‘Wild Thing’ returns to Philadelphia suburb

The Associated Press | March 27, 1998


By David Kinney

He fits here, Mitch Williams does.

Standing behind a bowling-alley bar in this blue-collar Philadelphia suburb, spitting tobacco juice into a red plastic cup, watching bad talk shows and pouring beers for the regulars in a dim bar on a warm Thursday afternoon.

Then again, this is probably the last place anybody expected to see “Wild Thing,” the unpredictable closer run out of town after he threw a bottom-of-the-ninth, down-and-in fastball that Toronto’s Joe Carter hit out of the park to beat Philadelphia 8-6 in the 1993 World Series.

This is the place he left brokenhearted, the town that reacted to his two blown saves in the series by throwing eggs at his New Jersey house and calling with death threats.

Who would return? Especially to run a bar, where any half-in-the-bag Phillies fan could remind him of that fateful Game 6?

“I don’t mind talking about it,” Williams says, probably for the millionth time. “Most people understood. I gave everything I had when I was out on the field. Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. Life didn’t end with that pitch.”

Mostly, business brought Williams back – four years after Carter’s three-run homer sent his baseball career into a nose dive. He pitched for four clubs in as many years, but his fastball had fallen from the 90-mph range into the 80s. Last year, he quietly decided it was over.

And outside of baseball, he found, he didn’t have much going on.

“Nothing. Not a damn thing,” he said. “Just running my ranch and roping a lot.”

He raised cows, pigs and horses on the 650-acre 3 & 2 Ranch in Hico, Texas. He built indoor and outdoor arenas for roping and befriended legendary rodeo cowboys Tuff Hedeman and Ty Murray. He joined team-roping competitions with them. His wife had their second child.

After Kansas City released him last May, he decided to open a sports bar in a tiny Texas town near his 650-acre ranch. But the council in dry Stephenville turned him down, and one day in December, he turned to his wife and suggested moving back to New Jersey.

She was shocked. He loved Texas. A week before Christmas, he called father-in-law Rocky Iacone and asked if he could become a partner at the Maple Bowling Alley Bar.

“I knew I could get right into the business here,” Williams said Thursday afternoon as he sorted through receipts. “You can only sit on your hands for so long.”

Truth is, there are plenty of reasons Williams put his ranch up for sale. His wife admits she cried a lot in Texas, miles from her family and friends.

And Williams likes Philadelphia. Who could forget that season when he and a ragtag bunch of working-class guys tore through the National League, beat the Atlanta Braves and got to the World Series?

He misses those days when he went to the ballpark at noon for a night game and stayed out until 2 a.m. with the rest of Philly’s “Macho Row.”

“It was a riot,” his wife, Irene, said.

Williams, who earned his nickname for both his personality and his pitching, had his best season that year. He saved a team-record 43 games, then went 2-0 with two more saves against Atlanta in the NLCS.

After Philadelphia dealt him, he was never the same. He felt scorned, like being banished from his family.

“The bottom line is, it’s a big business. When it quit being fun for me, that was enough,” he said.

Trying to win a closing job over the next four years didn’t help his feelings about the game. He says he would return to baseball, if a team – the Phillies? – would give him a chance to be a bullpen coach.

“As much as he says he dislikes the game, I think it runs through his veins,” his wife said. “But he didn’t miss going to spring training this year. He’d done everything to come back. It didn’t work out for him.”