•In November, McKeon, under the impression that Williams would not be returning, but without consulting the manager, fired Virgil. McKeon now claims he told Virgil the firing was timed so the coach could hook on with another team and that Virgil could come back to the Padres if Williams decided to stay. Virgil says he received no such promise.
•Virgil made his firing public, leading to reports that Smith and McKeon were undermining Williams in order to buy out his contract. Joan Kroc, who is Smith's mother-in-law, was not notified of any contract action on Virgil or Williams and announced that a buyout of Williams "will never happen. They [Smith and McKeon] will have to use their own money—I'm not using mine." Citing the debt she owed to Williams for bringing the World Series to San Diego in 1984, she added, "I am terribly involved with Dick Williams."
•In the meantime a telephone survey of players by Phil Collier of The San Diego Union revealed that most of the players did not want Williams back.
"It's bad when you have the players saying they'll pass the hat and help buy out Dick's contract," said one player. "I love playing for Dick," said another, "but when I get out of this game I'm going to run over him with a car."
•In early December, Smith, McKeon, Kroc and Williams held a meeting. Smith emerged from the summit talk to announce that Williams would return as manager in 1986. Virgil, who had lined up a new job with the Giants, was rehired. The confusion, said the embarrassed Smith, was due to "miscommunication." Management, he added, had complete confidence in Williams. Williams claimed he never intended to resign. He even said he would try to get along better with the players and the media.
•Two months later, Williams failed to show up for the first day of spring training. Virgil, also a no-show, then resigned. If getting one year's salary without work was Williams's goal, along with a little revenge, the odds are he achieved it. Kroc, asked in a telephone interview last week if she had changed her mind and paid Williams for the last year of his contract, said, "That's a private matter." She did say, "Forever, I will be grateful to Dick. He helped turn my grief [over the death of her husband] into healing."
Steve Garvey, who called Williams's resignation "the best thing that could happen to the Padres," was, nevertheless, unhappy with this latest episode. The normally restrained Garvey criticized Kroc for avoiding the press and said he believed Williams had been paid off. Then he unloaded on his former manager. "Dick has known for a long time that he wasn't going to manage this year," Garvey told Rick Talley of the Los Angeles Daily News. "I think he deliberately misled the media and fans in order to inflict the most harm on our team. Leaving like this...was his way of trying to burn the players."
Most players were just glad Williams was gone, regardless of how. "It couldn't have happened to a better guy," said pitcher Andy Hawkins, who won 18 games last year. "You bet I'm glad to see him go." Kurt Bevacqua, who often did impressions of Williams though he usually agreed with his manager's hard-nosed approach, said, "I look at Dick as being the same type of individual as I am—basically, a jerk."
A few paid tribute to Williams. "People shouldn't forget Dick Williams taught us how to win," said outfielder Tony Gwynn. "A lot of our success was an extension of his personality, because Dick was a perfectionist."
But after a 1984 season in which it appeared the Padres had the combination of experience and youthful talent to dominate the NL West, something happened. Perhaps it was just a natural cycle. Williams's average stay with his four previous employers was 3½ years. The 1985 season was his fourth with San Diego. The Padres overcame the loss of second baseman Alan Wiggins to take a five-game lead in the NL West on July 4. But then the clock struck 3½ years. In the second half, the Padres eroded into a punchless base-to-base team with erratic relief pitching and lost 48 of their last 85. Over the season, San Diego dropped 40 games in which the opposition came from behind.