MORRISSEY: White Sox VP Ken Williams learning how to relax
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org February 21, 2013 10:11PM
The Chicago White Sox President of Baseball Operations Kenny Williams and General Manager Rick Hahn during their spring training at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: March 23, 2013 6:37AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ken Williams worked like a madman for 12 years as the White Sox’ general manager. When he
decided to step back and take on a different role with the team in October, he found out he was still a madman, only with a lot less work to do. Type-A fidgeting ensued, followed by inspired wall-staring.
The man who enjoyed making big trades no longer is Trader Kenny. He still is trying to get used to being Tranquil Kenny.
‘‘This offseason was tough,’’ he said at the Sox’ spring-training facility Thursday. ‘‘I’m used to being in the mix and talking about potential deals with general managers. Having that dialogue for me was the best aspect of the job. To have to take a backseat to all of that and allow [new GM] Rick [Hahn] the same freedoms that I had was difficult.
‘‘All of a sudden, I had all of this free time on my hands and I didn’t know what the hell to do. I’ve had long bouts of boredom.’’
Williams’ old title went to Hahn, who had been assistant GM. His new title is executive vice president. Actually, it should be Vice President in Charge of Making Sure Hahn Doesn’t Do What I Did.
Williams doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the life he led. When he made trades, he said he not only thought about how it would affect the team but about how it would affect people outside the organization. If the Sox didn’t make the playoffs, it meant hotels, bars and restaurants would suffer. He said he brought that home with him every night.
There are easier ways to live, but Williams said he never learned how to manage his life in a way that wouldn’t affect him internally.
‘‘When Rick took over, I immediately went from sleeping only three hours consecutively to six,’’ he said. ‘‘I can’t remember how long it had been since I did that. I took Ambien for two years. My mind wouldn’t stop. That job is all-consuming, and you can’t allow your mind to stop.
‘‘Rick’s feeling that now. As I told [owner Jerry Reinsdorf], ‘I’m trying to help Rick walk through it.’ Jerry asked me, ‘What makes you qualified? Because you didn’t do it very well.’ ’’
Williams did do the GM thing well, building the team that won the 2005 World Series for a franchise that hadn’t won one since 1917. But the day-to-day grind, the unceasing nature of it, took a toll. At one point, Reinsdorf told him to figure out a way to dial it down a bit, but he couldn’t. He still was emailing people at 3 a.m.
Finally, a few years ago, Williams’ doctor told him that if he didn’t learn to manage his stress level, he was going to miss out on things later in life, which was a kind way of talking about death. Williams had seen five friends or acquaintances in their early 50s die of heart attacks. That was enough to make him step away.
‘‘When I got hired, I made the statement that I was going to exhaust myself in trying to bring multiple championships to Chicago,’’ said Williams, 48. ‘‘I was damn well committed to that because that’s exactly what happened. I exhausted myself.
‘‘I don’t miss having to be on guard for everything every waking moment of the day. You can’t imagine. People don’t understand that it’s not just the 25-man major-league club and the coaches you see here. There are 175 more players back there playing in three different countries — the U.S., Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.’’
His duties are bigger picture now. He still oversees every aspect of what the Sox do, but he deals less with the minutiae. Hahn and his staff can come to Williams for guidance or approval. Williams says he does retain ‘‘some’’ veto power.
He said he could envision a scenario in which he would veto
‘‘But I’m cognizant that the wins and losses are going on Rick’s record,’’ he said.
So it’s all good, right? Ken Williams is finally at peace?
‘‘The problem is, I still really love that job,’’ he said of the GM position. ‘‘But physically and mentally, I think it was time to take a step away from it.’’
The obvious question is whether he’ll reach a point where he’ll want to be a GM again. It’s an obvious question that, on Thursday, was followed by about 15 seconds of silence.
‘‘Well, I don’t know,’’ he finally said. ‘‘Not without me learning how to manage the stress of the job a little better — or at least putting that in perspective in some better way than I have. But personally I’ve never been in a better place. Does that also play into eliminating some of the stress that you have on the job? That’s the question.’’
He is referring to his fiancée, Zoraida Sambolin, a CNN broadcaster who used to work at Channel 5 in Chicago. They plan to get married during the San Francisco 49ers’ bye week next season so that his son Kyle, a 49ers wide receiver, can attend the wedding.
So there’s happiness and joy. Williams cherishes a World Series photo of him, Reinsdorf, commissioner Bud Selig and former Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, with whom he clashed toward the end of Guillen’s tenure. He says he has ‘‘a great capacity for forgiveness.’’ Now that’s peace.
But is it enough? And what does his fiancée want him to do?
‘‘She likes the fact that I can sleep now,’’ he said. ‘‘But she also knows I was bored to death in the offseason.’’