YUMA, Ariz. — Dick Williams became major league baseball's first ever AWOL manager Monday when he missed the Padres' 9:30 a.m. workout here. Players kept peeking into his empty office. Finally, Williams did show up at a morning press conference in San Diego, where he announced he was resigning as manager.
He began: "For the past few weeks, I have been asking myself, 'Do I really want to manage the Padres another year?' My honest answer, finally, was 'No.' "
Padre owner Joan Kroc, who backed Williams after an apparent front-office schism this winter, concluded: "His (Williams') leadership gave San Diego its first National League pennant. He taught us championship baseball, and he gave us the thrill of winning . . . . Dick, I'll never forget that season we dedicated to Ray Kroc, the wonderful summer of 1984 . . ."
She paused to kiss Williams on the lips.
But kiss hello a new era in Padre baseball. As Williams said goodby at his press conference, pitchers and catchers were jogging around the training complex here, already ridding themselves of their complex with Williams.
"I guess a lot of guys around here were uptight around the guy," third baseman Graig Nettles said. "I don't know who the new manager will be, but most of the guys are happy."
And still as of Monday evening, nobody knew who would replace Williams, although sources close to the situation said former A's Manager Steve Boros is the leading candidate for the job and will likely interview with Kroc sometime today. Boros, who is the Padre coordinator of minor league instruction, left Yuma Monday afternoon, as did general manager Jack McKeon.
McKeon refused comment, saying only that no one would be named until team president Ballard Smith returned from a business trip in Australia. Smith is due back today. Boros, who could not be reached for comment, is a longtime friend of McKeon's and coached in Kansas City when McKeon managed there in the 1970s. When the Pittsburgh Pirates had job openings last fall, general manager Syd Thrift asked San Diego for permission to interview Boros.
McKeon said no, if the Pirates planned to hire him only as a coach, but yes if they planned to hire him as manager.
Boros interviewed for the managerial job, but didn't get it.
Although Boros is the leading candidate, he is not the only one. Others include:
- Jack Krol--Currently the Padre first base coach, he said Monday: "Anyone would be interested in managing this club because it's such a good club."
Krol was a finalist for the St. Louis job in 1978, but lost out to the late Ken Boyer.
- Harry Dunlop--He was last year's Padre bullpen coach before Williams asked that his contract not be renewed. Dunlop has managing experience at the Triple-A level.
- Joe Torre--The former Atlanta manager, an announcer last year with the Angels, said Monday he has not been contacted, but hopes to be.
"It (managing) is not out of my blood. I enjoy what I'm doing, but I need a little more activity. Once you've been on the field, you like to stay there until you accomplish what you've set out to do. . . . I'd like to think they (the Padres) would be interested in talking to me. I'd be interested in talking to them."
- Jim Fregosi--Currently St. Louis' Triple-A manager in Louisville, he interviewed for the last San Diego managerial opening after the 1981 season. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
The Padres, sources said, likely will hire their manager by Wednesday, when the entire roster is scheduled to report here.
Meanwhile, Williams, now the first man to be an ex-manager in all four divisions, will report only to his wife Norma. She apparently has been after him to quit, but since Williams would not answer any questions Monday, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly his reasons for resignation.
One source close to Williams did say, however: "The players are why. The players got what they wanted."
And Ozzie Virgil, Williams' friend and third base coach who also resigned Monday, said: "He doesn't give into players. He feels they should perform, and if they can't cope or take criticism, that's wrong. . . . I think that's why he left. Because some of the players went hard on him."
Yes, some players have been hard on him. Pitcher Andy Hawkins said Monday: "We had a perfect relationship last year--we didn't talk. We were cordial to each other, but that was it. There's always been (tension between Williams and the team). He always held a whip over us."
Still, Williams' decision not to show up Monday is almost unheard of. This is the earliest a manager has ever resigned in a season. The Phillies' Eddie Sawyer held the previous record, quitting the day after opening day in 1960. Gene Mauch replaced him.
Williams apparently called Kroc this weekend to tell her the news. Kroc told Smith, who then called McKeon at approximately 2 a.m. Monday.