Friday, April 16, 2010

Sweet Swingin' Billy Gets His Due

Billy Williams is a prime example of that rare species, a player who is both a Hall of Famer and underrated. The Cubs' recent decision to erect a statue in his honor is as appropriate as it is overdue. Below is an appreciation of Williams from the forthcoming book Quotable Cubs.

     Billy Williams signed with the Cubs in 1956 for “a cigar and a bus ticket,” in his words. He came up to the majors for good in 1961, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. He was a six-time All-Star, runner-up for the Most Valuable Player award twice, and established a National League record (since broken) by playing in 1,117 consecutive games from 1963 to 1970. His peers voted Williams The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year in 1972, the same year he won the National League batting title. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987.
     Most quotes by Billy Williams are not particularly memorable, because he refused to toot his own horn, preferring to let his performance speak for itself. Quotes about Williams are similarly one-dimensional, for the simple reason that no one has ever been heard to say a bad word about him. The acerbic Cubs manager Leo Durocher—who didn’t dispense compliments too freely—was effusive in his praise of Williams, whom he called a “double professional,” meaning that Billy conducted himself as a professional both on and off the field.
     If Williams resented that he toiled for most of his career in the shadow of Ernie Banks, he never let on. He was and has remained a model of dignity, humility, and class.

“You can hit in the major leagues right now.”
--Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, then a Cubs minor-league instructor, speaking to Billy Williams when the latter was playing Double-A ball in 1959

“Rogers Hornsby told me, ‘If you keep working, you’ll win a batting title.’”
--Billy Williams

“I have never seen a better left-handed hitter than Billy Williams.”
--Ron Santo, Cubs third baseman, 1960-1973

“A manager’s dream. For six years I was able to walk into my office and start the day by writing his name in the #3 slot of the lineup card. Never had to say a word to him. He’d be out on the field early every day practicing. Like clockwork.”
--Leo Durocher, Cubs manager, 1966-1972

"Just write his name in the lineup and watch him hit."
--Glenn Beckert, Cubs second baseman, 1965-1973

“He didn’t hit for just one or two days, or one or two weeks. He hit all the time.”
--Don Kessinger, Cubs shortstop, 1964-1975

"He wasn't flamboyant. He just went out and did his job day after day after day."
--Fergie Jenkins, Cubs pitcher, 1966-1973

“That’s up to you guys. I can’t write about myself.”
--Billy Williams, when asked by a sportswriter why he didn’t get more publicity

“Billy had a saying, ‘When fish open their mouths, they get caught.’ Billy didn’t talk much. Billy just played.”
--Ernie Banks, Cubs shortstop and first baseman, 1953-1971

“He enjoyed playing in Wrigley Field, enjoyed playing day baseball, enjoyed hitting, enjoyed playing the field. But unlike Banks, he wouldn’t go out of his way to tell you about it.”
--Bill James, baseball writer

“Billy Williams was everything Banks was supposed to be.”
--Leo Durocher

“I often tell [young players], your playing career goes by so fast. Give it all you’ve got while you’re on the field. Don’t say if I coulda, woulda, shoulda. Try to leave it all out on the field.”
--Billy Williams

“Cream and sugar. Billy Williams is in a class all by himself.”
--Leo Durocher

Reprinted from Quotable Cubs
To be published in Spring 2011
(c)2010, 2011 by Bristol & Lynden Press

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