From the first game he pitched in the National League to the last, Stan Williams had a significant connection to the Cardinals.
A right-hander with a reputation for intimidating batters, Williams played in the majors for 14 seasons. He died on Feb. 20, 2021, at 84.
Williams was 21 when he made his big-league debut for the Dodgers against the Cardinals at St. Louis in July 1958. He was 35 when he pitched his final National League game as a Cardinals reliever in September 1971.
Though Williams’ time with the Cardinals was brief, it was successful. He made 10 relief appearances for them and was 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA.
Big and fast
Born in New Hampshire, Williams was 18 months old when his family moved to Denver. He played organized baseball for the first time in high school and attracted scouts because of his overpowering fastball. Williams was 17 when the Dodgers signed him in 1954 and sent him to the minors.
In was at Newport News in 1955, he said, that he got the reputation for being mean. The Dodgers taught pitchers “that when you got ahead of a hitter you kept him off the outside corner by pitching him in and knocking him back or down,” Williams told author Danny Peary.
“I just started rearing back and throwing it as hard as I could at their chins and let them get out of the way.”
Williams, who grew to 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, was imposing and erratic. In 242 innings for Newport News, he struck out 301, walked 158 and hit 16 batters.
After a teammate, catcher Bob Schmidt, taught him to throw a slider during winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Williams progressed. He was in his fifth season in the minors when he got called up to the Dodgers in 1958.
Williams made his debut in the majors on May 17, 1958, at St. Louis. Entering in the fifth, he worked two scoreless innings before giving up three runs in the seventh. Joe Cunningham hit a two-run home run against him. Boxscore
A left-handed hitter, Cunningham battered Williams throughout his career. In 36 plate appearances versus Williams, Cunningham had 13 hits, eight walks and twice was hit by pitches _ an on-base percentage of .639. His career batting average against Williams was .500.
Two months after his debut versus the Cardinals, Williams had a noteworthy encounter with them.
On Aug. 15, 1958, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Williams, 21, was matched against the Cardinals’ Sal Maglie, 41, a former Dodger nicknamed “The Barber” for the close shaves he gave batters with brushback pitches.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals were “highly irritated” by the amount of time Williams was taking to deliver pitches. When Williams came to bat in the fourth, Maglie “took off his shoe, emptied it of dirt and slowly put it on again, tying his laces with much care.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
When Maglie finally was ready, Williams backed out of the box and “kicked some imaginary mud from his cleats,” the Los Angeles Times noted.
Then Williams stepped back in and hit Maglie’s first pitch over the high screen in left for a home run, his first in the majors. Boxscore
As part of a Dodgers rotation that featured Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres, Williams’ signature pitch was the knockdown.
“In all the years I played, he was the only guy who ever scared me _ and he was on my team,” Ron Fairly, a first baseman for the Dodgers and Cardinals, told the San Francisco Examiner. “The thing about Stan, he was so big and strong, and he threw as hard as Koufax. The difference was Sandy was not mean. Stan was very mean.”
Roger Craig, a former Dodgers and Cardinals pitcher, said, “He was the meanest pitcher I ever saw. Everyone thought Drysdale was so mean, but Stan was far worse.”
In the book “We Played the Game,” Williams said, “Off the field, I was a big teddy bear.”
One year, Williams had a clause in his Dodgers contract calling for a $500 bonus if he kept his season walk total to less than 75. According to the San Francisco Examiner, as he neared the mark, he plunked a batter when the count got to ball three rather than risk a walk.
“It was a game of intimidation in those days,” Williams said. “I was never a headhunter. I never pitched with the idea of hurting anyone. I don’t think I’ve ever been mean. What I had was a very competitive streak. That helped give me an edge. So I took advantage of it.”
In August 1960, Williams was matched against Lew Burdette in a game against the Braves. “Burdette used to dig a hole in front of the mound” with his foot, Williams told The Sporting News. “To avoid it, I pitched from the side of the rubber. On a pitch to Lee Maye, I slipped and my back went one way and my arm the other. I felt something snap.”
Williams said he thinks he tore a muscle in his right arm or shoulder, but he kept pitching. He had win totals for the Dodgers of 14 in 1960, 15 in 1961 and 14 in 1962, but he said the pain got progressively worse.
“I pitched with tears running down my cheeks many a time after I hurt my arm in 1960,” Williams told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The Dodgers traded Williams to the Yankees after the 1962 season, but he lost effectiveness. “There were times when I couldn’t raise my arm, so I started throwing from the hip,” he said.
The Yankees shipped Williams to the Indians in March 1965. He spent most of that season and all of 1966 in the minors.
Williams was with Class AAA Portland in 1967 “when the adhesions popped again and I regained my strong arm.”
Called up to the Indians in July 1967, Williams posted six wins and a 2.62 ERA. The next year, he won 13 for them and had a 2.50 ERA.
The Twins acquired Williams after the 1969 season and made him a reliever. He was 10-1 with 15 saves and a 1.99 ERA in 1970, helping the Twins win a division title.
In 1971, Williams complained about not getting enough work for the Twins. He was 4-5 with four saves and a 4.15 ERA when they traded him to the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 1971, for outfielder Fred Rico and pitcher Danny Ford.
Cardinals scout Joe Monahan, who recommended Williams, told the Post-Dispatch, “His arm is sound and he’s pitched for winning ballclubs. He’s not going to be overwhelmed by a pennant race.”
On Sept. 7, 1971, Williams got a win against the Phillies in the completion of a game suspended from Aug. 1. Boxscore
At spring training in 1972, the Post-Dispatch reported Williams was expected to make the Opening Day roster, but the Cardinals opted to keep Santiago Guzman instead.
The Cardinals released Williams on April 9, 1972. He surfaced in the American League with the Red Sox and pitched his final three games in the majors.
Coach and dad
Williams became a coach for the Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees, Reds and Mariners. He coached pennant-winning Red Sox (1975) and Yankees (1981) clubs, and the 1990 World Series champion Reds.
When Williams was the Reds’ pitching coach, they developed a trio of intimidating relievers called the “Nasty Boys.”
In 1976, Williams’ son, Stan Jr., a high school pitcher and outfielder, was chosen by the Cardinals in the 11th round of the amateur baseball draft. Stan Jr. opted to attend the University of Southern California. He signed with the Yankees after they drafted him in the 38th round in 1981 and pitched for two seasons in their farm system.