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The Padres' Persnickety Papa
Jim Kaplan
June 28, 1982
Manager Dick Williams' obsession with execution and teamwork has made San Diego a surprise contender in the NL West
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June 28, 1982

The Padres' Persnickety Papa

Manager Dick Williams' obsession with execution and teamwork has made San Diego a surprise contender in the NL West

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"If one pitcher fails to sacrifice, Dick will have all of us bunting in batting practice," says Pitcher John Montefusco. "Lay down a good one in a game, and you get a standing ovation from the other pitchers."

The Padre pitchers also got a message in spring training. "After every game we'd see two numbers on the bottom of a chalkboard," says Tim Lollar, who leads the staff" with a 6-2 record and a 2.45 ERA. "No one told us what they were. Finally we figured it out: One number meant how many walks we'd given up, and the other, which was usually more than half the first, was how many of those walks scored. It was a very subtle way of teaching us."

During the season Williams has been much less subtle. Next to each pitcher's name he posts walks yielded to leadoff batters and pitchers, and walks that scored. The practice has plainly paid off: Last in the league with 3.76 walks per game in 1981, the 1982 Padres are first with a 2.83 average. Meanwhile, the ERA has dropped from 3.72 to 3.32.

Only a few Padres haven't been zinged by Williams. "Get a 2-0 count on a hitter and you can hear him cursing from the mound," says Montefusco, who was thought to be washed up in Atlanta but through Sunday was 6-4 in his first year with the Padres. "You can tell when Dick's mad," says Lollar, "because he takes off his glasses." A player who incurs his wrath will be confronted by Williams or his coaches as soon as he enters the dugout. At first some Padres were intimidated by Williams' riding. "We had to get over a timid time," says Reliever Gary Lucas, who leads the club with nine saves. "I was afraid to throw balls," says Montefusco. "But Dick knows what he's doing. Most guys are about .190 hitters with 0-2 counts and .400 with 2-0 counts. After a while I realized that I was the one messing up, not Dick."

As usual, Pitcher John Curtis sees the big picture. "Dick isn't like an irresponsible parent who says, 'You don't eat for a month.' He backs up what he says. Dick has given us a very sound formula. He has taught us the little things that put runs on the scoreboard. For me that meant acting positively and aggressively. I'd like to think my pitching is a way of saying thank you."

Williams has been notably effective with players who were considered attitude problems. Terry Kennedy, a second-year Padre who was unhappy in his role as a backup in St. Louis, was benched for three days after getting only three hits and one RBI in 19 at bats. "I didn't understand at first, but later I realized he wanted me to think about my role on the team," says Kennedy. Deciding to hit for power rather than average, he returned to the lineup and drove in 10 runs in his next 20 at bats.

Lezcano and Templeton were the Cardinals' unhappiest players in 1981. "Sixto probably got the bad rap because he couldn't play with hepatitis and a bad wrist the last two seasons," says Williams. "We benched him one day when he didn't run out a grounder, and we found out later that he had a bad heel and didn't want to bother the trainer. He's been super." Williams has pointedly refrained from riding the sensitive Templeton, whose days in St. Louis were numbered after he made an obscene gesture at fans, nearly fought with Manager Whitey Herzog and was later hospitalized for depression. "He felt he didn't get enough respect in St. Louis, but he gets it here," says Williams. "If I were to name a captain, he'd be it."

Most managers talk percentages but practice the "book": Always bat a lefthanded pinch hitter against a righthanded pitcher; always bring in a lefthanded pitcher to face a lefthanded batter. Not Williams. "I don't know who wrote the book," he scoffs. "Probably some writer who never wore a jockstrap. The book, if it exists, is nothing more than a safety valve. If a man's any kind of manager, he's got charts showing him the real percentages. I have charts showing what our guys do against their pitchers and what their guys do against our pitchers. I can tell you what a guy hit, off of what pitcher and what happened. Now if you want to get down further, we've got what the sequence of pitches was and exactly where they were thrown. We've got all the information we could possibly have."

Williams got up from his postgame lasagna, walked across his office and reached into a stack of pitching charts he has saved since he moved to the National League in 1977. "Here's Bill Madlock batting against us recently," he said. "First pitch was a fastball, high and in. A ball. Next was a changeup low, for another ball. Then a change-slider over the middle for a strike. Next was a sinker, middle-in, which he grounded to third. I'm going to set up my defense based on information like that. I've got a record of every ball hit in every park. Each of our pitchers better know what each guy did to him this year. The charts and advance scouting reports show how to defense a man. We have nine or 10 game reports on every team we're playing. I'll Xerox my reports and give them to my pitching coach, Norm Sherry, and my man in the bullpen, Clyde McCullough. We have a meeting before every series to go over every hitter. Each day my starting pitcher and catcher will talk at another meeting; they'll say how they think we should pitch to and defense every hitter. All my coaches, second basemen, shortstops and relievers will be there. My outfield coach, Bobby Tolan, will meet with Jones, the centerfielder, and the other outfielders will work off Ruppert. The shortstop will relay signs to the third baseman and the second baseman to the first baseman. Every little thing helps. We've got all the information we can possibly have."

Richard Hirshfeld Williams was born 53 years ago, in St. Louis. By the time he was seven, he had wangled his way into the Knothole Gang for Browns games, even though the minimum age for membership was 10. Williams' personality was shaped by his father, Harvey, a hard-driving man who was out of work for five years during the Depression and was variously a Navy recruit, a high diver, a swimmer and a municipal-league umpire. Harvey Williams died when Dick was 16. "He was very strict and stern," says Williams. "He taught me that you can either take it or you can't, that life is hard work."

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