B/R Interview: Mitch Williams Talks Little League, Phillies' Future, and More
As a former closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, Mitch Williams knows a thing or two about facing adversity.
You could take that statement a step further by saying that the former Phillies' closer knows a thing or two about being underrated as well. He was the bullpen's anchor during that storybook run at the World Series by that favorite 1993 team.
That's what makes Williams and the Hilton HHonors Little League program such a perfect fit. The Hilton HHonors program is helping to uncover some of the greatest Little League coaches in the game—a group of people that, according to Williams, are some of the most important people in the sport.
"It's an opportunity to bring recognition to these coaches that give up their time—they're not compensated financially for it—and they're basically being put in charge of our kids and teaching them sportsmanship, and hopefully, teaching them the correct way to play the game, and Hilton has come up with this program to help recognize the best Little League coach in the country," Williams said.
Williams, who spoke with Bleacher Report on behalf of the Hilton HHonors program, made it perfectly clear that while the players deserve all of the recognition that they receive, the coaches are the people who are underrated and face the toughest obstacles in the Little League initiative.
"I think it's absolutely huge. When you look at these guys, like I said, when you're not paid for something and you go out there and you give it your all—and I had an opportunity to meet a couple of the coaches the other night—these guys are teaching our kids how to compete and how to compete with what I say is probably the most important thing: The sportsmanship, the traditions of the game, and how the game should be played. That's the real thing," Williams said.
So while the Little League World Series brings to light some of the great stories from around the world—like the Ugandan team appearing in its first Little League World Series or the sensational Japanese pitching staff—Williams is doing his best to shed light on the men that often go unmentioned—the coaches—and according to him, they are vastly important.
"I think that the coaches are every bit as important as the kids, if not more," said Williams.
But while Williams made it perfectly clear that coaches at the Little League level are vastly important, he certainly made no bones about how important they were in the MLB as well.
Williams, who spent three seasons with the Phillies from 1991-93, also took some time to talk about his former ball club and the disappointing season that they're having in 2012.
When asked if someone like Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel or general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. should take the fall for the way the club's season has gone, Williams picked up his managerial crusade right where his Little League mission ended.
"I'm not so sure it falls on Charlie [Manuel]," said Williams. "I don't think that it falls on Charlie at all, because ultimately, he does not make the decisions on who is brought in and who is not brought in. That falls on the general manager."
To a certain extent, Williams certainly has a point. Manuel was forced to put together a lineup for much of the first half of the season that did not include the two best hitters on his roster—Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
Amaro didn't exactly assemble the greatest depth players in the world, giving Manuel guys like Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Michael Martinez to work with. According to Williams, a lot of the Phillies' failure this season could be shouldered by the GM.
"We're past the Pat Gillick era. All the moves that Pat Gillick made back before the Phillies won the World Series in 2008—those moves are all done and gone. Now it's up to Ruben Amaro. This is Ruben Amaro's team. I think that this is really the first year that Ruben has had to go out and make decisions on personnel and put a team together, and it didn't turn out too well," said Williams.
Indeed, this is not Pat Gillick's team. The Hall of Fame GM, who put together all of the right moves prior to the 2008 season, has watched his successor cripple the team financially and the on-field product suffer, so what's next for the Phillies' current GM, according to Williams?
"Ruben, in my opinion, has something to prove this offseason," Williams said.
And he certainly will have plenty of holes to fill, most notably the ones in center field and at third base, where the Phillies are sure to explore both the trade and free-agent markets.
But Williams also believes that the Phillies' issues run much deeper than that. Not only will they have to address their outfield and third base positions, but according to Williams, they're in desperate need of both a right-handed power bat and bullpen pieces.
"They have to find a guy in the offseason that can fill [the right-handed power bat] role," Williams said. "If they don't get that role addressed, and if they don't get their third base situation addressed, it's gonna be tough. That, and they have to add pieces to their bullpen."
But that right-handed power bat role won't be easy to fill. Speaking to Williams, he made the point that the Phillies haven't had much in the way of a right-handed power hitter since Pat Burrell left town following the World Series parade in 2008. Coincidence?
"I mean, everybody when Pat Burrell was [in Philadelphia], everyone liked to rip on Pat Burrell, but when he was hitting behind Ryan Howard, that was when Howard was hitting 45 [home runs] and driving in 145 [runs]," Williams said. "Because Pat was a threat to hit the ball out of the park, he worked pitchers. They have to find a guy in the offseason that can fill that role."
And while the Phillies may have had someone like that in the post-Burrell era in Jayson Werth, he's moved on as well and Williams' point is clear. The Hunter Pence project failed and the Phillies need some right-handed power.
Of course, those bats don't come cheap.
Williams was well aware of the Phillies' massive payroll and the fact that they may have to cut costs somewhere, but when asked if that cost should be Jonathan Papelbon, Williams emphatically refuted that statement.
Maybe it was just the former closer in him talking, but Williams was clear that if the Phillies want to be a dominant team, they'd need a dominant closer—even if he costs $13 million a year.
"Yeah, I would [pay a closer $13 million a season]," Williams said. "If he's dominated enough, absolutely, because there is... A lot of people don't realize the disaster that Brad Lidge was in the ninth inning and the effect of having those games blown. I think a shutdown closer is worth every penny."
But that's in the future. Williams was talking about the future of this Phillies team because he, like so many other people around the game, have realized that there is no hope for the club's 2012 season. But when reminded that there are still games left to play this year, Williams said that the Phillies owe it to their fans to play like they're still in contention.
"I'm not gonna lie and say it's easy," Williams said. "But I will sit here and tell you that they're obligated to go out there and play every game as hard as they can play it. I don't care if you're in dead-last place. The schedule has 162 games on it and you're paid to play 162."
"I know I was on the '92 team in Philadelphia and we were terrible, but I can sit here today and honestly say every time I ever took the ball, I gave everything I had, and I think that's what players have to do. It doesn't matter. This is professional baseball and when you throw the word "professional" in there that means you are being paid to do it."
"When you're being paid to do a job, you give those fans that are paying a lot of money to come watch you play — you better have enough pride to go out there and play the game as hard as you can play it, regardless of the standings," Williams said.
Williams was talking about 2012, but 2012 is over for the Phillies. This isn't a team built to play spoiler. This is a team that was supposed to contend for a World Series. Williams knows that as well as anyone.
While he wouldn't call the year a "fluke," Williams did give the Phillies credit for having to play most of the season through big injuries. But he didn't sound so confident for the future of this ball club either. His comments really make you wonder how far this Phillies team has fallen with this dreadful 2012 campaign.
"I don't care how good a baseball team you have. If you take the two biggest bats in your lineup out of the middle of your order, it changes the entire way the rest of the order is pitched," Williams said. "But the moves that were made in the offseason by Ruben Amaro Jr., in my opinion, were not moves that bettered this club. I think there needs to be more."
The Phillies will watch the World Series from home. Then, the man who dropped the ball in 2012 will go to work on the free agency and trade fronts.
But Williams is right. If this club can't land a center fielder, a third baseman, bullpen pieces and a right-handed power bat, this club is in trouble.
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