Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Matt Williams. The grandson of former big leaguer Bert Griffith (.737 OPS in 620 plate appearances), Williams was the third overall pick of the 1986 draft out of UNLV by the Giants. A strong showing in the PCL in 1987 (.809 OPS) landed him a brief time with the big league club as the Giants won their first division title in 16 years. He went back to Phoenix and would bounce back and forth for a bit until making the club for good in July of 1989 as the regular third baseman. The Giants won the division again that season and also won their first pennant since 1962.
On October 17, 1989, the Giants and A’s were preparing for Game 3 of the World Series at Candlestick Park. At 5:04 PM Pacific Time, the earth shook almost endlessly. Those of us old enough to remember can still see the footage of the Interstate 880 over the way in Oakland – the upper deck had collapsed. In all, there were 63 deaths and over 3,700 injuries as a result of the quake that registered at 6.9. For 10 days the World Series was put on hold.
When the series resumed 10 days later, Matt Williams came to the plate in the bottom of the second trailing 2-0. He homered to left to cut the lead in half, but that wouldn’t matter. The A’s were just too much offensively and would win 13-7 and the next night sweep the series.
In 1990 Williams made his first All-Star team, leading the league with 122 RBI while hitting 33 homers and finishing sixth in the MVP voting. In 1991 he won his first Gold Glove while hitting 34 homers. He slumped to .227/.286/.384 in 1992, but rebounded with the rest of the team in 1993 as Barry Bonds joined them in the offseason. Williams hit .294/.325/.561 with 38 homers and 110 RBI, but despite 103 wins, the Giants fell one game short on the last day of the season. Williams would end up with a great what if in 1994.
April 4 was Opening Day of the 1994 season and the Giants hosted the Pirates. Williams homered twice as the Giants won 8-0. On April 10 he hit his third. At the end of April he had 10 homers. While not at the pace that Griffey was on, he still had 19 homeruns by the end of May. He added 10 more in June and going into the series finale on Sunday, July 31, he was sitting on 38 homeruns. Williams homered in the fourth with two on and again in the fifth. He became the first player ever with 40 homeruns before August 1. He hit three more in August and was on a pace for 60, but then the strike hit, and so his chance at immortality was gone.
How differently would we be looking at Williams’ career had he hit 19 more homeruns in 1994? Remember, Jeff Bagwell had broken his wrist and Williams already had a four homer lead at the time of the strike. Sixty-two homeruns that year, without a running mate (like Sosa and McGwire four years later), one could realistically believe that he would have won the MVP (Bagwell beat Williams out for the award but again, they lost 50 games and Bagwell was gone for the season). Winning the MVP and setting the single season homerun record? Sounds an awful lot like Roger Maris, and there is a small group of Hall of Fame supporters for him. I’m not saying Williams is a Hall of Famer – what I’m saying is that we may very well be thinking of Williams differently than we currently do.
After the 1996 season, Williams was traded to the Indians for Jose Vizcaino, Julian Tavaras, and Jeff Kent. In his one year in Cleveland he hit .263/.307/.488 with 32 homeruns and 105 RBI, won both the third base Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards as the Indians underachieved but still managed to win their third straight division title and upset the Orioles in the ALCS. In Game 4 of the World Series with the Indians trailing the series 2-1 but leading 8-3 in the eighth, Williams hit a two-run homerun to make it 10-3. We all know what happened after that.
After the season Williams – who was shocked earlier in the year when his wife filed for divorce – was traded to the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Fryman and Tom Martin at his request so that he could be closer to his children. The Diamondbacks became competitive quickly and in 2001 won the NL on the backs of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. In Game 2 with the Diamondbacks leading both the game and the series 1-0 in the seventh, Williams hit a three-run homerun to put the game away. Arizona won the series in seven games, and Williams became the first player to hit a homerun in three different World Series for three different teams.
Williams retired after the 2003 season with a career .268/.317/.489 line, 113 OPS+, 378 homeruns, 5 All-Star appearances, 3 Gold Gloves, 4 Silver Sluggers, and 4 Top 10 MVP finishes. In 2007 it was reported that he had purchased HGH back in 2002. Later in 2007 he was named in the Mitchell Report.
In his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot (2009) he received 1.3% of the vote.
In 2014 he was named manager of the Washington Nationals. The Nationals went 96-66, won the NL East, but lost in four games to the Giants. Williams was named NL Manager of the Year, for his efforts. Plus, the team featured 21-year old Bryce Harper and 25-year old Stephen Strasburg, plus they signed Max Scherzer so expectations were high going into the 2015 season.
Then at the trade deadline the Nationals traded for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. It turned out being a disaster (4.87 FIP) that culminated with Papelbon going after Harper. The Nationals collapse officially finished at 83-79 and Williams was fired. It wasn’t the shortest span between winning the award and being fired – Joe Girardi hadn’t won it yet when the Marlins canned him – but he became another example of how strange awards voting can be.