Monday, February 13, 2006

February 13th, 1971

Todd Wililams Born

"You know, I didn't think I was that bad a ballplayer, but they're making a believer out of me."
~Jim Gosger, after being sent down to Triple-A, quoted in Ball Four

Those words were spoken by Gosger, but capture a sentiment thought by every journeyman ballplayer at one point or another. I have no doubt that thought went through Todd Williams head in the course of his journey which has, most recently anyway, found him as a relatively valued member of the Orioles' bullpen.

Williams began his travels in 1990 when he was drafted, in the fifty-fourth round, by the Dodgers. Shocking for someone drafted that low (exactly 1,387 people were drafted ahead of him) Williams broke in with the Dodgers in 1995, pitching a rather underwhelming nineteen and a third innings with a 5.12 ERA. In early September of that year, the Dodgers sent Williams to the A's in exchange for minor-leaguer Matt McDonald. Williams missed the 1996 season, I don't know why, and was released by the A's in January of that year. Signed by the Reds in February (on the third actually, a nice early birthday present) and assigned to their Double-A team in Chattanooga.

Williams worked his way up to Triple-A in 1997 and pitched there in 1998, posting sub-2.50 ERAs at every stop. Called up the Reds Williams was back in the majors again but found them as unwelcoming as in 1995 as he posted a 7.71 ERA in nine and a third innings. After an underwhelming beginning to the season in Triple-A in 1999 the Reds sent Williams to the Mariners in exchange for Kerry Robinson. Williams had only a short stay at the M's Triple-A team before called up to the big leagues once more, and pitching his first ever above average innings, this time nine and two-thirds at a 4.66 ERA.

Williams, who was by now almost thirty years old, failed to make an impression however and spent all of 2000 with Triple-A Tacoma posting a 2.98 ERA. In November of that year the Mariners released Williams and he signed with the Yankees in January of 2001. Williams would never see Triple-A for the defending champs, pitching briefly in rookie ball (on some sort of rehab, I assume) and in Double-A before being called up to the big club. Once again Williams struggled at the Major League level, posting a 4.70 ERA in just over fifteen innings.

This began a new period of wandering for Williams, he became a free agent after the 2001 season and spent the 2002 and 2003 seasons toiling in Triple-A for the Expos and Devil Rays, respectively. Williams was signed and released by the Rangers without having thrown a pitcher for the organization and found himself, in mid-2004 as a thirty-three year old pitcher with a 5.46 career Major League ERA who had, in the course of his career, played in Great Falls, Bakersfield, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Chattanooga, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Tacoma, Tampa (for rookie ball), Norwich, New York City, Ottawa, and Durham. If Williams ever had a moment of self-doubt, this would be it.

Nonetheless, he signed a minor league free agent with the Orioles. Called up to the big club, Williams did something remarkable: He dominated. Williams threw thirty-one and a third innings and allowed just ten runs, good for a 2.87 ERA. The Orioles brought him back in 2005 and though Williams wasn't as dominant, he spent the entire season with the big club, and ranked eighth in relief appearances. Best of all for Williams, he earned $347,000 with the O's in 2005 and recently settled his arbitration case for $775,000, probably more than he had made in the entire rest of his career. And as a bonus, DUI charges were recently dropped when it became clear Williams had not in fact been drunk, but failed a field test on account of an ankle injury he suffered in the crash.

I don't know what 2006 holds for Williams, but his is a nice little story of persistence paying off. Except for those nineteen games against the Yankees, I'll be rooting for him.

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