Fifty years ago, Ted Williams became a major league manager. On February 21, 1969, Williams signed a contract to manage the Washington Senators. He would go on to win the 1969 AL Manager of the Year award. (Some sources note that the announcement regarding Williams as manager was made in January 1969; it appears that the deal was not finalized until February.)
The expansion team Senators had arrived in Washington in 1961. That year they finished ninth in the American League with a record of 61-100. After seven losing seasons and four managers (three in 1963 alone), the team was sold in December 1968. Shortly thereafter, the new owner/general manager, Bob Short, began lobbying Williams to be the new manager – and would not take no for an answer. According to WETA’s Local History Blog, Short claimed to have convinced Williams to take the job by telling Williams “‘he had a responsibility toward the game, toward the country, toward Nixon [of whom Williams was a known to be a staunch supporter] and the whole bunch of bull you throw into a business proposition.’”
On February 21, Williams accepted the deal and signed the very lucrative contract that guaranteed him a salary of $65,000 per year for five years with an option of purchasing a 10% ownership in the team. In introducing Williams as the team’s manager at a press conference the next day, Short stated, “‘This is Ted’s night, and Washington’s night, and the Senators’ night, and America’s night…. I have a world of confidence in Ted as the manager of our ball club. I know it’s traditional in baseball that great players never make great managers, but if anyone can, I believe he has the ability to become the exception.’”
According to the Washingtonian, Williams, who had never managed before, was successful his first year with the team: “The result was a 25-point increase in the team’s batting average over the previous season, with a patient Frank Howard nearly doubling his walks, cutting down on his strikeouts, and raising his batting average more than 20 points. Even light-hitting shortstop Eddie Brinkman caught the spirit, raising his average from .187 to .266. Cellar dwellers in ’68, the Senators climbed to fourth place in ’69 with an 86-76 record. Attendance increased to more than 900,000, and following the last out of the last game of the season–a win over the Boston Red Sox–Washington fans rose to give the Skipper and his team a standing ovation.”
After the 1969 season, the Senators returned to their old ways, finishing last in the AL East with a record of 70-92 in 1970. After another disappointing season in 1971, the team moved to Arlington, Texas. In 1972, Williams’ last season as manager, the Texas Rangers again finished last in their division (now the AL West) with a record of 54-100. (The Texas Rangers had their first winning season in 1974.) Overall, in his four years with the Senators/Rangers, Williams had a record of 273-364.
Despite their future success, or lack thereof, 1969 would prove to be a magical year for the Senators, with Williams at the helm. After the first few weeks of Spring Training that year, Sports Illustrated noted:
“Williams seemed gratified. ‘The kids are trying. They’re really working hard,’ he said. He ordered a midnight curfew, no serious card playing, no players in the hotel bar, get drunk, get fined. He had Joe McCarthy’s ‘Ten Commandments of Baseball’ posted for each player to use for reference, things like, ‘Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball’ … He has no illusions, of course, as to his immediate effect on the Senators—Williams could add 10 points to every player’s batting average and he might still have the worst team and organization in baseball—but he has established a definite communication on his voyage of discovery, a hope for the future.”