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James 'Jimmy' Williams, former Orioles coach, dies at 90

James 'Jimmy' Williams, former Orioles coach, dies at 90
Former Orioles base coach Jimmy Williams died this week at age 90. (HOTZ / Baltimore Sun)

James B. "Jimmy" Williams, whose professional baseball career spanned more than four decades, including time as the Baltimore Orioles' first-, third-base and outfield coach in the 1980s, died Monday of pneumonia at Seasons Hospice at Franklin Square Medical Center.

The resident of Rumsey Island in Harford County was 90.

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"Jimmy was just the type of guy who did everything you wanted a coach to do," said former Oriole manager Joe Altobelli, who led the team from 1983 to 1985. "He was a great coach and did a great job for us. He was just terrific."

"Jimmy was always so pleasant, and he really was a good baseball man," said Orioles' pitching legend Jim Palmer, who first met Mr. Williams when he was 18 and playing minor league ball.

"He brought experience and a sense of calm — like such great Orioles coaches as Billy Hunter and George Bamberger," said Mr. Palmer. "He had a calm demeanor and knew baseball. He was a likable guy, knew what he was doing, and he did his job well."

The son of John J. Williams and Mary Teresa Fraser, James Bernard Williams was born and raised in Toronto.

He played varsity baseball, hockey, football and lacrosse at De La Salle College School in Toronto. After high school, he played professional hockey in the American Hockey League.

"In 1947, when I was with the Cleveland Barons of the AHL, I decided I had to make a choice. Baseball and hockey were starting to overlap, with springs running into falls," Mr. Williams told The Baltimore Sun in a 1981 interview.

"I picked baseball because I thought I might save a few teeth," he said.

Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Mr. Williams, a right-handed-hitting outfielder, played in the minor leagues from 1947 to 1964, including five years at the Triple-A level, all in the Dodger system.

"He exceeded .300 at the plate five times, was the rookie of the year in the Wisconsin State League in 1947, and broke a Western League record with 42 stolen bases out of 43 [attempts] when playing for the Pueblo Dodgers in 1949," reported The Baltimore Sun in 1981.

One of Mr. Williams' outstanding seasons came in 1955 when he was playing for the Triple-A Montreal Royals of the International League and batted .329, hit 13 home runs and stole 21 bases. Two of his teammates included future Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Tommy Lasorda

His batting average rose to .300 in 1958 when he played with the Spokane Indians of the Pacific Coast League.

He compiled a career batting average of .290 with 2,017 hits.

Mr. Williams next completed 17 seasons as a manager in the minor league systems for the Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros and the Orioles. He was third-base coach for the Astros in 1975, then spent two years with the Dodgers.

Beginning in 1978, Mr. Williams managed the Orioles' Double-A club at Charlotte and led the team to the playoffs three years, winning the 1980 Southern League championship.

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"People forget that coaches and players come through the minor leagues, and that's what Jimmy was able to do," said Mr. Palmer.

"Everybody in baseball wants to get to the majors," Mr. Williams told The Sun at the time. "But I don't know about managing up here. It's everyone's ambition to reach the top, but if I don't, it won't be a lot of skin off my nose. You have to be a certain type of man, and Earl kind of thrives on what's happening, likes all the situations."

In 1982, Mr. Weaver retired and Mr. Altobelli took over as skipper.

"I first knew [Mr. Williams] in the late 1940s and early 1950s,when I played against him, and he always gave 100 percent, so I had no trouble having him as a coach because I liked how he played," said Mr. Altobelli, who is retired and lives in Rochester, N.Y.

Former Oriole outfielder and designated hitter Larry Sheets, who lives in Roland Park, said he had known Mr. Williams since 1980.

"Jimmy brought passion, knowledge and respect," said Mr. Sheets. "Everyone had the utmost respect for him. He was just a terrific person."

One of the highlights of Mr. Williams' career was the 1983 World Series, when the Orioles beat the Philadelphia Phillies in a matchup that concluded at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

In July 2008, 23 members of the World Series championship team returned to Baltimore and assembled at Oriole Park.

"We seemed to have one thing in general about this ballclub," Mr. Williams told The Sun. "In '82 and '83, it was a bunch of ballplayers who came to the clubhouse, played hard and had fun. The consensus of the coaching staff was these players were the greatest players they had ever been associated with."

When Orioles general manager Henry J. "Hank" Peters was fired in 1987 by then-owner Edward Bennett Williams, he was hired by the Cleveland Indians. Mr. Williams left the Orioles and spent a year with the Indians, working with Mr. Peters as director of field operations for the minor leagues. He retired in 1988.

Mr. Williams was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

"He never missed an Oriole game — which he watched on television," said his wife of 27 years, the former Carole S. Garrett.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Schimunek Funeral Home, 9705 Belair Road, Nottingham.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Williams is survived by three sons, Jamie Williams Jr. of Hampden, Kirk Williams of Pueblo, Colo., and Chris Williams of Sacramento; a daughter, Julie Williams-Cipriani of Fort Collins, Colo.; a sister, Jean Michalski of Toronto; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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