All is Forgiven, Mitch Williams

WilliamsThe Wall Street Journal recently did a nice piece about Mitch Williams, the former Philadelphia Phillies closer who gave up the Game 6 homerun to Joe Carter of the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series. The town scapegoat has since shaken off the persona in the wake of the Phillies’ current success. You can now hear “Wild Thing” on Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia as well as buy his signature salsas and cheese dips.

Mr. Williams has fared far better than many of baseball’s other well-known goats. In 1908, New York Giant Fred Merkle neglected to advance from first base to second on an apparent game-winning hit by a teammate, and was forced out at second base as he celebrated, costing his team the pennant. He was ridiculed for decades for his blunder, and didn’t attend old-timer celebrations at the Polo Grounds until 1950.

Bill Buckner of the Red Sox let a crucial ground ball go through his legs in the 1986 World Series, leading to his team’s eventual loss. He has spent his retirement in Idaho. Only this year did the Fenway Park faithful forgive him, with a standing ovation when he threw out the first pitch at the home opener.

Sometimes, the fallout is tragic. Donnie Moore of the California Angels gave up a ninth-inning home run in 1986 when his team was one strike away from advancing to the World Series. The Red Sox won that game and two more to take the pennant. Three years later, he shot his wife and committed suicide.

Mr. Williams was not a classic closer. Most pitchers brought in late in games to shut down the other team have stellar control and allow few base runners. Mr. Williams’s pitching style didn’t inspire confidence. The rugged, 6-foot-4-inch fireballer had a mullet and a violent delivery. When he threw, the top half of his body went one way, the bottom half another. He nearly tumbled off the mound with each pitch.

I remember watching that game as a kid. It was the first time I had really seen anyone “blow it.” Event at that young an age, I could sense the doom Williams was feeling. It’s good to hear that Philadelphia, one of the toughest cities in sports, has welcomed his return to baseball.

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