Ken Williams on the state of the Sox
By Daryl Van Schouwen firstname.lastname@example.org March 1, 2011 10:42PM
Ken Williams said it’s nice that he can come to the ballpark smiling after last season’s turmoil. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
Updated: June 29, 2011 12:20AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The highs and lows are all over the map on Ken Williams’ 10-year journey as White Sox general manager. A World Series championship. An ominous start when Frank Thomas walked out of his first spring training in 2001.
Then came Mike Sirotka and the “Shouldergate” ordeal after the trade for David Wells. And the Todd Ritchie trade. Yikes.
On the flip side, the free-wheeling-dealing Williams has a long list of sparkling free-agent signings and shrewd trades to boast, including a deal for Freddy Garcia that went a long way toward securing that World Series title in 2005. The list goes much longer.
Along the way, there has been enough drama with manager Ozzie Guillen to fill a book (with a dozen chapters or so from last season). And despite it all, Williams has put up the best winning percentage of any GM in Sox history, with eight teams finishing .500 or above and two claiming division championships. Four second-place finishes speak to the pluses of being in contention. The Sox have spent 534 days in first place in the last 10 seasons.
This is why there are only three other current GMs with longer tenures with their teams.
Williams’ 10th season in 2010 is one he would just as soon forget. There were rifts with Guillen in spring training and then a slow start that came back to haunt the Sox when they were overtaken by the Twins down the stretch.
“This is my 11th spring training as a GM, and I only had one bad one in terms of the energy and the focus,’’ Williams told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. “That was last year. We got off track.’’
All is calm and peaceful, relatively speaking, in Sox camp this spring.
“You have two choices when you are dealing with a contentious situation, whether it’s professionally or personally. You can hold on to it, let it fester and let it be a problem. Or you can deal with it, wash it away and begin again. And the blip in the amount of time that many of us around here have known each other, there really shouldn’t be anything that should happen now that has a long-term effect.
“Things have returned to their normal, crazy, fun self.’’
Guillen said he and Williams have “promised” each other that this season will be about the team.
“We talked this morning,’’ Guillen said, “about how we both learned from [last season]. It was not fun for me and obviously it was not fun for him. Thank God everything goes back to normal, what it should be and how it was in the past. It’s healthy. It’s nice to come to the ballpark smiling and wanting to talk to each other.’’
Things will never be dull when Guillen’s around. Or as long as the social-networking craze that has served as a sounding board for anyone with a thought — managers and their family members included — streams through the sporting world.
“What is different now is the fans, teams, media, players, executives, we’re all getting used to how are we going to navigate through this whole social media,’’ Williams said. “What is acceptable and not. The lines of respect and confidentiality are a little blurred right now because of what is out there.’’
That came into play during the offseason when Guillen’s son Oney got into it with former Sox Bobby Jenks. It got personal. It opened a door into the Sox clubhouse that should have been kept closed.
“The generations out there now are exposing their whole lives,’’ Williams said. “People my age are a little put off by that, but it’s here so you better figure out a way to navigate and adapt. And adapt with some rules.’’
It says here that Williams could let his record stand on its own, but he says he couldn’t be so arrogant to say he wouldn’t change a thing looking back at his GM career.
“Oh my God, I would do so much differently. Any of the bad trades, I wouldn’t do again,” he said, laughing. “No matter what you think, how confident you are when you are put in the chair, you have growing pains. Minnesota has four banners hanging out there we easily could have won. I would figure out a way to get them back.’’
Asked the one or two most important things he has learned over the years, Williams said “patience and humor.”
It takes a sense of humor to be immersed in the White Sox experience, but Williams figured out that you have to chill once in a while to survive.
“Those things were necessary for me,’’ he said, “because I would have been burned out by now. And to lessen the intensity a little. Not watch every baseball game as though it’s an NFL Sunday game. Because at the end of the year it was 162 for me, baby, and I was DEAD.’’
The thing is, the same competitive nature that has driven Williams to put a competitive team on the field on every Opening Day of his tenure has the potential to wear him out.
“At some point that can become a detriment,’’ he said. “As a player, I had great expectations and people had great expectations for me. I did not live up to those but when I walked away or was pushed away I did so with my head held high because I gave it everything I had. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, work and focus. I can still live with that. I have taken the same approach to this job.
“There are so many variables and peripheral things that make up the job that you don’t have control over. You can exhaust yourself trying to put the best team you can on field. You need a lot of help. There are a lot of players out there, so if you don’t rely on player development, scouting, medical staff, coaches, you are not going to be successful. It’s your job to put those people in place.’’
Williams said he has traveled less with the team the last three or four years.
“I didn’t travel as much last year because I was going through a personal issue,’’ he said.
“I always traveled more than other GMs, but there are other duties that await you in six minor-league cities, or scouting, or at a trade deadline. I see every game. It might be midnight in at hotel room in Birmingham but I will see it.’’
With a payroll around an all-time high $125 million, Williams may not have much to do at the July 31 trade deadline unless the Sox are dumping payroll because of a poor start. Williams said there is no more money to spend.
“Not right now, no,’’ he said. “We need to start off well, we need early fan support and that’s just to get back to even. Unless there are revenue streams I don’t see coming right now. In an effort to put the best club on the field from the beginning, we went beyond the limits.’’