MAKE no mistake about it. Ken Williams knows how to win. The problem is (and he doesn't think it's a problem) he doesn't know how to stop and smell the roses, inhale the rarefied air at the top and relish the satisfaction that comes with victory--before he's going full force to try to win again.
Consider this: The Chicago White Sox hadn't won a World Series in 88 years until Williams, the 42-year-old general manager, put together a team that rolled through the playoffs and convincingly won the championship to set off a celebration last year that White Sox fans had been waiting for since 1917. Williams was in the middle of the onfield jubilation, but after he left the stadium in Houston, that was about the end of the good-timing. "On the team bus [leaving the stadium], still smelling like champagne on the way back to the hotel I leaned over to [manager] Ozzie [Guillen] and a couple of other coaches, and said 'Good job,' but here's what I have in mind for next year."
That's Ken Williams. Less than an hour after becoming a world champion, he was thinking about what he needed to do to win it again. He is driven and direct, an on-the-job-around-the-clock kind of guy who believes there's nothing that a little hard work won't cure.
That approach to life has served him well, as far back as the days when he was a multiple sports star at Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose, Calif. His parents, Jerry. and Ethel Williams, had drilled in him the fact that there was nothing he couldn't accomplish with dedication, determination and perseverance. He took that notion with him and applied it like a bandage to a wound, all the while exhibiting a level of self-confidence that got Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf's attention, and it is one of the characteristics that formed the foundation for the long relationship the two men continue to enjoy.
Williams, a standout at Stanford, gave up a promising football career after the White Sox drafted him in 1982. His playing days included stops in Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and finally Montreal. When his playing days ended, Reinsdorf called him back to the White Sox, where Williams worked in a variety of capacities, including as a scout, special assistant to the chairman and vice president of player development before he took over as general manager in 2000.
As a general manager, Williams, only the third African-American to ever fill that role in the Major Leagues, describes himself as "a work in progress," which means he's "still learning how to do this job," even though he has a World Series ring. He's probably his own toughest critic because of his expectations of himself, but he got a dose of reality, he says, during a conversation with Atlanta Braves General Manager John Schuerholz, who has been on the job for 25 years and his teams have been one the best during the past 20 years or so. Jokingly, he told Williams to give him a call when he figures out how the job is done, because after 25 years, he hadn't been able to figure it out yet.
During Williams' tenure as general manager, so far his biggest boost, a stamp of approval of sorts, came last October when a kind of "Aha" moment revealed itself as confirmation that he could do the job--and do it right.
"I can tell you when I finally exhaled. At game 1 of the World …