Mitch Williams, former major league pitcher, signing copies of Straight Talk From Wild Thing
*4/10/10 Noon at BJ’s – Red Lion Road. Philadelphia, PA.
Mitchell Steven Williams (born November 17, 1964 in Santa Ana, California), nicknamed “Wild Thing”, is a former relief pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for six teams from 1986 to 1997. He is currently a studio analyst for the MLB Network.
Williams, a left-hander with a high-90s fastball and occasional control issues, was largely effective, earning 192 saves in his 11 seasons including a career high of 43 in 1993. However, he is perhaps best known for a blown save after giving up a walk-off home run to Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth game of the 1993 World Series, which gave Toronto their second consecutive World Championship.
Early playing career
Williams was drafted out of high school in West Linn, Oregon, in 1982 by the San Diego Padres. The Texas Rangers acquired him in 1985, and he made his major league debut for the Rangers in 1986. The Rangers traded him to the Chicago Cubs after the 1988 season.
It was with the Cubs that Williams earned the nickname Wild Thing; his extravagant wind-up and release and his frequent wild pitches inspired Wrigley Field organists to play The Troggs’ Wild Thing as he came out of the bullpen. A power reliever, he put his full weight behind every throw, so that he dropped hard to the right, sometimes falling off the mound. He was often compared to film character Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen) in the 1989 David S. Ward film Major League. In 1993, Williams started wearing the number 99 (he originally wore the number 28) on his jersey, the same number that Vaughn wore in the film. According to an interview on the Dan Patrick radio show on 10/22/08, the number change had nothing to do with the film Major League. Williams said he had wanted the number 99 for years and years because of an admiration for the football player Mark Gastineau, who also wore number 99. Williams said that he didn’t change his number until 1993 because that was his first chance to do it.
Cubs manager Don Zimmer said Williams “did everything 99 miles an hour,” and teammate and close friend Mark Grace said “Mitch pitches like his hair’s on fire.” The New Yorker baseball reviewer Roger Angell chortled over his “scary, hilarious antics”, saying “he flung the ball and then… flung himself after it, winding up with his back to home plate… peering over his left shoulder in case anyone accidentally made contact.”
Williams has explained that his erratic pitching was a combination of poor control and his simply not knowing where the ball was supposed to go. He was very effective at pick-offs from first and second base due to his deceptive head-down preparatory stance.
One of Mitch Williams’s best seasons came in 1989 as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Williams had a record of 4–4 with a 2.76 ERA, 67 strikeouts (in 76 appearances during the regular season) and 36 saves. That year, Williams made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He was a key figure in the Cubs winning the National League East title in 1989.
National League Championship Series
In the League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants, Williams’s performance wasn’t as notoriously viewed as his subsequent postseason outings in 1993. In two appearances (Game 2 and Game 5), Williams didn’t give up any earned runs and recorded two strikeouts. Unfortunately, prior to the events in the 1993 World Series, Mitch Williams’ most infamous moment in his career probably happened in the bottom of the 8th inning in Game 5 of the 1989 National League Championship Series. With the game tied at 1–1, Williams faced the Giants’ superstar first baseman Will Clark (who by the end of the 1989 NLCS, hit .650 and drove in eight runs to go with a grand slam he hit off of Greg Maddux in Game 1). Clark took the first fastball for a strike, then fouled one away. Williams’ next pitch missed the outside corner to bring the count to 1-and-2. After Clark fouled off two more pitches, he hit a screaming line drive up the middle to bring in two runs. Williams was removed, and NBC’s cameras caught him in the dugout with a towel over his head. Moments later, the Giants would finish the Cubs off to win their first National League pennant in 27 years.
The Cubs dealt Williams to the Philadelphia Phillies at the start of the 1991 campaign. That year, he won 12 games, including 8 in August, and saved 30 for the Phillies, endearing himself to Philadelphia fans. However, he suffered eight losses in 1992 and seven more in 1993. Still, manager Jim Fregosi chose Williams as the team’s closer entering the World Series against the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays.
On July 2 1993 in one game of a 12-hour double-header delayed repeatedly by rain, Williams came up to bat in the tenth inning and ended the game with a one-RBI single up the middle, the only walk-off hit of his career. Ironically, Williams recorded it off Trevor Hoffman, who is as of 2009 the all-time saves leader.
1993 World Series
Williams earned a save in Game 2 of the series, relieving Terry Mulholland as the Phillies tied the series at a game each. However, Williams suffered the loss in Game 4, the highest-scoring game in World Series history, as the Blue Jays crossed the plate six times in the eighth inning to earn a 15–14 victory and take a 3–1 series lead. Afterwards, Williams received death threats from angry Phillies fans for blowing the game.
After the Phils won Game 5 on a complete-game shutout by Curt Schilling, the series returned to Toronto for Game 6. The Phillies scored five runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-5 lead, and it was up to Williams to preserve the victory and force a Game 7. With one out and two runners on base in the home ninth inning, Joe Carter got hold of a 2-2 pitch and sent it over the wall in left field, giving the Blue Jays an 8–6 victory and the series crown.
During that World Series, whenever Williams was on the mound, his nervous teammate Schilling was caught by CBS television cameras with a towel over his head. Schilling’s behavior not only irked Williams (who to this day harbors bitter feelings towards Schilling), but also fellow Phillies teammates like Larry Andersen and Danny Jackson, who accused Schilling of purposely trying to get more camera time. On subsequent nights, several other Phillies were seen wearing towels—possibly to keep Schilling from looking unique. The gesture was taken up almost as a good-luck charm by fans in the seats.
See also: 1993 World Series
The Carter blast was the end of the line for Williams in Philadelphia. The Phillies traded him to the Houston Astros prior to the start of the 1994 season. He closed out his career with the California Angels in 1995 and the Kansas City Royals in 1997.
Williams placed the blame on himself for what happened in the 1993 World Series, adding that he had put the ordeal behind him:
“ I’m not going to go home and commit suicide…I wish I hadn’t thrown it down and in to Carter. I was trying to keep the ball away from him. It was a mistake…It ain’t comin’ back…I can’t replay it and win it…I can’t change this one, much as I’d like to, if only because my teammates busted their butts. I let ’em down…But don’t expect me to curl up and hide from people because I gave up a home run in the World Series. Life’s a bitch. I could be digging ditches. I’m not. ”
—Mitch Williams on his feelings about surrendering the home run to Joe Carter
Although Phillies fans continued to blame him for the Series loss and heap him with scorn and abuse for several years afterward, the fact that he did not make excuses for the blown saves, shift the blame to others, or run and hide from the media or the city of Philadelphia caused many fans to ultimately forgive him and embrace him once again as a local figure.
Williams retired from baseball to operate a bowling establishment outside Philadelphia, but the Atlantic City Surf of the independent Atlantic League lured him back into uniform to pitch in 2001. He went 4-3 for the Surf that season and then became the club’s pitching coach for 2002 and 2003. His paperwork and people skills were not shown to be strengths, and he was not renewed as coach after a year and a half. Williams has been out of professional ball since then.
In March 2007, Williams joined the Philadelphia radio station 610 WIP AM as a part-time co-host of the Angelo Cataldi and the morning team show heard from 5:30-10:00 AM on weekdays. Williams generally appears one day per week. In April 2007, Williams joined Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia as a post-game analyst for broadcasts of Philadelphia Phillies baseball games. On January 3, 2009, Williams joined MLB Network as a studio analyst. Since joining the MLB Network Williams has not let go of his Phillie roots. His commentary and analysis is always slanted towards his old team. For example he is one of a select few that has been extremely positive about his old teams signing of Placido Polanco ignoring the players age and years of the contract. In fact he selected it as the top signing of the 2009-2010 offseason on the MLB Networks Hot Stove show. Other examples of homerism in his analysis include selecting the Phillies to beat the Yankees in the 2009 World Series in a short series and selecting an at bat between CC Sabathia and Brett Myers in a segment on the channel highlighting classic pitcher vs hitter scenarios.
Williams has also entered the food industry with his own salsa known as “Wild Thing Southpaw Salsa.” He, his wife, and their five children reside in Medford, New Jersey.