April 24, 2019

Woody Williams: Pitcher Beat Expectations Along the Way to Excellent 15-Year Major League Career

March 31, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Baseball players drafted in the lower rounds face an upward battle when working towards their dream of reaching the major leagues. They don’t have the same name recognition of more highly-regarded prospects and because not as much money and resources have been invested in them, may not always have the same opportunities. A small percentage will ultimately get called up, although most for just a cup of coffee for two. However, some of them reach the majors and just keep going, forging productive, lengthy careers. One such player was pitcher Woody Williams.

The right-handed Williams is a native of Texas and was a 28th-round draft choice by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Houston in 1988. After going a combined 10-4 with a 2.16 ERA in his first year in professional ball, he made steady, but unspectacular progress moving up through the minor league system. This led to him being called up to Toronto in 1993, where he began his career as a long reliever. With an eclectic mix of pitches that was highlighted by an excellent cutter, he ultimately made his way to the starting rotation where he was a solid contributor.

He was traded to the San Diego Padres following the 1998 season, where he spent several years before moving on to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was with the Cards that he found his greatest success. His best season came in 2003 when he was 18-9 with a 3.87 ERA and 153 strikeouts; helping him earn an All-Star nod. Despite an arsenal that may not have been overpowering, he was known as an extremely cerebral pitcher who even mixed in the occasional knuckleball.

Williams ended up doing another tour with the Padres before finishing up with the Houston Astros in 2007. Retiring after the season at the age of 40. He posted a career record of 132-116 with a 4.19 ERA and 1,480 strikeouts across 15 seasons. Since retiring he has gotten into coaching and remains in his native Texas.

Woody Williams Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Nolan Ryan. I liked the way he pitched, how hard he worked, and he was a Texan.

Can you please describe what your draft experience was like with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1988?: I played shortstop and pitched at The University of Houston. During my senior year, Blue Jays scout Jim Hughes asked me if the Blue Jays drafted me would I just pitch? I said ‘absolutely’ and I just wanted a chance to play pro ball. A few days later, they drafted me in the 28th round and signed me for $1,000. I am forever thankful for Jim Hughes and the opportunity.

How resistant were you to being converted to relieving early in your career?: I always wanted to be a starter, but looking back I wouldn’t have lasted long. I’m glad I was able to get the experience I did pitching out of the bullpen.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: I remember being excited  and how special it was playing in old Yankee Stadium. An incredible place to make my debut.

In your opinion, who was the most underrated player you ever played with or against, and if you are feeling bold, is there anyone you can think of who was overrated?: I think Mike Matheny was very underrated. He was a tremendous defender and he took a lot of pride in helping pitchers.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: I traveled with the team during the Blue Jays’ 1993 World  Championship but I wasn’t on the active roster. My first postseason game against the D-Backs in 2001 was special.  There was a feeling that is hard to describe. In the playoffs, the crowd is louder, the grass smells different and there is intensity on every pitch no matter who is throwing it.

What was it about hitting against former teammate Matt Morris (5 for 8 with a home run) that allowed you to be so successful, and did/how you ever remind him of this?: I did know that I hit a home run off him, but I didn’t realize that I had that kind of success against him. I think I was lucky to face him when he was close to the end of his career. When we were together in St Louis, Matt had amazing stuff and was one of the best pitchers in the game. I’ve never brought it up but I might have to now.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and what made them stand out to you?: Mel Queen. He believed in me and was in my corner when nobody else was. He taught me a lot about pro ball, pitching and how to carry myself. Mel was an amazing man with tremendous knowledge.

If you could go back and do anything differently about your career what would that be and why?: I would go back and be a better teammate. I would spend more time really getting to know my teammates and less time focused on myself.

What are you up to these days and how would you like what you accomplished in your career to be remembered?: I’m in my fourth year as a volunteer coach at San Jacinto College in Houston. I would like to be remembered as a good teammate and someone that worked hard and played the game the right way.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

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