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Mitch Williams

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Mitchell Steven Williams
(Wild Thing)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Mitch Williams is best remembered for giving up the 1993 World Series-losing home run to Joe Carter.

Williams was a left-handed pitcher with a tremendous fastball which he often had trouble controlling. His pitching motion involved maximum effort, and he would come tumbling off the mound after delivering the ball, in no position to field, but it wasn't much of a problem because opposing batters had so much trouble making contact with his pitches. When he came up to the majors with the Texas Rangers in 1986, after having been selected from the San Diego Padres in the 1984 Rule V draft the previous winter, he gave up an incredible 79 bases on balls in 98 innings; he topped that with 94 in 109 innings in 1987. Such high walk rates had not been seen since the days of Tommy Byrne. However, he managed to succeed because he struck out even more batters than he walked, and gave up very few hits.

He was installed as the Rangers' closer in 1988, in spite of his lack of control, and managed to save 18 games. Traded to the Chicago Cubs in a deal for Rafael Palmeiro after the season, he burst into national fame in 1989 when he saved 36 wins for the surprise pennant-winners. He made the All-Star team for the only time in his career that year. He also earned his nickname Wild Thing then, after the character played by Charlie Sheen in the hit comedy Major League which came out that spring. He fell back in 1990, earning only 16 saves to go along with his 1-8 record, and only struck out five more batters than he walked. He was given a couple of September starts to right himself, but the Cubs gave up on him at the end of the year, trading him to the Philadelphia Phillies for youngsters Chuck McElroy and Bob Scanlan.

Mitch Williams found his groove again with the Phillies, and between 1991 and 1993, he was one of the best relievers in baseball, saving 30 games the first year, 29 the second and a career-high 43 in the Phillies' pennant-winning 1993 season. In August 1991, he had an amazing month, as he went 8-1 with 5 saves in 15 appearances, leading the Phils to their best monthly record since their 1983 pennant season. The Phillies were in last place when August started, but buoyed by Mitch's amazing pitching, they had moved to within 3 games of third place by the end of the month, and would in fact finish the season third in the NL East, starting the turnaround that led to the team appearing in the 1993 World Series. Mitch had a 1.21 ERA that month and gave up a mere 10 hits in 22 1/3 innings, coming within one win of the all-time record for most in a month; in fact, he won again on September 1st, so he missed tying that mark by one day. During that three-year period, he was still tremendously wild, but opposing teams did not seem to be able to put together a long-enough string of walks and singles to defeat him; home runs were almost out of the question, as he never gave up more than four in a season from 1990 to 1994.

It wasn't pretty but it worked, at least until the 1993 World Series. Williams had been outstanding in the 1993 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves picking up two wins and two saves in the Phillies' upset victory, but he came unglued against the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. After saving Game 2 for Terry Mulholland, he was the loser when the Blue Jays scored six runs in a wild 8th inning to win Game 4 by the score of 15-14. Then in Game 6, he came on in the bottom of the 9th inning with the Phillies leading 6-5, needing three outs to tie the Series at three games apiece. Williams self-destructed, walking lead-off hitter Rickey Henderson, then retiring Devon White on a fly ball to the deepest part of the outfield. With the crowd sensing that Williams was vulnerable, Paul Molitor lined a single to center and Joe Carter followed with the dramatic Series-ending home run to deep left field.

It is fair to say that Williams was never again the same pitcher after that fateful at-bat. He was traded to the Houston Astros after the season because Phillies management sensed that the fans would never forgive him for the home run. He posted a 7.65 ERA for the Astros in 1994, quickly losing the closer's job to John Hudek and giving up more walks than strikeouts, and over one per inning pitched, both career low-water marks at that point.

He signed as a free agent with the California Angels the following off-season, but struggled terribly in 1995, walking 21 batters in 10 2/3 innings over 20 games.

The Phillies signed him to a minor league deal on July 6, 1996; he was released on August 19th after pitching a total of 15 games for the Clearwater Phillies and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. He failed again in a comeback attempt with the Kansas City Royals in 1997. In seven games with the big league club, he posted a 10.80 ERA, served up 7 walks, 2 home runs and 8 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings of work; he did, however, strike out 10 batters. After being released on May 12th, it seemed as if The Wild Thing was out of the game for good.

Williams pitched two seasons in the independent Atlantic League. In 2001 and 2002, he was with the Atlantic City Surf; he appeared in 16 games (seven starts) and went 5-3 with an ERA of 3.75. His strikeouts per nine innings were down, though, to 6.1. He served as the team's pitching coach for half of 2002 and 2003.

Although Williams is best known for his pitching, he holds the all-time major league record for the latest plate appearance. It came at 4:41 A.M. on July 3, 1993 in Philadelphia: his 10th inning RBI single ended the second game of a doubleheader against the San Diego Padres. This happened to be the last PA of his career (Boxscore).

Williams is now a broadcaster for Fox Sports and has been an on-air analyst for MLB Network since its inception. He also has his own brand of salsa, called Mitch Williams' Wild Thing Southpaw Salsa, which is available in both mild and wild.

His brother, Bruce Williams, was a minor league pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers chains from 1981 to 1986.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (1989)
  • 2-times League Games Pitched Leader (1986/AL & 1989/NL)
  • 30 Saves Seasons: 4 (1989 & 1991-1993)
  • 40 Saves Seasons: 1 (1993)

[edit] Further Reading

  • Bob Bogart: "Mitch Williams’ Amazing Month: Eight Wins Out of the Bullpen", in Morris Levin, ed.: From Swampoodle to South Philly: Baseball in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, The National Pastime, SABR, 2013, pp. 230-234.
  • Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Reliever Mitch Williams", Baseball Digest, June 1992, p. 37. [1]
  • Mitch Williams and Darrell Berger: Straight Talk from the Wild Thing, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL, 2010.

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