Trade has Williamson feeling happy again
By Joey Richards
The Daily News
Published August 21, 2006
HOUSTON — A month ago, Scott Williamson was thinking about walking away from baseball. The right-handed reliever believed he was getting a bad deal with a bad team — the Chicago Cubs. He wanted out, even if that meant retiring.
“It was a miserable time in my career, probably the worst it’s ever been,” the Friendswood High School grad said. “I sat many times, even after good games, thinking about retiring. I would sit in the bullpen for six, seven, eight days straight without even getting an opportunity. I’d watch (Bob) Howry and those guys pitch every day. Thinking, ‘God.’ You know? Then you ask to throw in the bullpen, and they’d be like, ‘Why?’”
The seven-year veteran, an All-Star and NL rookie of the year in 1999, paused, letting it all sink in.
“Yeah, it was terrible,” he said. “It made me feel like I wasn’t even good enough to be in the big leagues. That’s a feeling I’ve never felt in my career. I lost all my confidence. When I did get out there, I pitched like I had no confidence. I was scared to get hit or let them put a ball in play. You can’t pitch that way. You’ve got to have confidence.”
Those days are over. The Cubs traded Williamson to the San Diego Padres on July 22 for a pair of minor league players.
Now, Williamson is happy to be playing baseball again.
“I’m having a lot of fun here, and I’m back to being myself, laughing and joking,” Williamson said. “Even Todd Walker, the first day he was in San Diego (after being traded away by the Cubs), he said, ‘Hey, the old Willie’s back. You must be a lot happier now.’ I was talking and having a good time. I lost a lot of that in Chicago.”
This is a guy who converted 21 of 26 save opportunities with Cincinnati before being traded to Boston in 2003. He appeared in all five games of the AL Division Series against Oakland, going 2-0 in five scoreless innings, and then collected three saves in three appearances against the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
But after limited playing time battling arm injuries in 2004, Williamson underwent his second Tommy John surgery on his elbow on the very day Boston opened the ALCS against New York en route to winning the 2004 World Series.
The Cubs signed Williamson during the off-season, knowing he would miss most of the 2005 season rehabbing from the surgery. Williamson did return Aug. 5, but he wasn’t his old self. He had a 5.17 ERA in 12 appearances last season.
This season, Williamson was 2-3 with a 5.08 ERA in 31 appearances for the Cubs before the trade.
Williamson, who had a career 2.98 ERA and 55 saves before the 2005 season, said he lacked confidence because Cubs manager Dusty Baker didn’t have faith in him.
“He never had the confidence in me,” he said. “As a player, it’s like osmosis. It seeps into you. I felt it from him, and I lost my confidence. I felt like I was on eggshells every time I pitched. My whole career, I’ve never felt that way. Dusty, every time I gave up a hit or walked a guy, he was coming out to get me. It’s almost impossible to pitch that way.”
And so Williamson began thinking about hanging up his cleats.
“I lost the love of the game in Chicago,” he said. “There were many times I felt like retiring just because it was such a grind. I would have rather stayed home with my wife and kids.”
But Williamson’s wife, Lisa, along with his parents, kept him going, telling him good things would happen. And it did.
The Padres have one of baseball’s best bullpens. In fact, they have one of the best closers ever in Trevor Hoffman. They also have a talented set-up guy in Scott Linebrink.
Williamson just wants the chance to make a difference, and he said Padres manager Bruce Bochy has given him that chance so far.
“He’s put me in some good, pressure situations,” Williamson said. “In Chicago, I don’t think I ever saw a pressure situation. I was always in games where we were up by nine or down by 20. I never got to go into a close game.”
And that’s the key to making Williamson happy — and sharp. He thrives on pressure.
“(Cubs general manager) Jim Hendry said, ‘This is a kid who lives on adrenaline and needs to be in pressure situations, and that’s when you see his best,’” Williamson said. “That’s true. When the pressure’s high, my concentration, competitiveness, my confidence — everything — comes out. My miles per hour go up, the sharpness of my balls go up.”
The pressure is on, too. The Padres are making a push for the playoffs. They began play Sunday with a 61-62 record, two games back of Cincinnati in the NL wild-card chase and four games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
“It’s all about getting to the playoffs,” Williamson said. “Who cares if you’re a .500 team? If you can get there, anybody can win. It’s going to be fun.”