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Major League Baseball
Jan. 29, 2024 4:22 p.m. ET
The Red Sox said Williams died Friday at AdventHealth North Pinellas Hospital in Tarpon Springs, Florida, after a brief illness. Williams lived in nearby Palm Harbor.
Williams was voted AL Manager of the Year after leading the Red Sox to their second straight playoff appearance. He said keeping calm in a clubhouse was easier than at home.
“I’ve got a wife and four kids. You want turmoil?” Williams said when he was hired to manage Boston in 1996. “You’ve got to talk. You can’t choose up sides and say, ‘Let’s see who wins this battle.'”
An infielder, Williams was born James Francis Williams in Santa Maria, California, on Oct. 4, 1943. He was a 1961 graduate of Arroyo Grande High School and first spelled his name Jimy as a prank in high school.
Williams went to Fresno State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964 in agri-business. He played summer ball that year with the Alaska Goldpanners alongside Tom Seaver and Graig Nettles. Williams signed with Boston, played at Class A Iowa and was selected by St. Louis in the 1965 Rule 5 draft.
Williams made his major-league debut on April 26, 1966, striking out against the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Sandy Koufax in his first at-bat. His first hit was on May 7, an RBI single off San Francisco’s Juan Marichal, like Koufax a future Hall of Famer.
“I can remember my first big-league hit, but when you only get three you can remember them all,” he told the Houston Chronicle.
Williams played in 14 major league games, going 3 for 13 (.231) with one RBI.
He was traded to Cincinnati and spent 1968 at Triple-A Indianapolis, then was taken by Montreal in the expansion draft and played for Triple-A Vancouver in 1969.
His playing career cut short by a shoulder injury, Williams became a manager for the California Angels at Class A Quad Cities of the Midwest League in 1974 and after six seasons managing in the minors became Bobby Mattick’s third base coach with Toronto in 1980.
Toronto went 86-76 in his first season and had a 3 1/2-game AL East lead with seven games left in 1987 but went 0-7 and finished two games behind Detroit. The Blue Jays went 87-75 in 1988 and Williams was replaced by Cito Gaston after a 12-24 start in 1989. Williams had clashed several times with star George Bell, who didn’t want to be a designated hitter.
Williams returned to the Braves as Cox’s third base coach from 1991-96, memorably giving Sid Bream the green light for the pennant-winning run on Francisco Cabrera’s single that beat Barry Bonds’ throw from left field and won Game 7 of the 1992 NL Championship Series against Pittsburgh.
Williams replaced Kevin Kennedy as Boston’s manager after the 1996 season. The Red Sox won 78 games in his first season and then had consecutive 90-win seasons. They rallied from a 0-2 deficit to beat Cleveland in a 1999 Division Series.
“I probably see life a lot differently than when I was with Toronto,” he said after earning Manager of the Year, “maybe not so excitable, from a standpoint of having to say something all the time.”
Boston won 85 games in 2000, and Williams was fired in August 2001 with the team at 65-53.
Williams was hired that fall by the Astros, and after two winning seasons he was fired with the Astros at 44-44 in 2004. He was terminated a day after fans at Minute Maid Park booed him when he was introduced as a coach at the All-Star Game.
Williams’ managing record was 910-790.
He spent 2005 and ’06 as a Tampa Bay roving instructor and was Charlie Manuel’s bench coach for Philadelphia in 2007 and ’08, earning a World Series ring in his second season.
Sons Shawn and Brady both played in the minor leagues, and Brady is Tampa Bay’s third base coach while Shawn is a former minor league manager. In addition to his sons, Williams is survived by Peggy, his wife of 47 years; daughters Monica Farr and Jenna Williams; and eight grandchildren. Monica was an All-America swimmer at Texas A&M who won a pair of gold medals at the World University Games.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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