Thursday, March 10, 2011
#110 - Billy Williams
Sweet Swingin' Billy Williams was signed by the Cubs in '56. When he was a kid in Whistler, Alabama he saw another Alabama guy by the name of Hank Aaron playing semi-pro ball while Billy himself was playing with Hank's brother, Tommie. Billy's signing bonus was a cigar and a bus ticket to Ponca City, Oklahoma, a D league team. His first few seasons he posted some decent offense numbers but he had a really tough time matching them defensively. By '59 Billy had reached Double A ball in San Antonio where he posted his best season to date but he got homesick. He took a bus back home to Whistler and the Cubs sent former Negro League star Buck O'Neill there to bring him back. In 1960 Billy was banging the ball pretty seriously for Tulsa, the Cubs' Triple A franchise when a Cubs scout by the name of Rogers Hornsby told the club they needed to get his butt up to the majors ASAP. Chicago listened and in '61 Billy was given a slot in the outfield and he rewarded them by winning Rookie of the Year. He would then be a rock of consistency for the club, regularly batting around .300 with 90-plus RBI's. From '63 to '70 he didn't miss a game, putting up a then-NL record 1,117 in a row. His best overall season was '65 when he put up a line of .315/34/108. In '66 his average dropped to .276 and the Cubs nearly traded him to Baltimore. The deal fell through when Chicago insisted on the inclusion of Mike Epstein. Good miss by Chicago.
In '70 and '72 Billy had his two monster years, winning the batting title in the second one. Both seasons he lost out on the MVP to Johnny Bench. In '73 and '74 his numbers came down from those lofty totals and he was ready for a change. He asked to be traded and the team obliged, sending him to Oakland for Darold Knowles, Bob Locker, and Manny Trillo. For the A's Billy was a DH for two seasons. Unfortunately he arrived a year too late and while he saw his first post-season action in '75 he never got into a Series. Oakland released him after the '76 season and he retired with a .290 average, 426 homers, 1,475 RBIs, and a .361 OBA. He played in six All-Star games as well, though in his only post-season he didn't get a hit in his five games. He was elected to the Hall in '87, his sixth year of eligibility. He came back to baseball after a few years away and moved back and forth between Oakland and the Cubs as a coach between 1980 and 2001.
Billy had a thing for the water. He was also a big fisherman. For all the homers and ribbies he got he was always considered a line drive hitter. He has a SABR page.
Billy's AL years come in handy here:
1. Williams and Joe Rudi '75 to '76 A's;
2. Rudi and Bobby Grich '77 to '81 Angels.