Billy Williams (left fielder)

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This article is about the Hall of Fame outfielder. For the Seattle Pilots outfielder, see Billy Williams (right fielder).
Billy Williams
Billy Williams 2013.jpg
Left fielder
Born: (1938-06-15) June 15, 1938 (age 76)
Whistler, Alabama
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
August 6, 1959 for the Chicago Cubs
Last MLB appearance
October 2, 1976 for the Oakland Athletics
Career statistics
Batting average .290
Hits 2,711
Home runs 426
Runs batted in 1,475
Career highlights and awards
Induction 1987
Vote 85.71% (sixth ballot)

Billy Leo Williams (born June 15, 1938) is an American former professional baseball player. He was a Major League Baseball (MLB) outfielder who played 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.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Whistler, Alabama. His father Frank was a stevedore who had also played first base for the semipro Whistler Stars.[1] Williams grew up in an integrated neighborhood.[2] He attended Whistler High School.[3] Entering professional baseball in 1956, Williams started his minor league career with the Ponca City Cubs of the Sooner State League. After returning to Ponca City in 1957 and hitting 17 home runs, Williams split 1958 between the Burlington Bees and Pueblo Bruins.[4]

In his autobiography, Williams recalled that had never experienced overt racial discrimination until his 1959 promotion to the Class AA San Antonio Missions 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 return to the team.[5] During the 1959 season, he advanced to the Class AAA Fort Worth Cats and even played 18 games for the Cubs.[4][3] In 1960, he hit 26 home runs for the Class AAA Houston Buffs and played in 12 major league games.[4][3]

Major League Baseball[edit]

Chicago Cubs[edit]

Williams joined 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 debuted with the Cubs in 1959, but he played in only a small number of games in 1959 and 1960. He was selected as the Rookie of the Year in 1961. That year he hit 25 home runs and drove in 86 runs. He was named an NL All-Star in 1962, 1964 and 1965.[3] He won the NL Player of the Month Award in May 1964 with a .455 average, 8 HR, and 22 RBI.

Williams struggled defensively in the first few years of his career, leading NL outfielders in errors as a rookie. By the mid-1960s, his defense was no longer seen as a serious weakness.[1] He would return to the All-Star Game in 1968, 1972, and 1973.[3]

In 1970, Williams batted .322 with 42 homers and 129 RBIs and finished second in National League Most Valuable Player voting; surprisingly, despite batting .319 with 26 HR and 80 RBI at the All Star break, he was left off the All Star team. Williams 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.[6] He co-authored a 1970 book called Iron Man.[3] In 1972, he was the National League batting champion and named the major league Player of the Year by The Sporting News.[7] 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 (RBI). He finished second for the second time in the MVP selection, behind Johnny Bench (he would never win the award, or finish above 29th again). He won his second and final NL Player of the Month Award in August (.438, 9 HR, 29 RBI)

From 1961 to 1973, Williams annually hit at least twenty home runs and was responsible for eighty-four or more RBIs.

Billy Williams in 1961

His batting swing 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, this earned him the nickname "Sweet-Swinging Billy Williams", sometimes shortened to "Sweet Williams" or "Sweet Billy" (perhaps suggested by the flowers known as sweet williams). His nickname was later referenced in the subtitle of his autobiography. He was also nicknamed "Sweet-Swinging Billy from Whistler," suggesting his birthplace in Alabama. 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.

Oakland Athletics[edit]

Williams was traded to the American League's Oakland Athletics after the 1974 season for second baseman Manny Trillo and two pitchers. He helped lead Oakland get to the 1975 American League West championship as a designated hitter, hitting 23 homers with 81 RBI. In 1976, Williams played in only 120 games and hit only .211.[3] He retired that year. Williams accumulated a lifetime .290 batting average with 426 home runs and 1475 RBI.

Later life[edit]

Billy Williams's number 26 was retired by the Chicago Cubs in 1987.

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."[8]

Retired number 26 at Wrigley Field


On August 13, 1987, Williams' uniform number 26 was retired at Wrigley Field. His was the second number to be retired by the Cubs, the first being Ernie Banks' number 14. Following his departure from the Cubs, the number was 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 in Chicago. The statue was unveiled in a pre-game ceremony before their home game on September 7 against the Houston Astros.[9]

In 2011, Williams was appointed as a member of the Hall of Fame's new 16-member Golden Era Committee (8 Hall of Fame members) which considers 10 Golden Era candidates identified by the Baseball Writers Association of America appointed Historical Overview Committee (10-12 BBWAA members), for the Hall of Fame, every three years. His former Cubs teammate and friend, Ron Santo, was the only Golden Era candidate elected to the Hall of Fame by "The Committee" during their winter meetings, in December 2011.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Armour, Mark. "Billy Williams". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved September 6, 2013. 
  2. ^ Williams, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Billy Williams Statistics". Retrieved September 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c "Billy Williams Minor League Statistics & History". Retrieved March 26, 2015. 
  5. ^ Williams, p. 8-11.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Williams, p. 210.
  9. ^
  10. ^ National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, December 5, 2011: "Ron Santo Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by Golden Era Committee"[2]


External links[edit]