Jimy Williams, baseball lifer who helmed late '90s Red Sox, dies at 80

January 29th, 2024

Jimy Williams, a baseball lifer who went 910-790 as a Major League manager for the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Astros, has died at the age of 80, it was announced on Monday.

As a player, Williams logged parts of two seasons in the Majors (1966-67) with the Cardinals, getting into 14 games. The first of his three career hits was against Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

The definition of someone who paid his dues before writing out lineup cards in the big leagues, Williams, the pride of Santa Maria, Calif., managed in the Minor Leagues from 1974 through ’79 and coached with the Blue Jays for six seasons prior to Toronto promoting him to manager in ’86.

Known as a gifted instructor – a role he never gave up, even when he managed – Williams won 86 games or more in each of his three full seasons in Toronto.

In ’87, Williams won a career high of 96 games. However, that season will also be remembered for the Jays losing their final seven games and getting overtaken for the American League East title by the Tigers in the final game of the season.

The Blue Jays parted ways with their manager just 36 games into the ’89 season. Williams followed his close friend Bobby Cox (they also worked together in Toronto) to Atlanta in 1991 and served as the third-base coach for the World Series champion Braves in ’95.

In 1997, Williams got a chance to manage in one of baseball’s premier markets when the Red Sox hired him.

During his introductory press conference at Fenway Park, Williams showed his folksy nature when he said, “If a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its booty.”

For Williams, the Red Sox years were much better remembered for the team’s accomplishments on the field than quirky one-liners with the press.

It was during that stint that Williams got to guide Boston for the start of the wildly popular Nomar Garciaparra/Pedro Martinez era in Red Sox Nation.

Williams got Boston to the postseason as the AL Wild Card entry in 1998 and again in ’99.

Though the Red Sox lost star slugger Mo Vaughn to free agency after the 1998 season and didn’t get a big run producer to replace him, Williams got more wins out of the Sox in ‘99 (94) than the season before (92).

For his efforts, Williams was recognized as the AL Manager of the Year in ’99. Williams remains the last Boston manager to earn that distinction despite the Sox winning four World Series titles in the 21st century.

While the mid-2000s Red Sox developed a culture of coming back from daunting deficits in the postseason, some of that mindset started with Williams’ 1999 team, which turned the tables on Cleveland after losing the first two games of the American League Division Series.

In 2004, Kevin Millar said to anyone who would listen prior to Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, “Don’t let us win tonight!”

While the cameras were all over Millar, which made it an iconic moment, a much more understated Williams did something similar five years earlier in that ALDS against Cleveland.

He told his players repeatedly, “You better sweep us!” In other words, if Cleveland didn’t finish the Red Sox off when it had the chance, Boston would come roaring back.

In a classic Game 5, Martinez came back from a right shoulder injury that cut his Game 1 start short and fired six no-hit innings out of the bullpen. Troy O’Leary had two homers, including a grand slam. The Red Sox went on to a wild 12-8 win to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees.

After the game, in a joyous clubhouse, many players shouted, “You better sweep us!”

The Yankees, in the middle of a dynasty, beat the Red Sox in five games in that ALCS.

Williams ranks eighth all time in managerial wins for Boston with 414. Though the Red Sox were a respectable 65-53 and trailed by five games in the AL East on Aug. 16 of the ’01 season, Williams was surprisingly relieved of his duties.

The third and final team Williams managed was the Astros, for whom he posted a 215-197 record from 2002-04.

In 2008, as part of a two-season stint as bench coach for the Phillies, Williams collected another World Series ring. He also spent time as a special instructor for the Rays and his son, Brady, is the third-base coach for Tampa Bay. 

“Jimy’s excellent baseball legacy will be carried through his sons Brady and Shawn, and his impact on baseball will forever be remembered," the Rays said in a statement. 

Williams is survived by his wife of 47 years, Peggy, as well as two sons, two daughters and eight grandchildren.