Standing Tall

Woody Williams overcame family tragedy to earn spot on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 20, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Woody Williams (NBHOF Library)

Woody Williams endured an unspeakable family tragedy during his 15-year big league career.

His appearance on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot speaks volumes about a player who overcame the tallest obstacles en route to 132 big league wins.

Williams is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Williams is making his debut on the ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born Aug. 19, 1966 in Houston, Texas, Gregory Scott “Woody” Williams pitched for the University of Houston before being drafted by the Blue Jays in the 28th round of the 1988 MLB Draft. Williams worked his way through Toronto’s minor league system and then emerged in the majors as a relief pitcher in 1993. The right-handed Williams went 3-1 in 30 relief appearances that year, helping Toronto win its second straight World Series title.

After three more seasons of establishing himself at the big league level, Williams moved into the Jays’ starting rotation in 1997 – taking a regular turn en route to a 9-14 record. Williams improved to 10-9 in 1998, then was dealt to the Padres prior to the 1999 season in exchange for Joey Hamilton.

In San Diego, Williams was 12-12 in 1999 and 10-8 the year after before being dealt to the Cardinals on Aug. 2, 2001 for Ray Lankford. With St. Louis, Williams went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch, helping the Redbirds advance to the National League Division Series.

Williams battled injuries en route to a 9-4 mark in 2002, then put it all together in 2003 – going 18-9 with a 3.87 ERA and an All-Star Game selection. In 2003, Williams was 11-8 and drew the Game 1 start in the World Series against the Red Sox – a Fall Classic that saw Boston snap its 86-year championship drought.

“He’s really enjoyed a rebirth since he’s come over to St. Louis,” said then-Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly. “He’s taken his game to a different level.”

Williams returned to the Padres as a free agent for the 2005 season, but his world was forever altered on June 5 of that year when his sister shot and killed her husband near Waco, Texas, leaving behind four children. For the rest of the season, Williams would pitch for the Padres, fly to his home in Houston to assist his wife as she helped deal with the tragedy, and then fly back four days later to make his next start.

Williams went 9-12 with a 4.85 ERA in 2005, but the fact that he made it through the season was the real accomplishment.

“Not one time did any of my teammates gripe,” Williams said. “The respect they showed for me and my family was second to none.

“Every time I had to leave town, I hated it. I was there, but it was like I wasn’t. I don’t know if it affected how I pitched. The numbers weren’t there.”

Williams bounced back in 2006, going 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA and leading the Padres back into contention, helping them win the National League West title.

“I started having fun again,” Williams said. “Competition was meaningful again. I wasn’t sure that (the passion to play) would be there again. But it was.”

Following the season, Williams signed with his hometown Astros, but struggled to an 8-15 record in 2007. After being released in Spring Training of 2008, Williams retired – despite the fact he was owed more than $6 million by the Astros.

Williams finished his career with a record of 132-116 with a 4.19 ERA. In eight postseason starts, he posted a 3-3 record.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum