Born in Wadena, Indiana, Williams attended Notre Dame where he studied architecture and played football with Knute Rockne. His hitting prowess caught the attention of the Chicago Cubs, who purchased his contract after he graduated from college. Williams made his major league debut with the Cubs on July 18, 1912 at the age of 24. From 1915 to 1927 he was a consistent power hitting center fielder, leading the National League in home runs four times during his career. He was the first National League player to hit 200 career home runs, and is one of three players born before 1900 to hit 200 homers in his career (Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby are the others). He was the National League's career home run leader until his record of 251 was surpassed by Hornsby in 1929.
Williams is the Phillies' all-time leader in extra-innings grand slams with two and holds the major league record for being the oldest player ever to win a home run title, hitting 30 home runs to win the National League home run title in 1927 at 39 years of age. Williams hit for the cycle on August 5, 1927.