Jimy Williams, the 1999 American League Manager of the Year for Boston who won 910 games over a dozen seasons that included stints with Toronto and Houston, died on Friday in Tarpon Springs, Fla. He was 80.
The Red Sox said his death, in a hospital, came after a brief, unspecified illness. He lived in nearby Palm Harbor, on Florida’s west coast about 25 miles from Tampa.
Williams was voted A.L. Manager of the Year after leading the Red Sox to their second straight playoff appearance. He had replaced Kevin Kennedy as Boston’s manager after the 1996 season.
The Red Sox won 78 games in Williams’s first season and then more than 90 in each of the next two. In 1998, Boston made the playoffs as a wild card team but was defeated by Cleveland in the A.L. division series. The next year, down 0-2 in the division series, again against Cleveland, the Red Sox rallied to win it 3-2. (Boston lost to the New York Yankees, 4-1, in the A.L. Championship Series.)
The Red Sox won 85 games in 2000, and Williams was fired in August 2001, with the team at 65-53. He was hired that fall by the Houston Astros, but after two winning seasons with them he was fired midseason in 2004 with the team at 44-44.
Williams was terminated a day after fans at the All-Stars Game, held at Minute Maid Park in Houston, booed when he was introduced as a coach for the National League squad. (Houston joined the American League in 2013.)
Williams’s career managing record was 910-790.
James Francis Williams was born on Oct. 4, 1943, in Santa Maria, Calif., northwest of Santa Barbara. He first spelled his name Jimy as a prank in high school. After graduating in 1961, he went to Fresno State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964 in agribusiness. He played summer ball that year with the Alaska Goldpanners alongside the future major-league stars Tom Seaver and Graig Nettles.
An infielder, Williams signed with Boston, played at class A Iowa and was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in a 1965 draft. Williams made his major league debut on April 26, 1966, striking out against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax in his first at-bat. He played in 14 major league games, going 3 for 13 (.231) with one run batted in. His first hit was on May 7, an R.B.I. single off San Francisco’s Juan Marichal, who like Koufax was a future Hall of Famer.
“I can remember my first big league hit, but when you only get three, you can remember them all,” he told The Houston Chronicle.
He went on to play minor-league ball for the Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos organizations before a shoulder injury cut short his playing career. After six seasons as a minor-league manager for the California Angels organization, he became the third-base coach with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1980.
Bobby Cox took over as the Blue Jays’ manager in 1982, and when Cox left in 1986 to become general manager of the Atlanta Braves, Williams replaced him in Toronto’s dugout. Toronto went 86-76 in his first season and had a 3½-game A.L. East lead with seven games left in 1987 but went 0-7 and finished two games behind the Detroit Tigers.
The Blue Jays went 87-75 in 1988, and Williams was replaced by Cito Gaston after a 12-24 start in 1989. Williams had clashed several times with the Jays star George Bell, who didn’t want to be a designated hitter.
Williams returned to the Braves as Cox’s third base coach from 1991-96, memorably giving Sid Bream the green light for the pennant-winning run on Francisco Cabrera’s single that beat Barry Bonds’s throw from left field and won Game 7 of the 1992 N.L. Championship Series against Pittsburgh.
After his time in Boston and Houston, Williams spent 2005 and 2006 as a roving instructor for the Tampa Bay Rays and was Manager Charlie Manuel’s bench coach for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007 and 2008, earning a World Series ring in his second season.
His sons Shawn and Brady Williams both played in the minor leagues. Brady is Tampa’s third-base coach; Shawn is a former minor-league manager.
In addition to his sons, Williams is survived by his wife of 47 years, Peggy Williams; his daughters Monica Farr and Jenna Williams; and eight grandchildren. Monica was an All-America swimmer at Texas A&M, winning two gold medals at the World University Games.
The New York Times contributed reporting.
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