By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
When news of the passing of Jimmy Williams began circulating online long-time baseball fans were dealt a tough hand.
A true trailblazer, the Toronto native helped pave the way for countless Canadians to have a lasting effect on the American Pastime, and, in doing so, will be remembered fondly for his lifetime contributions to the game.
Signed by Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers at the age of 21, Williams spent over 40 years in professional baseball serving in numerous capacities ranging from player to front office personnel.
A lifetime .288 hitter over 18 seasons under the sun, the northern-born utility man never reached the majors during his lengthy playing career. Anyone with access to baseball-reference.com can certainly argue that he earned a shot (see 1955/1956). He played for Class-D Sheboygan, Class-D Kingston (NY), Class-C Trois-Rivieres, Class-B Danville, Class-A Pueblo, Double-A Mobile, Class-A Elmira, Triple-A Montreal, Triple-A Spokane, Double-A Victoria, Double-A St. Paul, Double-A Atlanta, Triple-A Omaha, Class-A Santa Barbara and Class-A Grand Forks.
In 1963, despite having been subjected to nearly two decades of minor league ball, the then 38 year-old journeyman decided to stick around and try his hand at calling the shots from the dugout. This is where his impact on the game was truly felt.
With the exception of 1975 --a year that saw the veteran bench boss break into the majors as a coach with the 64-97 Houston Astros-- Williams helmed a handful of minor league clubs between 1963 and 1980. Included in his managerial journey across the minors are John Mayberry’s 1971 Oklahoma 89er’s (Houston), Cooperstown bound Tony LaRussa’s 1969 Iowa Oaks (Oakland) and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1977 triple-A squad Albuquerque Dukes, a team that under Williams’ command featured a pair of future Major League managers in Terry Collins and Ron Washington.
Capturing league championships in 1966, 1970, 1978 and 1980 respectively, Williams earned a reputation as one of most respected skippers in affiliated baseball. It was this reputation that earned him a spot within Earl Weaver’s Baltimore Orioles coaching regime in 1981, a position that would take him to the World Series in 1983, and one that the Canadian import hold through the 1987 campaign.
For his life work within the grand old game both stateside and abroad, Williams became the 35th individual to be honored with a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction in 1991.
“Jimmy Williams enjoyed a fine playing career in an era when there weren’t many Canadians in the affiliated minor league ranks,” said Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall Of Fame’s director of operations in a release on Tuesday. “He was also a highly respected manager and coach who positively influenced hundreds of players. On behalf of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family.”
Having touched the lives of countless fans, ballplayers, media personalities and executives over his outstanding career in baseball, Williams, 90, will be remembered as a man of incredible passion, sheer determination and integrity.
Survived by his wife Carole, sons Jamie, Chris and Kirk and daughter Julie, Williams leaves behind an endearing legacy both on the diamond and away from it.