TORONTO - As a ball scribe, you never forget your first game story, your first feature, or your first manager.
The answers to the first two, which don’t really matter this day, would be: Opening day 1978 at Olympic Stadium (Tom Grieve of the New York Mets homered in a 3-2 win over the Montreal Expos) and the second would be Ross Grimsley.
The first manager I ever covered was Dick Williams.
Williams, 82, died Thursday at a hospital near his home in Henderson, Nev., due to a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
Williams was tough for a writer as green as the July 1 grass on Parliament Hill fixed up for a Royal visit.
He was no-nonsense and did not suffer fools lightly.
On the July 4, 1980 weekend at Shea Stadium, Expos starter Bill Gullickson buzzed Mets’ Mike Jorgensen high and inside in the second game of a doubleheader.
Playing for the Texas Rangers in 1979, Jorgensen was hit in the head by Boston Red Sox’s Andy Hassler and had a small blood clot inside his noggin.
Jorgensen took two steps toward Gullickson, pointed his bat and said “I don’t need any of that.”
Peace was restored and Montreal catcher John Tamargo was in his crouch giving his sign when John Stearns raced out of the Mets dugout and all hell broke loose.
After the game, Gullickson said “you’re darn right I threw at him, I need a reputation, if I’m going to last five innings.”
Jorgensen used the term bean ball and so into the coaches/manager’s office I walked.
Late and alone.
“Dick I just wanted to ask you about the bean ...”
Williams jumped out of the chair and told me to get the hell out as “the young kid had a pitch get away on him,” and how I was a “know-it-all, first-year writer. Wait until you’ve been around 30 years and you’ll realize how little you know.”
Well, it has been 31 Julys since that conversation.
Dick Williams was right then in 1980 and his words are accurate July 8, 2011.
We still see things we’ve never seen before.
We learned more about the game from Williams than any other manager.
You might think after the Saturday night blow-up he would hold a grudge. Not Dick.
I got there early during an old-timers game, sat down beside Dick in the dugout as Bobby Del Greco was announced and asked if he had played with Del Greco.
Dick proceeded to tell five great stories about Del Greco.
We even shared a drink of scotch couple of nights. Well, Dick we thought we did.
He had a habit of filling one Dixie cup with ice, another with scotch and pouring one cup into another until he had the right mixture of ice and alcohol.
On getaway day, if my paper didn’t publish the next day due to a holiday, we’d sit and talk ball for an hour as he poured and offered me a cup.
I took a one sip and thought I was going to throw up.
When Dick went to the washroom, I poured the scotch into a planter.
Dick was tough.
He went a year and a half without speaking to his ace Steve Rogers.
When visiting writers asked Hall of Fame scribe Michael Farber, then of the Montreal Gazette, how he was getting along with Dick, Michael would reply:
“We have a nodding agreement. I say nodding to him, he says nodding to me.”
Bench coach Vern Rapp once suggested a pinch-runner and Dick snapped: “Hey Vern, that washroom down the tunnel, go see if there is enough toilet paper on the roll, that’s YOUR job.”
I recall one night Dick raving about Rodney Scott, how he was 3-for-5.
Later I asked: “Wasn’t he 1-for-4?” Dick said: “No, he had a hit, walked once and hit the ball to the right side, did what he was supposed to, that’s the way I score.”
Deepest sympathies are extended to his loving wife Norma, children Marc, Kathi and Rick, a New York Yankees scout and five grandchildren.
They have lost a Hall of Fame husband, father and grandfather.