In this installment of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at the career of Mitch Williams.
As far as baseball movies go, as much as I like “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural,” the comedy “Major League” takes the cake. Shortly after the film was released, southpaw reliever Mitch Williams was nicknamed “Wild Thing” after Charlie Sheen’s character, and the moniker fit thanks to his tendency to throw pitches “juuuuuuust a bit outside.” Briefly, but not memorably, Williams pitched for the Houston Astros.
He’s perhaps best remembered for the nickname and for his unfortunate performances in the 1993 World Series. He took the loss in Game Four, then blew the save in Game Six by allowing a walk-off, series-ending home run to Joe Carter. His career was much more than those two outings, of course, but they’re what’s remembered most. They’re also how he came to be an Astro.
Drafted by the Padres in the eighth round in 1982, Williams was traded to the Rangers and made his major league debut with Texas in 1986 at age 21. He led the league with 80 appearances that year and made 85 the following year. He walked batters at an unusually high rate, but he limited hits and home runs and notched his share of strikeouts, which allowed him to be effective despite the free passes.
After three seasons in Texas, he was sent to the Cubs in a Dec. 1988 trade that sent Rafael Palmeiro and Jamie Moyer to the Rangers. He had one of his best seasons with the Cubs in 1989, making his only All-Star team while posting a 2.76 ERA in a league-high 76 appearances and saving 36 games.
After two seasons in Chicago, he was traded to the Phillies and again made a strong impression his first season. He went 12-5 with a career-best 2.34 ERA with 30 saves and finished sixth in the Cy Young Award voting. In three seasons in Philadelphia, he saved 102 games and posted a 3.11 ERA.
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But it all came unraveled in that 1993 World Series, to the point that people were calling the Phillies’ main number and leaving death threats for Williams. Fearful that the fans would never forgive him, the front office traded him to the Astros in early December for pitchers Doug Jones and Jeff Juden.
Astros and Later
Jones had been an All-Star closer for Houston in 1992, but struggled in ’93 and was 36 at the time of the trade. Williams had just turned 30, so the Astros were acquiring a younger closer and hoping for a bounceback. Unfortunately, that bounceback never came.
Williams was simply dreadful in 1994. He made 25 appearances and went 1-4 with a 7.65 ERA. In his 20 innings, he allowed 21 hits and walked 24 batters for an unsightly 2.25 WHIP. The team released him on May 31. Adding insult to injury, Jones rebounded and was an All-Star for the Phillies that year.
Williams caught on with the Angels in 1995 but was even worse, walking 21 batters in 10.2 innings. He reappeared with the Royals in 1997 but gave up eight runs in 6.2 innings. Those would be his final major league appearances.
The man they called “Wild Thing” simply was never the same after those two fateful World Series appearances. The Astros had hoped for a rebound, but it never came. Still, Williams had a memorable career, and for a brief but disappointing time, he was an Astro.