Billy Leo Williams was born on June 15th, 1938 in Whistler, Alabama. Less than eighteen years later, in 1956, he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Chicago Cubs. And so began the Hall of Fame career of a man whose name would soon always follow the phrase "sweet swingin".
Williams' path to the big leagues was not as smooth as one might think. In 1959, while playing for the Cubs double-a team in San Antonio, Billy got discouraged and homesick. He left the team and went back to Alabama.
But the Cubs had a scout in their organization by the name of Buck O'Neil. Yes, that Buck O'Neil. So the story goes that Buck went down to Alabama and when Williams was ready O'Neil drove him back to San Antonio to resume his career.
Later that same year, on August 6th, Billy made his Major League debut with the Cubs. He did not accrue enough official at bats in either 1959 or '60 to be classified as a rookie. But in 1961 he was installed as the starting left fielder at the tender age of 23.
He went on to hit .286 with 25 home runs and 86 rbi's. And that was enough to get him the National League Rookie of the Year award. It would be the beginning of a remarkable career spanning 18 years and nearly 2500 games.
In 1962 he made the first of his six All-Star games on his way to hitting .298 with 22 homers and 91 ribbies. That consistency stayed with him for the next decade before age slowly began to erode his hitting stroke.
Toward the end of 1963, on September 21st to be exact, Billy was rested in a game against the Milwaukee Braves. He would not sit out another entire game for the next seven years. Eventually the streak reached 1117 games.
On September 3rd, 1970, he told manager Leo Durocher he wanted to end the streak. Ironically, it was exactly five years later, on September 3rd, 1975 that Steve Garvey would begin the streak that would break Williams' record.
During the streak Williams never had fewer than 634 at bats. He had at least 30 home runs four times and had 90 or more runs batted in six of those seven years.
Billy twice finished second in the National League MVP voting to Johnny Bench of the famous "Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds. The case for Williams winning the award could easily be made for both years. Those years were 1970 and 1972.
In 1970, He hit .322 with 42 home runs and 129 runs batted in. All career highs at the time. He also led the NL in games played (161), hits (205), runs (137), and total bases (373). It can be argued though, that Bench had the better year.
In 1972 however, no such argument can be made. Williams had a career year hitting a league leading .333, and almost getting the much coveted triple crown. He finished second in rbi's (122) and third in home runs (37). He also finished first in the league in numerous other categories including ops (1.005), total bases (348), slugging percentage (.606), and extra base hits (77).
The following year Billy made his sixth and final All-Star game. Another year later and he would play his last game in a Cubs uniform.
In 1987 Billy would be honored twice. Once by the Cubs organization and once by Major League Baseball. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame that summer, and then on August 13th, his number 26 was retired by the Cubs.
After he retired Billy once again donned #26 for the Cubs, spending 15 more years as a coach. His total of 31 years as a Chicago Cub are more than any other individual in franchise history.
And on September 7th, 2010 his fame was made complete when he was honored with a statue of his likeness outside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. He may have been quiet, but Billy Williams' bat sure made a lot of noise.
He still spends most of his time in the Chicago area. During the season he can still be found at the ballpark. And if you are ever lucky enough to see him around town, you can bet he'll be talking Cubs baseball.
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