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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Former Braves catcher Earl Williams, a New Jersey native, dies at 64

RIP Earl Williams...

Earl Williams, the 1971 National League Rookie of the Year with the Atlanta Braves, died Monday night. The Newark native and longtime Montclair resident was 64.

He died at his home in Somerset surrounded by his wife of 33 years, Linda, and stepdaughter, Raquel West. He is also survived by a granddaughter, Ruquayyah Williams.

He was diagnosed with acute leukemia last July.

Williams played on four teams, including two stints with the Braves, in his eight years in the major leagues. He made his debut as a September call-up for the Braves as a 21-year-old in 1970.

The next season he slugged 33 home runs and compiled 87 RBI on his way to being named the senior circuit’s top rookie.

He did so playing catcher for the first time in his life, a position the Braves asked him to play because they were desperate to include his bat in the lineup when there was a logjam at first and third base—his usual positions.

“He had to learn from scratch,” Williams’ 83-year-old mother, Dolores Reilly, recalled in a phone interview. “He used to tell me that if he could’ve he would’ve used two gloves to catch Phil Niekro’s knuckleball.”

Repoz Posted: January 31, 2013 at 12:38 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves

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   1. Bruce Markusen Posted: January 31, 2013 at 12:55 PM (#4359182)
Sad to hear of his passing at the relatively young age of 64.

Based on his first two seasons, Earl Williams looked like a Hall of Famer in the making. But his defensive problems in Baltimore created such a clash with Weaver that it appeared to take a toll on his play.

Remarkably, Williams was out of the major leagues by the age of 29. And then he rather famously took out an ad in the New York Times, shopping his wares as an out-of-work ballplayer. No one responded to the ad, but I give him credit for doing something offbeat, and having some fun with it in the process. As I recall, he mentioned in the ad that he had no prison record.
   2. The District Attorney Posted: January 31, 2013 at 01:04 PM (#4359199)
   3. The District Attorney Posted: January 31, 2013 at 01:13 PM (#4359221)
Yeah, the parts in Weaver's It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts about Williams are extremely interesting. Williams is probably glad he at least outlived the bastard :-) They did not get along at all, nor was Weaver able to parlay that tense relationship into motivation as he did with other players.

Although Weaver was way ahead of his time in terms of applying psychology to player relations, one still wonders if the situation would be handled differently today. Would a guy who really did not want to catch be forced to catch? I don't know, but Weaver thought the guy had the tools to be a good catcher and had confidence in his own ability to motivate Williams, so he didn't back off it. It seemed like Weaver took it as the one guy he just couldn't reach, and it nagged at him.
   4. Ron J2 Posted: January 31, 2013 at 02:37 PM (#4359370)
#1 It wasn't just his defense. (lousy but as #3 says, he had the raw tools but not the willingness to learn) He simply didn't like to catch. As #3 says Williams is the one player Weaver just could not reach.

Williams drove Weaver nuts and Weaver didn't handle it very well.
   5. Jay Z Posted: January 31, 2013 at 02:49 PM (#4359379)
Williams never caught an inning in pro ball before 1971. Then he won ROY and got traded a year later for his trouble. Strange situation, probably asking for an attitude problem.

Don't know if he would ever have done anything more. He had absolutely no speed and couldn't field. All he really ever had was power.
   6. Rally Posted: January 31, 2013 at 03:10 PM (#4359390)
The ideal situation for Williams would have been one where he could have been a 1B or DH. Nothing is certain, but there's a good chance his hitting develops better if he were not catching, and able to get along with the manager.

For a guy who didn't want to catch, and had no prior experience at it, his record isn't that terrible. He threw out 32% of runners, while league average was 37%. In 1972, where his catching runs stand at -17, the worst thing about his defense was the league leading 28 passed balls. How much of this is due to catching a knuckleballer? My quick calculations show he allowed WP+PB at a 10% higher rate than the backup catchers. The team ERA with Williams was 4.24, slightly lower than the overall 4.28 figure.

If he could have maintained his early form, a catcher hitting 30 homers a year with an average OBP and costing you 5-10 runs on defense is a pretty valuable player. But the offense fell apart, possibly due to the frustration of catching.
   7. Ron J2 Posted: January 31, 2013 at 03:17 PM (#4359402)
#6 Another thing that drove Weaver nuts was that Williams had absolutely monstrous power but wasn't interested in working on his weaknesses. And major league pitcher will catch up to you if that's the case.

Like Mike Ivey, Williams is an interesting example of the limits of pure tools. According to Weaver, Williams had as much hitting ability as any young player he ever managed.
   8. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: January 31, 2013 at 03:24 PM (#4359411)
I always thought of this guy along with Mike Ivie- Ivie was 1st round pick as a catcher, but didn't want to catch, any way, the knock on Ivie was that "gee if he'd just be willing to catch he'd be a star"

He was a very good hitter (hidden by the fact that he was playing in a pitcher's parks in a pitcher's eta and only got 400-500 PAs a year)

then he could hurt and stopped hitting
   9. BDC Posted: January 31, 2013 at 03:49 PM (#4359450)
got traded a year later for his trouble

To be fair, Williams was traded for a boatload of talent: two stars (Pat Dobson, Davey Johnson), and two potential regulars (Rory Harrison and Johnny Oates). If anything his problems came from excessive expectations on the receiving, rather than low respect on the sending, end of the trade.

It is sad to learn of his death. I still have somewhere a dice game of the 1971 season in which Williams is a monster of a star. He's one of the lesser players I still think of only at his very peak.
   10. stig-tossled,hornswoggled gef the talking mongoose Posted: January 31, 2013 at 03:53 PM (#4359459)
Geez. 1971 was the first season I followed MLB for the entire year (I'd started paying attention sometime during the preceding year). I remember feeling chagrined that Williams was chosen ROY over Willie Montanez.

RIP, Earl.
   11. Rally Posted: January 31, 2013 at 04:36 PM (#4359505)
Wasn't Mike Ivie one of those guys who developed a block preventing him from throwing the ball back to the pitcher?
   12. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: January 31, 2013 at 05:18 PM (#4359553)
Wasn't Mike Ivie one of those guys who developed a block preventing him from throwing the ball back to the pitcher?

   13. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: January 31, 2013 at 06:42 PM (#4359631)
Wasn't Mike Ivie one of those guys who developed a block preventing him from throwing the ball back to the pitcher?


Yeah but in Ivie's case it was openly speculated that he did it deliberately, whereas in Dale Murphy's case it was just an inexplicable thing and Mackey Sasser was a neurotic mess. I had relatives in San Diego in the 70s, the MSM narrative there was that Ivie was an insubordinate uncoachable asshat with all the physical talent in the world...
   14. Jay Z Posted: January 31, 2013 at 07:20 PM (#4359646)
To be fair, Williams was traded for a boatload of talent: two stars (Pat Dobson, Davey Johnson), and two potential regulars (Rory Harrison and Johnny Oates). If anything his problems came from excessive expectations on the receiving, rather than low respect on the sending, end of the trade.

Yeah, it seemed like a lot of talent, but none of those players made it with the Braves for more than a couple of years. Ironically, by that time Williams was back on the team.

Did Weaver ever write about Doyle Alexander? He seemed like another head case. Of course, maybe Bamberger worked most with the pitchers. Alexander was about the only pitcher that went through the Orioles that didn't have his best years with the team. Alexander seemingly came up with the two best organizations for pitching, Dodgers and Orioles, and wound up touring the dregs of the league with the Rangers, Giants, and Braves.
   15. Tim D Posted: January 31, 2013 at 07:50 PM (#4359676)
Williams was the classic good as he was ever going to be the day he came up player. His ROY season was his best, his second year in Atlanta his next best. A classic non-worker who thought he could get by on his talent. Weaver had for years been very happy with platoon types like Andy Etchebarren, Elrod Hendricks and Oates. Then management went out and got him a "star" catcher who couldn't catch and didn't hit enough to make up for it. He was gone in two years and the Weave was very happy to go to Dave Duncan and then Dempsey.
   16. Bruce Markusen Posted: January 31, 2013 at 10:39 PM (#4359773)
The contention that Weaver never wanted Williams is very debatable. At the time, Weaver was widely quoted as saying, "Get me Earl Williams and we'll win the pennant." Now he did write in his autobiography that he was "skeptical" of the deal, but that may have been an after-the-fact reaction.

In 1972, the Orioles' catchers were very unproductive. Oates was mediocre at best, while Etchebarren and Hendricks were dreadful offensively that summer. Boog Powell was the leading home run hitter with 21; the next best Oriole had 12 home runs. Given Weaver's love of the home run, I tend to believe that he would have wanted a power-hitting catcher like Earl Williams, especially after the loss of Frank Robinson the previous season. The Orioles needed power in 1972, and they believed that Williams would supply some of it.
   17. Ron J2 Posted: February 01, 2013 at 10:30 AM (#4359921)
#16 I'd go further than "debatable". Weaver loved what he saw of Williams and was totally confident in his ability to teach/motivate. He was totally onside with the decision to pick up Williams.

And wasn't that worried about Williams being raw behind the plate. Remember that under Weaver the pitchers called their own game, so what he asked of catchers was that they be decent receivers, throw reasonably well and keep the ball from going to the backstop.
   18. Rally Posted: February 01, 2013 at 10:58 AM (#4359938)
What was the process for pitchers calling their own game?

The typical routine is the catcher calls, and the pitcher either accepts or calls him off, prompting the catcher to call another pitch. Some catchers don't like it when the pitcher calls them off too much. And many pitchers are happy when they work with a catcher with whom they can be on the same page.

So for Weaver, did he just have to tell catchers to not get upset about call-offs, and go through the signs every pitch? Or was there some way for the pitcher to initiate the pitch call, and how did they keep the batter from picking up on it?
   19. Ron J2 Posted: February 01, 2013 at 11:41 AM (#4359981)
#18 I'm genuinely not certain. I'm pretty sure the catcher put down the signs -- he has to know where to set up.

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure it was put down the sign. Do not put down the same sign if shaken off.

I know Rick Dempsey tried to call games and Weaver very firmly slapped him down.
   20. vern_fuller_brushback Posted: February 01, 2013 at 08:39 PM (#4360471)
I got Earl Williams' autograph at Jarry Park in Montreal on Aug. 18, 1972, at one of the few big-league games my brother and I had a chance to attend as kids. I still have it, on a very messy scorecard, also auto'd by Rico Carty. Carty kept griping that Luman (Harris) didn't put him in the lineup that night. Unfortunately for us, Aaron wasn't in there either. Accompanying Williams and Carty was Marty 'the Magnificent' Perez, who declined our request to sign. As I was a keen fan, I didn't really care about him anyway. A very fond and still vivid childhood memory. R.I.P Earl.
   21. Meatwad Posted: February 01, 2013 at 10:11 PM (#4360507)
Rip its always sad when a former baseball player dies. Each time it happens we lose a great person who knew baseball from a bygone era

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