It's not that the White Sox general manager thrives on constantly being in front of the cameras or being quoted in numerous articles. But Williams has been a standup leader for as long as he's been in charge of the White Sox, ready to answer questions on everything from heartily approved trades by the public to controversial moves. So, his lack of comment, even while he was scouting White Sox Minor League teams, was slightly out of character.
On Friday, sitting in the White Sox dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, hours before the first pitch against Boston, Williams explained his silence while also addressing his decision to move two popular and positive forces in the White Sox clubhouse.
The no comment, according to Williams, was to see how his players would respond to the moves with the team's playoff hopes in such dire straits at the start of Friday's action.
"I wanted to see what they would say," Williams said. "I wanted to see who would step up as leaders and tell their teammates, tell the public that if not for our recent play, if not for us putting ourselves in this position, then we don't put management in position to do these things. I wanted to see who the leaders were and who were going to be the disenchanted and the ones that maybe wanted to mope around.
"We simply don't have any room for it. It was very interesting. Most of what I heard and what I saw from the players was, 'Let's continue to drive forward through this,' and they were owning up to their responsibilities. So, good for them."
Almost all the reaction coming from the White Sox clubhouse over the past few days centered primarily on the general happiness for Thome to get a viable chance to add that elusive World Series title to his Hall of Fame resume and then moving on to the quality individuals that are Thome and Contreras. When talk did come upon the White Sox predicament, players admitted that their poor play on the road trip sort of forced Williams' hand as the deadline for other contending teams to set playoff rosters approached.
But none of them were giving up, even with two teams to climb and a seven-game deficit to erase behind the Tigers. That never-say-die attitude helped Williams explain how Monday's trades were anything but raising the white flag on the 2009 season.
"Anybody that has spent any significant time with me whatsoever knows that not to be the case," said Williams. "But it was entertaining reading.
"That is not the fact. The fact of the matter is, if we were not in the position to take that spot and put a quality hitter in that place, then I don't probably even go down the line and make the overtures. But at any given time, we had Carlos Quentin or Alex Rios or Jermaine Dye or Paul Konerko sitting on our bench. I felt that, giving him the opportunity and putting them into one of those positions could only be a wash as far as our ability to challenge for the championship.
"Whomever you put in that spot is probably going to give you, it's a break off that guy's legs for a given day, and it's also an opportunity for some of these guys to get at-bats," said Williams. "So, who knows? But the fact of the matter is what's done is done now. And what's done is I honored my word some three or four years ago when I first gave it to him."
Williams' word to Thome came when the White Sox acquired the prolific slugger from Philadelphia after the 2005 championship season. He told Thome that as long as he was part of the White Sox, he would aggressively pursue ways to bring another title to Chicago. While the White Sox clearly are a better team in September then they were at the start of the season, the results have not played out on the field.
"As indicative of the road trip from hell," said Williams of his team's 3-8 showing during its run through Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Wrigley Field.
So, Williams found a better place for Thome's postseason hopes. He also put Contreras in a situation where he could regularly start, which he wouldn't be doing in Chicago. And as manager Ozzie Guillen pointed out, it was Thome who ultimately waived his no-trade clause to make the move official -- a decision Williams didn't think was going to happen.
"Jim made the right decision because he has a better chance with them then he has with us," Guillen said. "That's just being realistic. When you're wanted by any ballclub, you should be proud -- especially when you're 49."
Thome's actual age is 39. Williams admitted that the two talked about the possibility of Thome coming back to Chicago as a 40-year-old DH in 2010.
"It's too early go down that road," Williams said. "We most assuredly will need a left-handed bat."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.