Scott Williamson is the last Red to win Rookie of the Year. We thought Todd Frazier might have had a shot at it this year. We thought Joey Votto (and Edinson Volquez) was robbed when Geovany Soto won in 2008. And though he went on to land somewhere between a punchline and a cautionary tale, the fact remains that Scott Williamson had a great 1999 season, and is the last rookie from Cincinnati to be so honored.
So what's he up to these days?
Well, before we get into that, let's pause and remember Williamson's career. He was born in the bicentennial year of 1976 in Fort Polk, Louisiana. If he happens to physically resemble Man Mountain, who hails from that part of our nation as well, no one's saying. Williamson pitched for Tulane, and then Oklahoma State where he was drafted by the Reds in 1997. Despite suffering several injuries (theme!), Williamson was aggressively promoted and won a job on the big league team out of Spring Training in 1999, despite having only ever made five appearances in AAA. Manager Jack McKeon used the hard throwing Williamson and the Baby-Faced Assassin Danny Graves to close out the games, as Cincinnati went on to win 96 (and only 96, fuckin' Al Leiter) games that year.
Williamson's career was off to an amazing start. He struck out 107 batters and saved 19 games. By contrast, Todd Frazier struck out 103 times and saved a person's life. Williamson was named to the All-Star team along with Barry Larkin and Sean Casey, though he didn't play. At the end of the year, he beat out Preston Wilson and somebody named Warren Morris to win Rookie of the Year. The Reds even held on to him as they negotiated with Seattle to land Ken Griffey, Jr., a fellow 1999 All-Star.
In a move that has some resonance today, the Reds took their successful closers and turned them into starters. Williamson was decent in 10 starts, posting a 2.93 ERA and a 1.373 WHIP and compiling a 3-3 record. But he struggled with injuries, and the next season he was sent back to the bullpen. He was only able to make two appearances before tearing a tendon in his shoulder and undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery. He was actually healthy again in 2003 and assumed the closer's role. He saved 21 games on a very bad team, and when Bob Boone was fired at midseason and the team dismantled, Williamson was traded off to Boston.
Down the stretch for Boston, Williamson didn't pitch very well, but the team still had him closing games along with Mike Timlin. He pitched in all five games of the ALDS against Oakland, and became the first Boston pitcher to pitch in six consecutive postseason games when he earned the save in Game 1 against the Yankees in the ALCS. Williamson also earned saves in Games 4 and 6, though famously was overlooked in Game 7 as Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in the game one inning too long.
Williamson was back in Boston in 2004, but was injured and not on the playoff roster when the Red Sox won their memorable World Series. He still got a championship ring though. Williamson decided it was time to move on, and went to another tortured franchise, the Chicago Cubs. It was there that he was managed by the man every injury-prone pitcher wanted to see: Dusty Baker. Williamson needed a second Tommy John surgery, and then bounced around to San Diego, Baltimore, and the minor league affiliates for the Yankees, Giants, Braves, Mariners, and Tigers. Finally he accepted that his pitching days were over, and retired in 2007.
So what is Scott Williamson up to now?
Well, in 2011, he caused a bit of a stir by announcing that he would sell his 2004 World Series ring at auction. As an Ohio State fan, I've learned that selling championship memorabilia is generally frowned upon, and suspicions were raised that Williamson had fallen on hard times and needed cash. Despite being traded away from Cincinnati in 2003, he and his wife had built a home in Dearborn County, Indiana in 2004, just across the border from Cinci. The housing market had not been kind in the intervening years. However, Williamson insisted that a substantial portion of the money raised would go towards building youth baseball facilities. Williamson told the Boston Herald, "In baseball, I thought, 'What is one of the most important things that happened in my career that I could give up to accomplish something that would be even bigger?' And it's my World Series ring. I've got All-Star rings and other things through the years, but the World Series ring to me was humongous. It was 86 years. I can die with that World Series ring. But if I die and I have this (facility) and these kids, and I've helped make them better people, then my name and what I've done will mean more to me than that."
Lenny Dykstra had sold his 1986 World Series ring, and received $60,000 for it. Williamson's ended up going for $89,000. With that money, he was able to build an indoor/outdoor baseball academy with an inflatable bubble to provide year round instruction. More than that, he currently coaches 14U Cincinnati Tribe Travel Baseball Club.
I'll admit that I had no idea what Scott Williamson was up to, and my heart kind of sank when I saw news stories about him auctioning off his ring. But I was very proud to learn that he's still in Cincinnati and still is making baseball a part of his life. He's passing on his passion to children, rather than letting himself be bitter about injuries and wasted potential. Is he a punchline or a cautionary tale? It sounds like he's a role model.