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November 17, 1964 |
Santa Ana, California
|April 9, 1986, for the Texas Rangers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 10, 1997, for the Kansas City Royals|
|Earned run average||3.65|
|Career highlights and awards|
Mitchell Steven Williams (born November 17, 1964 in Santa Ana, California), nicknamed "Wild Thing", is a former relief pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for six teams from 1986 to 1997. He was also a studio analyst for the MLB Network from 2009 to 2014.
Williams, a left-hander with a high-90s fastball and major control issues, was largely effective, especially in the early part of his career earning 192 saves in his 11 seasons including a career high of 43 in 1993. He is best known for giving up a walk-off home run to Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth game of the 1993 World Series, which gave Toronto a World Series championship over the Phillies. Williams' career went into noticeable decline after this, though he played in three more major league seasons.
Early playing career
Williams was drafted out of high school in West Linn, Oregon, in 1982, by the San Diego Padres. The Texas Rangers acquired him in 1985, and he made his major league debut for the Rangers in 1986. It was with the Rangers that Williams earned the nickname "Wild Thing" due in large part to his awkward delivery to the plate in which he would fall to the third base side of the mound during his follow thru, and also because of issues he had with control. The Rangers traded him to the Chicago Cubs after the 1988 season.
When he joined the Cubs, Williams extravagant wind-up and release and his frequent wild pitches inspired Wrigley Field organists to play The Troggs' "Wild Thing" as he came out of the bullpen. A power reliever, he put his full weight behind every pitch, so that he dropped hard to the right, sometimes falling off the mound. He was often compared to film character Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen) in the 1989 David S. Ward film Major League. In 1993, Williams started wearing the number 99 (he originally wore the number 28) on his jersey, the same number that Vaughn wore in the film. According to an interview on the The Dan Patrick Show on October 22, 2008, the number change had nothing to do with the Major League film. Williams said he had wanted the number 99 for years and years because of an admiration for the football player Mark Gastineau, who also wore number 99. Williams said that he did not change his number until 1993 because that was his first chance to do it.
Cubs manager Don Zimmer said Williams "did everything 99 miles an hour", and teammate and close friend Mark Grace said "Mitch pitches like his hair's on fire." The New Yorker baseball reviewer Roger Angell chortled over his "scary, hilarious antics", saying "he flung the ball and then... flung himself after it, winding up with his back to home plate... peering over his left shoulder in case anyone accidentally made contact."
One of Mitch Williams's best seasons came in 1989 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Williams had a win–loss record of 4–4 with a 2.76 ERA, 67 strikeouts (in 76 appearances during the regular season) and 36 saves. That year, Williams made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He also hit the only home run of his career that season. He was a key figure in the Cubs winning the National League East title in 1989.
National League Championship Series
In the League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants, Williams' performance was not as notoriously viewed as his subsequent postseason outings in 1993. In two appearances (Game 2 and Game 5), Williams did not give up any earned runs and recorded two strikeouts. Unfortunately, prior to the events in the 1993 World Series, Mitch Williams' most infamous moment in his career probably happened in the bottom of the 8th inning in Game 5 of the 1989 National League Championship Series. With the game tied at 1–1, Williams faced the Giants' superstar first baseman Will Clark (who by the end of the 1989 NLCS, hit .650 and drove in eight runs to go with a grand slam he hit off of Greg Maddux in Game 1). Clark took the first fastball for a strike, then fouled one away. Williams' next pitch missed the outside corner to bring the count to 1-and-2. After Clark fouled off two more pitches, he hit a screaming line drive up the middle to bring in two runs. Williams was removed, and NBC's cameras caught him in the dugout with a towel over his head. Moments later, the Giants would finish the Cubs off to win their first National League pennant in 27 years.
The Cubs dealt Williams to the Philadelphia Phillies at the start of the 1991 campaign. That year, he won 12 games, including eight in August, and saved 30 for the Phillies. However, he suffered eight losses in 1992 and seven more in 1993. Still, manager Jim Fregosi chose Williams as the team's closer entering the World Series against the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays.
On July 2, 1993, in the second game of a 12-hour double-header delayed repeatedly by rain, Williams came up to bat in the tenth inning and ended the game at 4:40 am with an RBI single, the only walk-off hit of his career. Williams recorded it off Trevor Hoffman, one of the only two closers to have 600 or more saves.
1993 World Series
During that World Series, whenever Williams was on the mound, his nervous teammate Curt Schilling was caught by CBS television cameras with a towel over his head. Schilling's behavior not only irked Williams (who to this day harbors bitter feelings towards Schilling), but also fellow Phillies teammates like Larry Andersen and Danny Jackson, who accused Schilling of purposely trying to get more camera time. On subsequent nights, several other Phillies were seen wearing towels—possibly to keep Schilling from looking unique. The gesture was taken up almost as a good-luck charm by fans in the seats.
Williams earned a save in Game 2 of the series, relieving Terry Mulholland as the Phillies tied the series at a game each. However, Williams suffered the loss in Game 4, the highest-scoring game in World Series history, as the Blue Jays scored six times in the eighth inning to earn a 15–14 victory and take a 3–1 series lead. Afterwards, Williams received death threats from angry Phillies fans for blowing the game.
After the Phillies won Game 5 in a complete-game shutout by Curt Schilling, the series returned to Toronto for Game 6. The Phillies scored five runs in the seventh inning to take a 6–5 lead, and it was up to Williams to preserve the victory and force a Game 7. With one out and two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, Joe Carter hit a 2–2 pitch over the left-field wall for a walk-off home run, giving the Blue Jays an 8–6 victory and a World Series championship.
Williams later placed the blame on himself for what happened in the 1993 World Series, adding that he had put the ordeal behind him:
|“||I'm not going to go home and commit suicide. . . . I wish I hadn't thrown it down and in to Carter. I was trying to keep the ball away from him. It was a mistake. . . . It ain't comin' back. . . . I can't replay it and win it. . . . I can't change this one, much as I'd like to, if only because my teammates busted their butts. I let 'em down. . . . But don't expect me to curl up and hide from people because I gave up a home run in the World Series. Life's a bitch. I could be digging ditches. I'm not.||”|
- —Mitch Williams on his feelings about surrendering the home run to Joe Carter
In 2011, 17 years after giving up the World Series home run, Williams said he regretted using the slide step when pitching to Carter. In a joint interview with Carter for the MLB Network's 20 Greatest Games series, Williams said he hadn’t used the slide step before but was talked into doing so by pitching coach Johnny Podres after allowing a walk to base-stealing legend Rickey Henderson.
Despite having the highest number of lefty saves in his career with the Phillies (102), the Carter blast was the end of the line for Williams in Philadelphia. The Phillies traded him to the Houston Astros prior to the start of the 1994 season.
Williams' post-Phillies career was a comedown from his previous heights. He would register only two wins and six saves in his final three major league seasons, with a an ERA of 6.75 or above in all three campaigns. After one season in Houston, Williams closed out his career with the California Angels in 1995 and the Kansas City Royals in 1997.
Williams retired from baseball to operate a bowling establishment outside Philadelphia. Although Phillies fans continued to blame Williams for the 1993 World Series loss for several years afterward, the fact that he did not make excuses for the blown save, shift the blame to others, or hide from the media or the city of Philadelphia caused many fans to ultimately forgive him and embrace him once again as a local figure.
In 1996, the MLB All-Star game was held in Philadelphia. The network broadcasting the game set up a bowling match between Williams and Carter at Williams' own lanes. Before the match Williams jokingly stated that Carter had no chance to win because Williams played every day. Williams did not know that Carter had been a talented bowler growing up. Carter got to the bowling alley and on his first warm up roll took a couple steps, spun around 180 degrees and rolled the ball between his legs, backwards, for a strike. Carter won the match handily.
The Atlantic City Surf of the independent Atlantic League lured Williams back into uniform to pitch in 2001. He went 4–3 for the Surf that season and then became the club's pitching coach for 2002 and 2003. His paperwork and people skills were not strengths, and he was not retained as coach after a year and a half. Williams has been out of professional baseball since then.
In March 2007, Williams joined Philadelphia radio station 610 WIP AM as a part-time cohost of the Angelo Cataldi and the Morning Team show heard from 5:30 to 10:00 am on weekdays. Williams generally appears one day per week. In April 2007, Williams joined Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia as a post-game analyst for broadcasts of Philadelphia Phillies games. On January 3, 2009, Williams joined MLB Network as a studio analyst where he was a regular on the network's MLB Tonight program until 2014.
Williams serves as a color commentator for Fox Sports occasionally commentating national games. Williams came under some criticism for stating that the correct way to catch a fly ball was with one hand rather than two, after Cincinnati Reds outfielder Fred Lewis made an error in a game vs. the Atlanta Braves on July 23, 2011.
- Reaves, Joey (October 24, 1993). "From death threats to disaster for Williams". Chicago Tribune.
- Narducci, Marc (February 5, 2011). "Phillies' Mitch Williams recalls fateful pitch". Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Storm, Jonathan. "Jonathan Storm: Mitch Williams pitches in on a Phillie fan-cave makeover for 'House Crashers'," Philadelphia Inquirer (July 7, 2011).
- Is Mitch Williams Getting Screwed? Philadelphia Magazine, 2015-04-05. Interview with Williams and with witnesses who say the reports of Williams using foul language, insulting opposing players and telling his son to throw a beanball were fabricated.
Bell, Christopher, Scapegoats: Baseballers Whose Careers Are Marked by One Fateful Play (c)2002 McFarland and Company.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Mitch Williams anecdote on anecdotage.com
- Barkowitz, Ed (October 17, 2008). "Since 1993, all is forgiven for Phillies' 'Wild Thing'". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved October 17, 2008.[dead link]