Happy birthday to former Texas Ranger lefthanded pitcher turned MLB Network analyst Mitch Williams. Williams is 49 today.
For those of you who don't remember/weren't alive back then, Williams was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 1984 Rule 5 draft following a campaign where, as a 19 year old in the California League, he put up a 4.99 ERA while walking 127 batters and striking out 165 in 164 innings. The Rangers ended up not keeping him on their 25 man roster (which was for the best), but traded minor league infielder Randy Asadoor to the Padres for the right to keep him in the Ranger organization.
Williams made it to the majors in 1986 and led the league in appearances while putting up a 3.58 ERA in 98 innings as a rookie. He had a solid sophomore campaign, but then slumped in 1988...although Williams recorded 18 saves as the Rangers' primary closer, he recorded a 4.63 ERA, and his problems finding the strike zone led Texas to deal him to the Cubs in the 1988-89 offseason, along with Paul Kilgus, Curtis Wilkerson, Steve Wilson and a pair of minor leaguers, for Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer and Drew Hill in a deal that ended up being one of the more lopsided trades (in the Rangers' favor) that general manager Tom Grieve ever pulled off.
Williams made it clear how unhappy he was being traded, suggesting that pitching the 9th inning requires a certain type of mental fortitude that Jeff Russell (who the Rangers announced would replace Williams as their closer) didn't, in Williams' opinion, have.
Williams became a cult hero in Chicago, earning the moniker "Wild Thing" while closing out games, but the Cubs were ready to move on after two seasons, and he ended up in Philadelphia. He continued his high-wire act for the Phillies for three seasons, until two memorable blown saves against the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series essentially doomed his career. After the 1993 season, Williams pitched just 37.1 innings in the majors, posting a 7.96 ERA, walking 52 and striking out 40.
Williams has a remarkably wide career WAR spread, given how little he actually pitched...B-R has Williams at 7.3 bWAR for his career, while fWAR has Williams at -1.8 -- sub-replacement-level -- for his career. In Williams' best seasons, he kept opponents' BABIP to sub-.250 levels, which is why bWAR likes him so much better. But it is remarkable, looking at his career numbers -- particularly his walk and strikeout rates -- and thinking, at one point, teams wanted him to get the final three outs of the game.
Williams is best known now as an analyst for MLB Network, decrying the modern trend of teams limiting pitch counts and trying to pitch to contact, while standing as a defender of the "old school" baseball values. Given that I remember when the Rangers grabbed him in the Rule 5 draft, given that its been 20 years since that Joe Carter home run essentially ended his career, its amazing to me that Williams is still just 49.