Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams has never been one to hold his tongue, so when given the chance, he didn’t ease up on baseball commissioner Rob Manfred or the Houston Astros.
Williams joined Inquirer Live at Lunch on Monday to speak on the biggest topics in baseball, plus his new podcast and the Phillies.
His strongest opinions involved Manfred. The commissioner’s handling of the 2020 season hasn’t been perfect. With the negotiations to restart the season, the Marlins’ and Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreaks, the Joe Kelly suspension, and what many people viewed as a mild punishment for the Astros, Manfred is not Williams’ favorite person.
“The changes that he’s made have set this game back,” Williams said. “Any time you have cheating going on in a professional sport that you’ve known about for three years, that’s unacceptable. How do you reward someone that’s cheated the game? I think he’s done a terrible job at protecting the integrity of the game.”
One thing Manfred and Williams see eye-to-eye on is the decision to play baseball in 2020. He said that if he was in the majors, he’d be playing baseball and following the COVID-19 protocols.
“I think it’s fine as long as you can get the players to buy in to the protocols and follow them. We’ve seen that you can play the sport and stay healthy,” Williams said. “The onus falls on the players. You got to be responsible enough to do what you’re told to do, when you’re told to do it, and you’ll get through this season.”
Williams is an old-school baseball guy. He doesn’t care about WAR (wins above replacement), launch angle, exit velocity, and any of the new-age advanced stats. He’s all about wins and losses.
A part of that old-school way of thinking is the strong distaste for cheating, and the way it should be handled. The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal resulted in the team being fined $5 million and losing its first- and second-round draft picks for the next two seasons.
Houston’s manager and general manager were suspended for a season, but both were later fired. Only Kelly, a Dodgers relief pitcher, has thrown at the Astros in the regular season, but Williams believes more pitchers should join in.
“The Astros players [should] look like dartboards by the time the season is over,” Williams said.
The Phillies’ biggest weakness has been their bullpen. It sure could use a guy like Williams, who had a 3.34 ERA on the National League pennant-winning 1993 Phillies and a 3.11 ERA in his three seasons with the team.
Overall, Williams thinks the Phillies have the talent to make the expanded playoffs. The bullpen development is the key, but he noted how the time off after the Marlins series could have made the playoffs a tougher task.
“If you would’ve asked me, I wouldn’t have been surprised by a 1-9 start after that seven-day layoff,” Williams said. “It throws a wrench in everyone’s program, and baseball players are creatures of habit. You start breaking their habits, and they start breaking down.”
Williams was fired from MLB Network in 2014 for his conduct at his then-10-year-old son’s Little League game that included an argument. He won $1.5 million in a civil case against the network, but said he hasn’t been able to get an interview for a network job since.
Now Williams is bringing his takes to his podcast, Unleashed with Mitch Williams. He hosts the show biweekly and has published four episodes. He’ll be talking all things Philly sports and MLB-related. One of his first episodes discussed how the Phillies need to pay J.T. Realmuto.