Compared to Dick Williams, sandpaper was as soft as newly laid sod. The business end of a nail was as dull as a polished marble.
Acerbic comes to mind. Irascible. The subtitle of his autobiography, No More Mr. Nice Guy, was A Life of Hardball. There was nothing soft about this man, not until he was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.
As Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage has said on more than a few occasions since, Williams was not a hugger. But when he finally got his long overdue notice that the Veterans' Committee had elected him, they shared plenty of hugs.
Why it took so long for the basepath Williams followed throughout a tobacco-stained life to lead into Cooperstown, I do not know. He was a baseball genius, one of the most brilliant minds ever to construct a lineup card. But I suspect his delayed Hall entry had something to do with the fact that he pissed off so many people along the way.
Oh, he was his own man all right. And from the time he piloted Boston's "Impossible Dream" season in 1967 through the 1980s, just about every loser within three time zones came begging for him to take over and perform some of his classic turnaround magic.
Problem was, wherever Williams landed, after his new employers got a load of his blunt manner and caustic "charm," the Fourth of July usually came next. It was fireworks time.
"I must lead all of baseball as a target for behind-the-back verbal assaults," he wrote in No More Mr. Nice Guy, co-authored by Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke. "I've been called mean, cruel, insensitive. I've been called a bully. I've been called a bastard and a son of a bitch."
Those who could see through all that, and those whose skin was tough enough, also called him a baseball savant.
"Dick Williams is the best manager I ever played for," Tim Flannery, former Padres utilityman and current Giants third-base coach, once said. "But as soon as he gets out of baseball, I'm going to run him over with my car."
His very first managerial gig was with those '67 Red Sox, a team that had finished ninth in the American League the year before. He steered them to the World Series, where they lost a seven-game thriller to the Cardinals. Then, seemingly just as quickly as he arrived, he was gone. He got into it with Carl Yastrzemski, feuded with owner Tom Yawkey, and Boston fired him in 1969.
It was only the start. In Oakland, he stunned Charlie Finley by quitting on the spot, telling the owner to stick it, after winning a second consecutive World Series title in 1973. He was unhappy with Finley's interference, and with the way the owner publicly humiliated infielder Mike Andrews after Andrews' untimely fielding gaffes in the Series.
In 1976, he was fired by the Angels after a brief tenure that included Williams ordering his players to take batting practice in a hotel lobby using Wiffle bats and balls, driving home his point that the hitters couldn't break anything.
He alienated his players in Montreal -- among other things, calling pitcher Steve Rogers a fraud -- to the degree that the Expos fired him during the 1981 stretch run just a few weeks before Montreal won the second-half (post-players' strike) division title and appeared in the playoffs for the only time in club history.
Locked in a power struggle with Padres president Ballard Smith and general manager Jack McKeon, Williams didn't show up on the first day of spring training in 1986 and was fired.
In Seattle, in the late 1980s, he called pitcher Mark Langston gutless.
But those are just the flashpoints. Legendary stuff, events that make Jim Riggleman's on-the-spot resignation with Washington last month look like a child playing dress-up.
The reason Williams was afforded so many chances to take on all comers was simple: Man, did the guy get results.
The Impossible Dream season in Boston remains legendary, both in New England and beyond.
"One of the best managers I ever played for," Yastrzemski said Thursday. "His leadership in 1967 was very instrumental in accomplishing The Impossible Dream."
In Oakland, he landed in 1971 and won three straight division titles and back-to-back World Series. The Expos improved under Williams, and the Padres romped to their first-ever World Series.
His force of personality was greater than all of those egos in Oakland combined. Reggie Jackson? Vida Blue? Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman? Are you kidding? To mold those guys into one unit pulling in the same direction, that's not coaching. That's managing.
He did not suffer fools gladly, and he did not tolerate threats to his authority. He was of a different age, a time before rookies were rushed to the majors, where managers are expected to provide on-the-job training.
"Playing without the fundamentals is like eating without a knife and a fork," Williams once said. "You make a mess."
If you knew Williams, the last thing you wanted to do was to make a mess around him. His expectations were through the roof. Few could meet them.
"It was all business on Dick's side, and that's what I really loved about Dick Williams," Gossage said Thursday. "No nonsense, absolutely no nonsense. What you saw is what you got, and that's what I loved about Dick.”
I can remember standing in the back of a group of reporters in his office after games in San Diego in 1985, a raw kid who was damn sure he wasn't going to ask any stupid questions. Let the cantankerous Williams have at it with someone else.
And I clearly remember greeting him at the winter meetings in '07, a day after his election to the Hall, the gruff old manager just beaming with pride and, yes, as Gossage said, even hugging a few people. It was quite a change, and quite a thing to see the way the Hall has the power to melt even the gruffest of hearts.
"Dick Williams' lasting legacy will be his innate ability to lead, turning franchises into winners wherever he managed," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said Thursday. "No one wore the mantle of 'Hall of Famer' more proudly than Dick."
Dick Williams, dead at 82 of an aneurysm?
I pity the Grim Reaper chosen to go get him.