KEN WILLIAMS: Making A Big Statement in the Big Leagues

Article excerpt

Chicago White Sox new general manager is executing a plan designed to win a World Series title

AT only 36 years old, Ken Williams already has an enviable list of major accomplishments, including an entry in the history books, and now he's developing a strategy that, if successful, could have thousands of people literally dancing in the street.

As the new general manager of the Chicago White Sox, the former Sox outfielder (he'll be 37 on April 6) is trying to put together a team that could end an 84-year drought and secure the team's first World Series title since 1917. And the highest-ranking African-American decision-maker in any Major League Baseball organization has been quick to show that he means business. Just days after settling into his new position, Williams made major trades to get a shortstop (Royce Clayton), a catcher (Sandy Alomar Jr.) and an ace for the pitching staff (David Wells) to bolster a team that won 95 regular-season games last year (the most in the American League) but was bumped from the playoffs in the first round.

"Ken Williams is well-positioned to help this franchise succeed as the general manager of the White Sox," says club owner Jerry Reinsdorf. "He is the right person with the right skills and right abilities. He played the game at the major-league level, has spent time learning in the front office, is familiar with the players and staff in our organization, has a strong relationship with [manager] Jerry Manuel and is respected throughout the game."

Reinsdorf isn't alone in his assessment of Williams, who is the third African-American general manager in baseball history--preceded by Bill Lucas of the Atlanta Braves and Bob Watson, who held that position with the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees. Williams' selection is further historic because it created baseball's first combination of an African-American general manager and manager. While Williams recognizes that bit of history, he's not consumed by it, but understands the social significance that comes along with it. "Jerry [Manuel] and I have talked about this, and if a certain segment of the population can look at me and can now envision themselves being in a position that they had no hope of attaining before, then I'm glad to be that model," says Williams, who--in his final year as a player in Montreal--first worked with Manuel, who then was the Expos' third-base coach. "Jerry and I are on a quest to become World Series champions in this role, and we don't intend to fail."

Perhaps it is Williams' commitment to being the best and his personality that have put him on the fast track to success. He is personable, unaffected and possesses a degree of magnetism that's appealing to players and fans alike. He grew up in San Jose, Calif., the only child of Jerry and Ethel Williams, who instilled in him the importance of hard work and dedication. Early on, he learned lessons in perseverance when he witnessed his father's court battles to become one of the first two Black firefighters in San Jose.

Those lessons helped to shape Williams' life and prepared him for his own challenges. By the time he finished high school, he was good enough to play football at Stanford, where he studied economics and finance. The White Sox drafted him out of Stanford in the third round of the 1982 draft, and he made it to the major leagues in 1986, playing two years with the White Sox before moving on to Detroit, Toronto and Montreal.

After the 1991 season, Williams' playing days were over, and he had no thought about remaining in baseball--in any capacity. …