June 15, 1938 |
|Batted: Left||Threw: Right|
|August 6, 1959 for the Chicago Cubs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 2, 1976 for the Oakland Athletics|
|Runs batted in||1,475|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
Billy Leo Williams (born June 15, 1938) is an American former professional baseball outfielder who played in Major League Baseball (MLB) primarily for the Chicago Cubs. In 1961, Williams won the National League (NL) "Rookie of the Year" award. A highly competitive player on Chicago Cubs teams that never reached the post-season, he finally played in the post-season late in his career with the Oakland Athletics. Like his former Cubs teammates Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, and Ron Santo, he never played in a World Series. Williams was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Williams was born in Whistler, Alabama. He began his major league career in 1959, a career which nearly stopped before it got under way. Growing up in an integrated neighborhood in the Mobile suburb, he had never experienced overt racial discrimination until he played for the Cubs minor league club in San Antonio, Texas. He was so discouraged that he left the team and went home. Buck O'Neil, the Cubs scout who had originally discovered Williams, was dispatched to Whistler and he persuaded Williams to try again.
Williams then advanced quickly through the minor league ranks, joining a Cubs team that would feature stars such as Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, and Ron Santo by the early 1960s. Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, who by 1960 was serving as a scout and coach in the Cubs organization, was an early mentor for Williams, and predicted he would someday win a batting title. Williams was selected as the Rookie of the Year in 1961. Williams also set a National League record for consecutive games played with 1,117 between 1962-71 (eclipsed by Steve Garvey 1975-83 with 1,207). As his consecutive games streak began to accumulate, he was dubbed "Iron Man" by some writers, and co-authored a 1970 book called Iron Man. Cleo James replaced him in the lineup at the end of his streak. From 1961 to 1973, Williams annually hit at least twenty home runs and was responsible for eighty-four or more RBIs.
Williams' batting stroke was smooth and efficient, with quick wrist action that allowed him to hit for both average and power despite his slender frame. Early in his career he acquired the nickname, "Sweet-Swinging Billy Williams", sometimes shortened to "Sweet Williams" or "Sweet Billy" (perhaps suggested by the flowers known as sweet williams), which was referenced in the subtitle of his autobiography, he was also nicknamed "Sweet-swinging Billy from Whistler," suggesting his birthplace in Alabama.
Williams was primarily a left fielder, but he was also placed in right, center and first base from time to time. During 1965-66 he played primarily right field, as other players were tested in left. Toward the end of his Cubs career he began to be placed at first base, and in 1974 he played more games at first than in left. Williams was better known for hitting than for defense, but he made crucial catches in two different no-hitters by Cubs pitchers: Ken Holtzman in 1969, and Milt Pappas in 1972.
With a short, crisp unspectacular batting style, Billy Williams is, nevertheless, one of the most respected hitters of his era. In his rookie year, he clouted 25 home runs, including two grand slams, and drove in 86 runs. His home run feats included hitting 20 or more home runs for 11 straight seasons, hammering three homers in one game and five in two consecutive games. Twice in one season, Williams belted four extra-base hits in a game. In 1970, Williams batted .322 with 42 homers and 129 RBIs and finished second in National League Most Valuable Player voting. In 1972, he was the National League batting champion and named the major league Player of the Year by The Sporting News. Williams enjoyed his finest season in 1972 at age 34, when he paced the league in batting average with a .333 mark, also posting a .606 slugging percentage while collecting 37 home runs and 122 runs batted in. He finished behind Johnny Bench in the MVP selection. 1972 was his last great season in the league. After the 1974 season, he was traded to the American League's Oakland Athletics for second baseman Manny Trillo and two pitchers. Williams helped lead Oakland to the 1975 American League West championship as a designated hitter, hitting 23 homers with 81 RBI. He retired a year later.
After accumulating a lifetime .290 BA with 426 homers and 1475 RBI, Billy Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Williams credited a grade school teacher with encouraging him to always try to improve, citing the old saying, "Good, better, best / Never let it rest / Until the good is better / And the better is best." (Billy Williams: My Sweet-Swinging Lifetime with the Cubs, by Billy Williams and Fred Mitchell, Triumph Books, 2008, p. 210)
|Billy Williams's number 26 was retired by the Chicago Cubs in 1987.|
On 13 August of that same year Williams' number 26 was retired at Wrigley Field. His was the second number retired by the Cubs, the first being Ernie Banks' number 14. Following his departure from the Cubs, the number had been reassigned to other players from time to time, most notably Larry Biittner, although Williams reclaimed it during several intervals of coaching with the Cubs after his playing days had ended.
In 1999, he was named as a finalist to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
During the 2010 season, the Cubs honored Williams with a statue outside of Wrigley Field. The statue was unveiled in a pre-game ceremony before their game on September 7 against the Houston Astros.
In 2011, Williams was appointed as a member of the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee "Golden Era" group. This allowed him to make a fresh case for his longtime teammate and friend Ron Santo, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012.
- List of Major League Baseball Home Run Records
- List of top 300 Major League Baseball home run hitters
- List of major league players with 2,000 hits
- List of Major League Baseball players with 400 doubles
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 runs
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 RBI
- List of Major League Baseball batting champions
- List of Major League Baseball runs scored champions
- MLB consecutive games played streaks
- Billy Williams (left fielder) at the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Baseball Almanac
- "Its all about R-e-s-p-e-c-t for 'Sweet Swingin' Billy Williams
- The Williams-Santo Cubs 1961-1965 @ The Hardball Times
- Billy Williams: My Sweet-Swinging Lifetime with the Cubs, by Billy Williams and Fred Mitchell, Triumph Books, 2008, Chapter 1
- Cooperstown: Where the Legends Live Forever, by Lowell Reidenbaugh, edited by Joe Hoppel, and compiled by the Editors of The Sporting News. New York, Gramercy Books, 1999.
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