'Full circle': Williams returns to San Francisco as third-base coach

November 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Maria Guardado’s Giants Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Giants manager Bob Melvin’s new coaching staff features plenty of Bay Area ties, though none may be quite as meaningful to the fanbase as the return of franchise great Matt Williams.

Williams, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner who spent the first decade of his playing career in San Francisco, will serve as Melvin’s third-base coach, giving him the opportunity to put on a Giants uniform for the first time since he departed in an unpopular trade with Cleveland in 1996.

“It feels like it’s full circle,” Williams said Thursday during a Zoom call with reporters. “It’s my roots. I spent the first 10 years of my career in San Francisco. I’ve always been excited about the possibility of coming back into the organization and being a part of it.

“Even though it was so long ago, there are still a lot of folks that were present when I was there. It feels like coming home. It feels like the place that I need to be. All of those things combined make it exciting for me to be part of the organization again.”

Williams, who turns 58 later this month, will reprise the role he held with the Padres over the last two seasons and reunite with Melvin, who was his teammate on the Giants from 1987-88. The pair also worked together for two years in Oakland (2018-19).

“This might be my sixth or seventh team with Matt, so we have some history together,” Melvin said earlier this week. “But the Giant flavor, the fan favorite when he played here -- he’s always considered himself a Giant. This was an easy one. It’s great to be on another team with him. I don’t know that there are better coaches out there than Matt Williams.”

What has made the partnership between Melvin and Williams so effective?

“I just think we know each other so well,” said Williams, the 2014 National League Manager of the Year with the Nationals. “Oftentimes we are thinking in the same mindset, me being at third, him being in the dugout. We’ve had so much experience doing that that he reads my mind and I try to read his. It’s oftentimes difficult to do so because he’s moving so quickly. But that relationship that we have is important because I’m essentially his right-hand on the field.”

Williams and Melvin also share an affinity for free-agent third baseman Matt Chapman, their former pupil with the A’s. Chapman, a four-time Gold Glover like Williams, is already being linked to the Giants, who have said they want to prioritize upgrading their defense this winter.

“He’s one of my favorite players,” Williams said. “Not because he’s so good, but just the way he goes about playing the game. His work ethic is off the charts. He’s focused on one thing and one thing only, and that’s winning that particular game that day. He’ll do anything that is needed for the club to help in that endeavor. And then, of course, [there’s] the talent. For me, anyway, he’s the best that I’ve seen at the position. I fortunately got a chance to work with him for a couple of years every day. The way he plays the game is, for me, symbolic of the way the Giants want to play the game. 

“Free agency is a completely different animal. We don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I’m sure if there’s an opportunity for him to come to San Francisco, he’d be a welcome addition to this club, for sure.” 

In the meantime, Williams will focus on getting to know the Giants’ returning group of infielders, including highly touted shortstop Marco Luciano, who is currently playing winter ball for Leones del Escogido in his native Dominican Republic.

“For me, the key to Oracle Park is the ability to catch it and the ability to pitch it,” Williams said. “I think my job anyway is to help us catch it. We’ll certainly concentrate on that this winter. We’ll concentrate on that in Spring Training and try to be the best defensive club we can be and give our guys a chance to go deep in games.”