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Friday, August 17, 2001

  Farewell to Jimy Williams

Jimy, we hardly knew ye.

Alright, that's a bit melodramatic, especially since we really did know Jimy in his nearly 5 seasons as manager of the Red Sox. But I still feel bad about his firing. I don't think it was justified, I don't think it was fair, and I think that he was a scapegoat for bigger problems on the field, in the front office, and out here in the trenches of Red Sox fandom.

I'll let some numbers and words from around baseball make my case.

Exhibit A: Fan reaction. Since yesterday's firing of Williams and subsequent appointment of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan as his replacement, WEEI-AM Sports Radio in Boston has been running an on-line poll asking fans whether they agree with Dan Duquette's firing of Williams. At this writing, the results are virtually evenly split. At the same time, ESPN ran an on-line poll which presumably drew greater national participation. About 80% disagreed with the firing. It's interesting that among those whose world doesn't revolve around the success or failure of the Red Sox, clearer heads are overwhelmingly pro-Jimy.

Exhibit B: Baseball personnel reaction. By all published accounts, the rest of baseball - players, coaches, and managers outside the Boston market - are unanimous in their perplexity over this move and their sentiment that it wasn't a good one. From former Sox outfielder Ellis Burks to intra-division rival manager Joe Torre, there was widespread recognition that not only did Jimy do wonders with a roster full of overpaid egomaniacs and a glut of injuries to core players, but his record this season would be considered quite respectable even with a healthy group of guys who actually acted like a team. Former Sox manager turned Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer went so far as to verbalize what I'm sure others feel: that the ax should have fallen on Duquette, not Williams.

Exhibit C: Media reaction (outside Boston). Jimy's fate evidently was the talk of sports shows, newspaper columns, and even between-pitch commentary throughout the major leagues. Alot of it took the form of general sympathy for Williams, universally considered a hard-working man of integrity and overall nice guy. Even the New York sports media have had consistently high praise for Jimy and are now wondering why his disagreements with Duquette have come to this. Some commentary was more pointed, such as this morning's tirade by Warner Wolf on the syndicated Imus in the Morning radio show. Wolf spent an unusual chunk of his air time ranting about the stupidity of the situation and the administration that they feel created it. Wouldn't it be embarassing, Wolf opined, if Jimy ended up winning Manager of the Year? Then there's Peter Gammons, who too found cause to point the finger off the field: "[I]n its eight years [Dan Duquette's] regime has not developed one pitcher who's ever won nine games in one season in the majors." Hmmm. Could that possibly be the fault of Jimy Williams? If anyone on the field staff is to blame, it would have to be Kerrigan, and even that's a stretch.

Which isn't to take anything away from the abilities of Joe Kerrigan or his own chance of success. I have always been high on Joe for what he's been able to do with the pitching staff. There are commentators and analysts who think most of Jimy's success is directly attributable to Kerrigan's effective work with the rotation and the bullpen. Only time will tell whether he can apply the same wisdom to, and achieve the same success with, the rest of the team in the areas of hitting and defense. I hope he can.

But the fact remains that outside the pit of misery that is and has always been the fan base of Boston sports, there aren't too many people who agree with this personnel change. What the players think can only be deduced from the comments of the few who have spoken up: malcontent Carl Everett and his protege Dante Bichette hate Jimy, but on the flip side Derek Lowe is none too happy with his new skipper who has unceremoniously dumped him from the closer's spot in favor of newcomer Ugueth Urbina. I would venture to say, however, that alot of the reported clubhouse unrest has been sown and cultivated by Duquette and company, who bring in mediocrity and retreads for big bucks, promise them stardom, and then fan the flames of their inevitable discontent by publically choosing sides against the field manager. Nice.

My only hope can be with the next team owner, whoever that is and whenever he/she/they take over. May they draw from the wisdom of baseball fans, pros, and commentators around the country and bring in a general manager who won't do more harm than good.

Just my opinion.

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