacting worker. He has an enthusiasm and a passion for the game of baseball, for having it played right and the fundamentals executed properly. I think the world of him. He’s a top-notch guy.”20
Succeeding the popular Larry Dierker, Williams began his tenure as Astros manager with the 2002 season. In each of the first two seasons, Houston finished second in the NL Central Division, winning 84 games in 2002 and 87 games in 2003, a frustrating one game behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs. In 2004 he lasted only half a season, replaced the day after the All-Star Game (which was hosted by Houston that year) by Phil Garner. The Astros also fired their pitching coach and hitting coach on the same day. Houston placed second again, a full 13 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, but were the wild-card team, won the division and took the Cardinals to Game Seven in the NLCS. The Cardinals were then swept in the 2004 World Series by the Boston Red Sox. In 2005 Garner’s Astros made it to the World Series, but lost out to the Chicago White Sox.
Jimy Williams worked the 2005 and 2006 seasons as a roving instructor for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. A photo caption in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph read “Home, to Jimy, is a baseball stadium. …”21
In 2007 and 2008, Williams was the bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies under manager Charlie Manuel. The Phillies won the NL East in 2007 but were swept by the Colorado Rockies in the Division Series. The Rockies were swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series.
In 2008 the Phillies went all the way. They won the NL East, won the Division Series over the Brewers and the NLCS over the Dodgers, losing only one game in each round, and then they won the World Series — again losing only once — from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Williams apparently decided to go out on top, with another world championship ring. He elected not to return for 2009. It appears that the Phillies had not wanted to meet his asking price for salary.22
Retired after 44 seasons in professional baseball, Williams and his wife, Peggy, reside in Palm Harbor, Florida. They have two sons and two daughters: Monica Jean (b. 1978), Brady Charles (b. 1979), Shawn Thomas (b. 1983), and Jenna Marie (b. 1985).
Monica was an All-America swimmer at Texas A&M and won two gold medals at the World University Games.
Their sons have followed in their father’s footsteps. They grew up around baseball. Both sons were ballboys for the National League in the 1993 All-Star Game. Brady played seven seasons of minor-league and independent baseball. Likewise, Shawn put in seven seasons.
In 2019 Brady Williams was manager of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls. Shawn managed the 2019 Reading Phils, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Double-A minor-league affiliate.23
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the Jimy Williams player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Thanks for research assistance to Tom Hufford, FX Flinn, and Carl Riechers
1 Richard Justice, “Ex-Astro Boss Jimy Williams Talks a Good Game,” Houston Chronicle, October 24, 2008. chron.com/sports/justice/article/Justice-Ex-Astros-boss-Jimy-Williams-talks-good-1785445.php.
2 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards,” Houston Chronicle, November 2, 2011. chron.com/sports/astros/article/Astros-new-manager-takes-low-key-approach-sets-2015374.php.
3 Jerome Holtzman, “Jays’ Williams: He Fits the Mold,” Chicago Sun Times, August 4, 1987.
4 William J. Weiss questionnaire, dated January 4, 1965, by Weiss.
5 “Don Dennis May Make First Start,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, July 20, 1966: 4B.
6 “Allen’s Drive Hit Guard, Says Red,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 11, 1966: 4E.
7 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.” He remembered getting the hit off Marichal, but mistakenly recalled it as being the next-to-last game of the season rather than a game in April.
8 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.”
9 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.”
10 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.”
11 “Caught on the Fly,” The Sporting News. October 28, 1978.
12 Williams had wanted Bell (the AL MVP in 1987) to convert to DH and Bell did not want to. Bell won out and had a good year. In both 1989 and 1991, the Jays finished first in the AL East. In 1992 and 1993, they won the World Series with Gaston as manager. For more of the details, see Neil MacCarl, “Bell vs. Williams; No Gift Exchange,” The Sporting News, August 8, 1988: 19.
13 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.”
14 Williams said it was “Bream and Cabrera who had made the play, or maybe Damon Berryhill, who drew the walk that put Bream in scoring position. Jimy Williams? Forget it. Just another guy lucky to be wearing the uniform and making a living. To some of the people who know Jimy Williams best, that story speaks volumes about the man. … In that one moment, he had done his job perfectly, yet he had gotten almost no credit. And when someone attempted to shine a spotlight on him, he deflected the attention to others.” Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.” In another article, Justice quoted Williams: “George Kissell, a great baseball man with the Cardinals, taught me that a good third base coach should do a windshield wiper before every pitch. You go back and forth with your eyes across the outfield before every pitch to see if the defense has changed.” Williams had noticed that Bonds had taken two or three steps to his left; he felt that Bonds would need an extra second or two to get into throwing position. See Richard Justice, “Ex-Astro Boss Jimy Williams Talks a Good Game,” Houston Chronicle, October 24, 2008.
15 Tom Yantz, “Pedro a Late Arrival for Sox,” Hartford Courant, August 15, 1999. courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1999-08-15-9908150156-story.html.
17 Chad Finn, “Here’s Where John Farrell Ranks Among the Best and Worst Red Sox Managers since the ’70s,” Boston.com, August 18, 2016. boston.com/sports/boston-red-sox/2016/08/18/heres-where-john-farrell-ranks-among-the-best-and-worst-red-sox-managers-since-the-70s.
18 Richard Justice, “Man Pulling Astros’ Strings Prefers Anonymity,” Houston Chronicle, April 4, 2004. On the same theme, see the earlier article by Dan Shaughnessy, “Williams Shows No Appetite for Self-Promotion,” Boston Globe: D1.
19 The team was 17-26 under Kerrigan.
20 Richard Justice, “Astros’ New Manager Takes Low-Key Approach, Sets High Standards.”
21 Brian Woodson, “Williams’ Baseball Life Continues in Minors,” Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph, July 30, 2006: 8.
22 Randy Miller, “Phillies,” Intelligencer (Doylestown, Pennsylvania), November 2, 2010: C4. See also Sam Donellen, “Phillies Manager Manuel Has Utmost Respect for Departing Bench Coach Williams,” Philadelphia Daily News, January 22, 2009.
23 A lengthy 2015 article in the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser quoted both sons and their father about aspects of their working lives. Duane Rankin, “Like Father, Like Son: Williams Brothers Follow Dad’s Manager Footsteps,” Montgomery Advertiser, June 20, 2015. montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/sports/baseball/montgomery-biscuits/2015/06/20/jimy-williams-sons-follow-baseball-footsteps/29050643/.