Sunday, July 27, 2014

Billy Williams (#315)

Billy Williams was one of the Cubs’ 3 key position players (along with Ernie Banks and Ron Santo) all through the 1960s.

Williams was signed by the Cubs in 1956, and played in the minors for all of 1956-58 and most of 1959 and 1960. Billy made his big-league debut in August 1959, and played in 18 games over the final 2 months of the season. He also appeared in 12 games for the Cubs during late-September 1960.

Billy made the Cubs for good at the start of the 1961 season, and took over the left field duties from the tandem of Ernie Banks (!) and Richie Ashburn. Beginning on June 26th, Williams started the final 100 games in left field. He clubbed 25 homers as a rookie, and won the NL Rookie of the Year award, with 10 of the 16 votes.

He made his first 3 all-star squads early in his career (’62, ’64, and ’65), another in ’68, then two more times late in his career (’72, ’73). Williams hit over .300 five times, including a career-high .333 in 1972, which led the National League. He also led the league in runs (137) and hits (205) in 1970.

Billy was the Cubs’ regular left fielder from 1961 to 1964, then after 2 seasons in right field he returned to his familiar left field post from 1967 to 1973, although he worked in 19 starts at 1st base in ’73. The following season (at age 36) he split his time 60/40 between 1st base and left field.

After the 1974 season, he was traded to the Athletics for pitchers Darold Knowles and Bob Locker, and 2nd base prospect Manny Trillo. Williams spent his final 2 seasons in Oakland as their designated hitter.

In ’75 he also started 5 games at 1st base, but was strictly the DH (and occasional pinch-hitter) in 1976. However, he did play 2 innings in left field that season (on August 27th, for old-times’ sake I guess). Billy played in the ALCS in 1975, but never made it to the World Series in his 18 seasons.

Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. The Cubs retired his #26 the same year.

Billy was well-known for playing almost every game for 8 to 10 years in the 1960s. I decided to research this to see if it was fact, folklore, or just an impression. From 1962 through 1973, Williams played in 1920 of the Cubs’ 1941 games, including 1117 consecutive games from 9/22/63 to 9/2/70.

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