Watson might have saved himself a lot of grief if he had done a background check before taking on Williams and his '94 salary of $2.5 million, all of which the pitcher will receive. The Rangers could have told Watson that there was no greater competitor than Williams, but that on nights when he didn't get the ball in a save situation, according to former Texas pitching coach Tom House, "he would throw a temper tantrum like a two-year old. Before every game I told Mitch exactly how he'd be used. It had to be concrete, or he might interpret it the wrong way."
As happy as he was in Philly, Williams even threw a few tits last year. Says Fregosi, "If a guy was throwing a no-hitter, Mitch would want to pitch the ninth. He thrived on it." Once Vast season Fregosi came out of the tunnel and removed Williams in the ninth—a rarity. Williams Went crazy in the clubhouse after the game. Finally, catcher Darren Daulton, the Phillies' leader, more or less told Williams to lose the baby act or Daulton would beat the hell out of him. This season no Astro player took that kind of initiative.
Watson says he wasn't aware of the depth of Williams's need for the ball late in games. "But in Philly they had a last-place team before last year, and then he was the only one there [capable of closing games]," says Watson. "Plus Jim Fregosi wasn't a rookie manager, Lee Thomas wasn't a rookie G.M., and Bill Giles wasn't a rookie owner. Here we have a rookie manager, a rookie G.M. and a rookie owner. We couldn't deal with that."
The Astros, in sum, were the wrong team for the Wild Thing. "This team has got to win now," says Bagwell, noting that because of payroll restraints imposed by ownership, the club may not seek to keep some of its best players after this season. "There's no time to say, 'Let's see if he can work out of it.' There's no time to lose games. This is the big leagues. If you don't get it done, someone will take your job."
On Sunday, Hendricks said that three teams had expressed interest in Williams after his release. But pitching for another team wasn't an option Williams was considering as he reflected on his plight in Hico last week. In his mind there were no options. "I had all the love for the game drained out of me," he said. "Now I'm going to take the next four months and see if I can get it back. If I can, I'll be back next spring. If not, I won't."
With that he walked away, apparently prepared to spend the summer in a town that has a sign on its outskirts reading WELCOME TO HICO, TEXAS, WHERE EVERYBODY IS SOMEBODY. And where Mitch Williams is a rancher, not a closer.