The move may not have been as revolutionary as the introduction of the McD.L.T., but last week the hamburger-funded San Diego Padres went from the hot of Dick Williams to the cool of Steve Boros. When Boros, 49, was promoted from coordinator of minor league instruction on Tuesday to succeed Williams, who resigned on Monday, it marked the greatest contrast in successive baseball managers since, well, since Steve Boros followed Billy Martin in Oakland. The surprise switch caught the Padres so unaware that they now have to dispose of 9,700 media guides, each containing a two-page bio of Williams.
According to Boros's 77-year-old father, who is also named Steve, "All his life, Steve never pushed around anybody." It's an admirable quality, but it's also the reason why, in 1984, the Oakland A's told Boros, "No more, Mr. Nice Guy," after he had spent less than a season and a half as their manager. But Boros learned some lessons in Oakland about how toughness is perceived; so, recalcitrant players and lazy umpires, watch out.
Meanwhile, his natural disposition suits the current Padres, who are just beginning their mending process in Yuma, Ariz. Four years under the sullen relentlessness of Williams, last season's disappointing defense of the National League pennant and four months of bad theater by the front office have left scars. Last week the players were again shaken when 16-game winner and former American League Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt checked himself into a center that specializes in drug treatment.
"Steve communicates, and he gets along with players," said Padre general manager Jack McKeon, who managed Boros at Omaha in '69 and chose him for his coaching staff when McKeon managed Kansas City in 1975. "Right now, that's the kind of manager this particular team needs."
Once upon a time, though, Williams was the kind of manager the Padres needed. For 18 years and with five different teams, Williams had been a consistent winner. Only he and Bill McKechnie ever achieved pennants with three different teams. And while Williams's performance last week—he resigned after failing to appear in Yuma for the opening of spring training—was not one for the Hall of Fame, it was probably effective hardball by a man who seemed to understand that he had finally worn out his welcome in San Diego.
"For the past few weeks, I have been asking myself, 'Do I really want to manage the Padres for another year?' " Williams told a press conference in San Diego. "My honest answer, finally, was 'No.' " With that, he received a kiss from owner Joan Kroc and left without taking questions from the media. Said Kroc, "It's better to kiss people goodby than to kick people goodby." Reporters who tried to call Williams at home discovered his phone was out of service. He has said in the past that San Diego would be his last managing job, but managers have a way of changing their minds, and a certain New York shipbuilder-owner has long admired the no-nonsense ways of Williams.
The resignation marked the end of speculation that began last August when Williams, disturbed by criticism of the floundering Padres, told a Philadelphia reporter, "I'm glad they put the pension in, baby, because I'll see you later." The implication was that Williams wasn't planning to return in 1986 to fulfill the last year—at $250,000—of his five-year contract.
After the Padres finished the season a disappointing 83-79 and tied for third in the NL West, Williams was not offered the contract extension he desired by president Ballard Smith. At first, Williams announced he would return to honor his contract. But on Oct. 30, the prospect of being a lame duck seemed less appealing, and he told Smith he wanted to reconsider. Smith, who contends he never offered to buy out the remainder of Williams's contract, told his manager to wait two weeks before making a final decision.
"Dick didn't want to come back," said Ozzie Virgil, a longtime coach under Williams and the closest man to the manager on the Padres. "He knew he wasn't wanted. But, naturally, he wanted them to buy him out."
The uncertainty over Williams's contract triggered an intriguing series of events.