Bill Ziegler was hoping to get an autograph of his childhood idol, Ted Williams, when, as a 24-year-old, assistant trainer at Florida State University, he applied for the trainer's job with the Washington Senators, whom Williams was managing.Ziegler got the job, which led to a 22-year career as a trainer
Bill Ziegler was hoping to get an autograph of his childhood idol, Ted Williams, when, as a 24-year-old, assistant trainer at Florida State University, he applied for the trainer's job with the Washington Senators, whom Williams was managing.
Ziegler got the job, which led to a 22-year career as a trainer with the Senators and Rangers, during which he dealt with future Hall of Fame players, including Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Ferguson Jenkins and Ivan Rodriguez, and managers, including Williams and Whitey Herzog.
Ziegler discussed his time as a trainer in this week's Q&A.
MLB.com: I guess there is one fact you want to correct?
Ziegler: I keep hearing that Aaron Judge is the biggest player in Major League history. Whoever came up with that obviously never met Frank Howard. He was the same height, 6-foot-7, but I was with him a little over two years and had to weigh him in every day, and he would weigh from 275-to-295 pounds.
MLB.com: I have seen Frank listed at 255 pounds.
Ziegler: Well, that must have been provided from his junior high school records.
MLB.com: What kind of guy was Frank?
Ziegler: He was, in every way, a special person. He and Eddie Brinkman were like [comedy duo] Laurel and Hardy. They were always stirring something up. It was always good-natured, but they could get you laughing.
MLB.com: You get into baseball at the big league level when you are 24 and are working for Ted Williams. Were you in awe?
Ziegler: I grew up idolizing Ted. At that time, my oldest son was 4, and his name is Ted Williams Ziegler. A lot of guys didn't realize the sense of humor he had. He was funny, but a lot of guys that played for him never saw that side of him. He was such an interesting guy. If he took an interest in something, the next time he saw it, he would probably almost be an expert on it. I don't care what it was.
After Ted got out of the game, and the Rangers were still training in Florida, I'd drive to Spring Training and stop and spend a day with him. Then, after I got out of baseball and went to work for the Justin Healers [Sports Medicine] Program with rodeo -- I had a rodeo in Florida -- Jeremy Sparks, who was a bullfighter, rode down with me. We stopped by Ted's house and spent an afternoon there. When I introduced Ted to Jeremy, I said, "He works rodeos and bullfighting." Ted went, "Gee, you guys are crazy," and he knew exactly what Jeremy did, as far as working bull riding. When we left there, I said, "You know what? If we come back here next year, he's going to know more about bullfighting and bull riding than we do." That's the way Ted was.
MLB.com: So, how did you get the job with the Senators?
Ziegler: I was the assistant trainer at Florida State, and the head trainer was Don Fauls, who worked eight years in the Cardinals' system. He loved baseball, and he used to keep the Sporting News in the office. I was just leafing through there one day, and I saw where the trainer for the Senators was retiring. Since I was such a big fan of Ted Williams, I thought, "Well, I'll just write a letter, and if I get a letter back from Ted, now I've got a souvenir. I'll have his autograph."
One day, I went into the office, and Don said that he got a call from Joe Burke, who was the general manager of the Senators. He said, "You know, you might have a shot at this." Of course, he called Dick Howser, who was a Florida State alum and was the third-base coach of the Yankees. And in a roundabout way, I knew Nellie Fox, who lived close to me when I was growing up, so I asked if he could help. Next thing I knew, I had the job.
MLB.com: Then, you go from Ted Williams as the manager to Whitey Herzog, which was a short-lived situation.
Ziegler: Whitey didn't make it through a year. Once Billy Martin got fired in Minnesota, [Rangers owner] Bob Short was going to get him. He lived in Minneapolis, and I'm sure he met Billy. Plus, Billy did a good job in Minnesota, so he wanted him.
MLB.com: What was Whitey like?
Ziegler: You could tell he had a sharp baseball mind, and he just didn't have a chance. It wasn't because of anything he did or didn't do. It was just because Short just wanted Billy Martin, and once he got fired by the Twins, Bob was going to hire Billy. That was before Whitey proved what he could do, and, of course, he went on to be a great manager.
MLB.com: So, then you work for Billy. What was that like?
Ziegler: Billy was great to me. He was absolutely great. If he didn't like someone or something, better watch out. But if he liked someone or something, he was the best friend you could have.
MLB.com: Going from Billy to Frank Lucchesi was a bit of a change.
Ziegler: Frank was just a nice man. He knew the game. He cared about people. But after Billy, it was a challenge coming into that clubhouse.
MLB.com: And when Frank is let go in 1977, you ended up with four managers in a one-week stretch.
Ziegler: Yeah. Frank, Eddie Stanky, Connie Ryan, who was thrown in when Stanky quit after one day, and Billy Hunter.
MLB.com: Stanky's one day on the job is the shortest full-time managerial stint in history.
Ziegler: We had Sandy Alomar, Sr., who played for Stanky in Chicago. Everybody is asking him about Eddie. Sandy mentioned he was very strict on weights. He would weigh in players all the time. So, the day after Eddie is hired, I go to the ballpark and the scale is laying in pieces. Turned out, Gaylord Perry stayed around after the game the night before and dismantled the scales.
MLB: So, the Rangers hired Billy Hunter, who was on Earl Weaver's staff in Baltimore.
Ziegler: That first year, he was perfect. He was pretty much content to let us play, but the next year, it was just the opposite. He was always fine with me, but there were some of the players, they didn't want anything to do with him. Of course, Doc Ellis was the main one, and Doc Ellis was one of [owner Brad] Corbett's pets, so that was working against Billy there. There was some drama going on there, I'll put it that way.
MLB.com: You also had a series of owners, but in the end, George W. Bush really was the guy who saved that team for the Arlington area.
Ziegler: He was unique because he was the son of the President of the United States. He used to come down early to the clubhouse and get dressed to go jog. He would have the Secret Service with him. They'd get in their cars while he was jogging, and they'd follow him. He was always a great guy.
MLB.com: He seemed like just another guy, not someone who would be President.
Ziegler: I never saw him act like he was privileged or anything. He was great to be around. Without him, the team isn't in Texas. It could have just as easily ended up in Tampa.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.