Matt Williams: The Next Great MLB Manager
Sunday October 28th, 2012
Jonathan Hacohen: This past spring, I had the chance to converse on the telephone with one of the greatest players of my generation. Middle-of-the-order power bat, combined with gold glove defense. Matt Williams is everything a manager could want in a baseball player. He showed up every day and played the game hard. Ran out every ground ball. Dove for every ball at third base. Consistently got his jersey dirty. Never complained to the media or spoke poorly about management or a teammate. Matt Williams was the ultimate professional, on and off the field. And now here he was, on the other end of the line conversing with me. It will be a baseball talk that I will never forget. Matt Williams has that strong of a presence.
I actually grew up a Giants fan, with the highlight of my baseball life being the 1989 Giants playoff run. But once Matt Williams and Will Clark left the Bay area, I was so devastated that I decided to never forgive the Giants. But I continued to follow the players that I idolized, through the rest of their playing days and into the next phases of their respective careers. Once Comerica Park opened, I grew to adopt the Tigers as my main team. The proximity to Detroit from my hometown made the Tigers a natural fit for me. But I was always a baseball fan first and foremost. If I respected a player, I followed them regardless of the team(s) they played for. Studying the history of the Tigers, I started to think about some of their former players. Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell came to mind. Both were hard-nosed players who went on to manage in the big leagues. Gibson was a coach under Trammell in Detroit. Now Trammell is the bench coach in Arizona under Kirk Gibson. The team enjoyed an incredible run in 2011 and are still seen as a team on the rise. Ironically enough, Gibson’s third base coach? Matt Williams, of course.
It should come as no surprise that Matt Williams is coaching with Gibson and Trammell. Taking a look at the rest of the coaching staff, we see Don Baylor as the Batting Coach and Charles Nagy as the Pitching Coach. What do they all have in common? All of these guys were highly regarded players in their days, whose talents on the field have translated exceptionally well as coaches in the dugout. Don Baylor has managed in the major leagues and is regarded as one of the best Batting Coaches in the game. Charles Nagy has received rave reviews for his work with young arms. The one coach that we don’t hear enough about is Matt Williams. That is all about to change soon.
I have been harboring a baseball secret for the past few months. Every time a managerial opportunity arose, I was waiting to hear if the secret would be revealed. From Boston, to Houston and Cleveland, I paid close attention to the names thrown around as managerial candidates. Terry Francona ended up taking the Indians gig, the Red Sox acquired John Farrell from the Jays, while the Astros got Bo Porter to head their team on the field. Now we have the Jays, Marlins and Rockies looking for new managers, with more openings to likely come in the future. The usual suspects are still being thrown out there from last season. Sandy Alomar Jr., Mike Maddux, and Dave Martinez are popular picks, as is Brad Ausmus. Finally though, this past week, my secret was finally let out of bag, as stories began to surface that the Rockies had Matt Williams on their list of managerial candidates. I have now decided to break my silence and make the case for Matt Williams to become a MLB manager.
It’s not that there aren’t many great options in the marketplace. I’m sure that Ausmus, Alomar and Martinez will all get their chances one day and thrive. But for whatever reason, Matt Williams hasn’t received the press that he deserves. If you have followed the man’s career, this continues a pattern that Williams has experienced for many years. The likely result of not being flashy and cocky. Just talking softly and getting the job done. Matt Williams was known as a gold glove third baseman, having won four such awards in his career. He did not do backflips on the field. He was all steak, not sizzle. Perhaps if he had been more of an acrobat, he would now have a dozen gold gloves in his trophy case. MVP awards? He finished 2nd in voting for the 1994 NL MVP award and 3rd in 1999. But he never did win the award. For all the talk of his world-class defense, Matt Williams definitely held his own with the bat. He led the NL in home runs in 1994 (43) and drove in an incredible 142 runs in 1999 with the Dbacks. A 5-time All-Star and 4-time Silver Slugger winner. But when talks come up as to the top third basemen of all-time, somehow Matt Williams rarely gets the respect he deserves. But look at the numbers. The proof is in the stats.
One of the greatest travesties in the game of baseball came in 2009. It is a subject that Matt himself harbors no ill will towards, but still makes my blood boil. On his first year of eligibility for Cooperstown, Matt received only 7 votes and disappeared off the ballot. I am still left scratching my head, like watching a sudden car accident and asking myself: what just happened here? Is Cooperstown in place to honor baseball’s finest, or is it a popularity contest? The issue with Matt Williams was not that he was a jerk. Far from it. One of the nicest guys you will ever meet. The baseball writers who vote for the award certainly had no axe to grind with him. The word on the street is that players who weren’t pleasant to writers during their careers, often have a problem getting into the Hall of Fame later. This is not the story with Matt Williams. If I had to throw out the reason for his absence for Cooperstown, it was simply that he was not flashy enough. He was not Cal Ripken, breaking Lou Gehrig‘s record and running around the stadium high-fiving fans. He was not Rickey Henderson, proclaiming himself the greatest of all-time. Matt Williams in his day was a blue-collar player. He came to the park every day with his lunch box and came to work. A player cut in the Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell mold. Both players who are also absent from Cooperstown but are known for being strong coaches. The similarities continue.
I would like to throw out a name to you. Omar Vizquel. A man known as one of the best defensive shortstops of all-time and had a decent bat. Vizquel will finish his career with 11 gold gloves. He will almost certainly be voted into the Hall of Fame one day. I have no problem with that. Heck, I am advocating Omar’s candidcy. That is where though I will never understand why Matt Williams didn’t get his due credit. The man combined the glove with the bat. He was part of a different generation of ballplayers. The Gibson/Trammell mold of moving runners over, sacrifices, doing whatever it took to win ballgames. Matt Williams did not play for himself and his own statistics. He played for his team to win. Want more proof? Check out his postseason history.
They say that a player will never be considered a true hall of famer, a true superstar unless he can win it all. For a sport that is team based, an individual player will never be “the best” unless he plays and wins in the postseason. Another feather in Matt William’s cap. Check out his postseason resume. The 1989 run to the World Series with the Giants. The 1997 postseason with the Indians all the way to the World Series. NLDS appearances with the Diamondbacks in 1999 and 2002. Then of course, the ring in 2001 with Arizona. Williams, the coach, returned to the playoffs with the Diamondbacks last season. Translation? The man is a winner. Exactly what you want to see from a player on the field. And now what we will see one day soon from Matt Williams, future MLB Manager.
It is time for the baseball world to wake up and take notice of one of the game’s best kept secrets. When discussions of the best managerial candidates begin, the name Matt Williams must be included. He was everything you could ask for in a baseball player. Now his skills have translated similarly to coaching. Matt Williams put 17 seasons on the field. 1866 regular season games and 51 postseason games. The man gave everything he had to the game of baseball. Now he is looking to take things to the next level. He is ready to manage a MLB team and continue to make his mark on the game.
There are many things that you may not know about Matt Williams. You may know his stats on the field and his coaching experience with the Diamondbacks. Did you know that he worked as a broadcaster for a period, co-hosting the Dbacks pre-game show with his famous television wife, Erika Monroe Williams? Did you know that Matt Williams is a minority owner of the Dbacks? When speaking to Matt on these subjects, he was very modest to say the least. He was quick to point out that his ownership share was a “minor one” and that he leaves the television side of things to his wife. Listening to Williams talk about his wife was touching and heart warming. 99% of people in his position would be focused on themselves and bragging about their accomplishments. But not Matt Williams. He holds his wife in the highest regard and is incredibly proud of her talents. To hear a husband talk about his wife so fondly, you know that the man has strong morals and values. Having watched Erika on television, I can certainly understand where Matt is coming from. She is a natural-born star who has a bright future in front of the camera. But that is not Matt Williams. He was born to be on the field.
I joked with Erika during our interview in March that Matt must wake up early in the morning to chop trees before the sun comes up. She said that he actually does that. To this day, I have no idea if she was serious. But you can definitely learn a lot about a man by speaking to his wife. Erika described Matt as a homebody. A man who does not like to be flashy. His life is coaching. He loves to be “uber-prepared” as she called it. Matt is the most focused and prepared person she ever met. Erika saw baseball as always being a focal point in their lives. Matt apparently lived and breathed baseball since he was 6. Matt’s grandfather actually played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The bottom line: Matt Williams will always be a part of baseball.
The reality is that Matt Williams could pick and choose his next role in baseball. He could move upstairs, put on a suit and learn to run a baseball team from an office. He could jump back behind a camera. But that is not what Matt Williams is about. He loves teaching and coaching. Williams goes to the field every day in the early morning hours to start preparing for games. The stereotypical strong coach who is the first to arrive and last to leave? That’s Matt Williams. He already made his money in baseball and really doesn’t have to work another day in his life. But he chooses to do it because he simply loves the game.
One of the topics that I most looked forward to discussing with Williams was parenting. A little known fact why Matt Williams came to Arizona in his playing days from Cleveland was to be close to his kids. I mentioned to him that it was extremely refreshing to see a father place such a high priority on his children. That got me thinking. A father who is devoted to bringing up his children will surely display strong communication skills on the field. Williams knows how to work with young players. Teaching them the fundamentals of the game. He is patient- a very important trait to have in his field. A baseball team is like a family. You have to work as a unit, from spring training, through 162 regular season games and the playoffs. There will be good times and bad, fights and bickering. For a family to stick together, it needs strong parenting. For a baseball team to grow and thrive together, it needs strong leadership. They don’t come stronger or more determined than Matt Williams.
There are many facets to being a MLB manager. You need to work well with players, coaches, ownership, front office staff, fans, and the media. You are accountable for your team’s performance on the field. You must be able to make all the right decisions on the field, while having a strong relationship with all the key personnel in the game off the field. We have seen too many managers over the years have successful teams on the field, only to have scandals explode by actions or words spoken off the field. That is why ultimately I envision Matt Williams having a great deal of success as a MLB manager. He talks softly and carries a big stick. He is not the type of person to invite controversy or embarrass his team or organization. He is the ultimate professional. The buck will start and stop with him. Williams is accountable for himself. Definitely not the type of person to make excuses or blame others. If he has a problem with someone, that conversation would happen behind closed doors. He speaks in a manner that instantly commands respect. Managerial level respect.
When Matt and I spoke, I asked him what his ultimate goal in baseball was. He answered without reservation to be a MLB Manager. That is what he is working towards and where he ultimately wants to end up. With his children growing up, Williams realizes that his best chance of becoming a Manager will likely be outside of Arizona. Kirk Gibson is highly respected in the industry and within the organization. He is not going anywhere. Until Matt Williams gets his shot, he has been soaking up every bit of information and details that he can learn from Kirk Gibson and his staff. Williams thinks the world of Gibson and considers himself fortunate to be a part of his staff. He has learned a great deal about coaching in Arizona and is now ready to take the next step. Even if it means walking away from a state and organization that he has been proud to be associated with for so many years. Leaving Derrick Hall, the Diamondbacks organization, and Arizona will be one of the hardest decisions that Matt Williams and his family will ever have to make. But to receive the greatest rewards in life, one has to take the biggest risks. When that call finally comes in offering him a MLB managerial job, Matt Williams is ready to take the plunge.
For a man who has coached, served as the Special Assistant to the President, worked as a broadcaster and played the game for so many seasons, Matt Williams brings the highest level of knowledge and experiences to the diamond. Whether he ends up in Colorado, Toronto, Miami or another location, Matt Williams is destined to become the next great MLB Manager. He knows what needs to be done to succeed and how to get there. He has been mentored by same of the finest coaches this game has ever seen and is ready to take on the role. When we spoke about the opportunity to one day manage in the big leagues, Williams’ voice instantly perked up and he couldn’t contain his excitement. The man is a baseball workaholic and devoted to the game at a level that I have never seen or heard before. Likely because Matt Williams comes from a different time. He is what we would consider to be a baseball player from the 1930′s. When rookies knew their places in clubhouses. When players respected their managers. When managers respected their General Managers. And everyone respected the game. Matt Williams has not taken for granted any of the opportunities that baseball has provided him. He is at the field, almost all day and every day. Working to building a winning ball club. To have his team play on the field for 9 full innings and have the best chance to win every time out. Even though he does not look for admiration and awards, my gut says that Matt Williams will one day receive the recognition he deserves. For a man who has devoted his whole life to the game of baseball, it is now time for the game to give back to him. Matt Williams has done everything in his power to prepare for the chance to one day manage a MLB team. That day will come. And when it does, Matt Williams the third baseman and then coach, will evolve into Matt Williams the Manager. Spread the word – as the secret is now out of the bag.
(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)
Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on October 28, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged alan trammell, arizona diamondbacks, baseball, cleveland indians, colorado rockies, cooperstown, derrick hall, don baylor, erika monroe williams, gold glove, hall of fame, kevin mitchell, kirk gibson, matt williams, mlb, mlb manager, omar vizquel, san francisco giants, toronto blue jays, will clark. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.