April 24, 2014
While Ken Williams sits in a higher place, he has kept a lower profile since he handed over the general manager’s duties of the White Sox to Rick Hahn after the 2012 season.
As executive vice president, Williams is more involved in scouting now. But he remains an important part of the Sox’ decision-making process. In fact, he still has the final say in a structure that seems to be working well.
‘‘This new structure works well for us,’’ Williams said. ‘‘It’s a team effort. The best way to put it is we’re using everyone’s strengths to the best of our ability.’’
Williams, who produced the best winning percentage of any GM in Sox history during his 12 seasons on the job, oversaw a World Series title in 2005, two division titles and five second-place finishes. Hahn, his assistant throughout, had
been groomed for Williams’ job since 2008.
‘‘From the start, he was eager to make this work and was open-minded,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘But due to his personality and his knowing the pressures of being in this chair, he’s been a tremendous mentor, role model and sounding board and has given me the space to explore different avenues and, frankly, make a mistake or two along the way. As a guy in the chair, you have to have that ability to do what you see is best.’’
Williams was burned out from his time as GM and has grown to love the new freedoms he has in his life. He’s engaged to former CNN anchor Zoraida Sambolin, who has battled breast cancer, and seems to have mellowed about his often-stormy relationship with former manager Ozzie Guillen, saying Guillen would be welcome if the 2005 team has a 10-year reunion.
‘‘I haven’t heard anything about reunion plans,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Should there be anything planned in the future, I don’t know how you can do so and not want Ozzie there.’’
Not that Williams, who will turn 50 in April, doesn’t miss the rigors of being a GM. He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of doing it again one day.
‘‘My life is more well-rounded now,’’ Williams said, ‘‘but I probably liked that job better. But we are more effective with me in this role.’’
How so? Williams, whose strong suit is scouting, was able to jump into the pursuit of Cuban star Jose Abreu immediately after last season ended.
‘‘If I had been in the GM position, those two weeks right after the season, I am dead on my feet and don’t know that the trip would have been made,’’ he said. ‘‘I went down firsthand, talked to agents, had dinner, further enhanced the relationships, and it worked out in our favor. Rick is better-positioned to deal with the day-to-day operations of the club, and my strength has always been player evaluation.’’
‘‘With the change in roles, he has been able to scout for the June draft, for the July international period, to see Abreu, and he was a big part of our [Masahiro] Tanaka evaluation,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘And it really freed him up to play to his evaluation strengths. It gives us another high-quality set of scouting eyes . . . which makes it even more valuable as we try to piece this thing together.’’
‘‘We’ve been able to identify, target and then sign some guys we maybe wouldn’t have been as aggressive on,’’ Williams said.
Hahn has a firm grip on the day-to-day operations of the organization and has put his stamp on the Sox’ restructuring plan. But Williams has the final stamp of approval.
‘‘We were pretty clear last year,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I have the ultimate say as to the organization’s direction. We lean on each other’s strengths, as we have in the past. I have very little patience for the negotiations arena, and he leans on me for [player] evaluation.’’
Williams is enjoying the break from the hot seat, but you can see he misses it. He has received feelers about GM jobs elsewhere but likely will stay put for now.
‘‘I think I’ve got a job to do here, and I really would like to win another championship in this role,’’ he said. ‘‘And then we’ll see what happens after that. I won’t say no, but I can’t say yes, either. I’ll be with the White Sox as long as they want me.’’
Hahn knows Williams as well as anybody. He said he hopes Williams doesn’t move on.
‘‘There is an element to this job, which I fully appreciate now, that took a physical toll on him, and I believe he’s real happy doing what he’s doing now,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘I don’t know if he’d want to get back in the day-to-day grind of what I’m currently doing. I have no doubt in my mind he’d be extraordinarily successful if he decided to do that, but I hope that’s not in the cards.’’