Williams proving a 'wild' success in second career
The way Mitch Williams remembers it, the next chapter of his life began with a happy accident.
Sure, on the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Phillies team that captivated the region, Williams is a prominent voice on MLB Network. Sure, it now seems clear that talking about baseball for a living is what he was meant to do after he retired. Sure, his wife Irene had told him over and over, while they sat and watched games together, that he had a natural talent for that line of work.
Back in 2007, though, Williams was still trying to figure out what to do. It was 10 years after "Wild Thing" threw his final big league pitch. Fourteen years after he saved 43 games -- relying more on a guile that few gave him credit for than the fastball he was known for -- and threw one of the most fateful pitches in franchise history, the one that Toronto's Joe Carter crushed for the home run that decided the World Series.
Williams had worked for a couple casinos, MGM and Trump, in Atlantic City, N.J. He had tended his 3 & 2 ranch in Texas, then moved to New Jersey, where he managed a bowling alley and bar. Williams sold a hot sauce of his own creation, Wild Thing Southpaw Salsa. He was pitching coach and manager for the Atlantic City Surf of the independent Atlantic League.
That all changed when Williams was asked to make a one-time appearance on "Daily News Live," a local sports talk show on Comcast SportsNet.
"And when I walked out after the show, they offered me the full-time pre- and postgame job there in Philly. Just like that," the 48-year-old said.
One thing quickly led to another. Soon Williams had a regular gig on WIP, a sports talk station. Then he had his own television pregame show on WPHT. Soon Williams had his own show on Sirius satellite radio. Then FOX and MLB Network.
For much of his career, Williams was known for bringing heat. His nickname came from the Charlie Sheen character in the movie "Major League." And Williams' broadcast persona is just an extension of his playing days. He is known for expressing strong opinions.
"I enjoy doing it as long as I never get to the point where I forget I played and forget how hard the game is," Williams said. "That's what I remember whenever I'm doing a game. You don't get too critical. You point out mistakes, but you don't get too critical of them. Because any mistake you point out, you've made a hundred times in your own career.
"I say what I think. But I don't ever make it personal. If I have an opinion, it's on a subject. It's very rarely of a person."
Looking back, picking his best memory of that magical '93 season is easy.
"Without question, Game 6 of the NLCS," Williams said.
That was the game that ended with Williams striking out Atlanta's Bill Pecota to finish off the upset of the heavily-favored Braves. His leap into the night air at Veterans Stadium is an image that remains imprinted on the collective civic memory.
The good feelings didn't last long. After blowing a save in the World Series, Williams received death threats. His house was egged. And that was before Carter's sudden-death home run. And that could have been the final memory Philadelphia had of Williams. Weeks after the season ended, he was traded to the Astros.
Even as Toronto celebrated, though, the rehabilitation of Williams' image was beginning. He didn't duck a question, even though waves of reporters asked him the same thing over and over. Williams didn't shirk responsibility. And the notoriously unforgiving Philadelphia fans forgave him.
"I'm not surprised, because all people in Philly want is honesty," Williams said. "They want an honest effort on the field and they don't want an excuse for why you [stink]."
Maybe getting that first chance to show what he could do in the air was a break, but Williams also was prepared to take advantage of it. And he may not be done yet. Williams' latest project is shopping a television show called "Big City, Big Country."
"The pilot came out good. It was comical," he said. "It's where me and my buddy from Texas go into big cities and basically tell the people of that city what their town used to be like when it was country and was a rural area. And basically how we do things in the country as opposed to how they do them in the city."
Williams has come a long way since Carter's homer. And it would seem that he still may have a few more chapters left to write.