Glancing Back, and Remembering Billy Williams
The Chicago Cubs of the 1960s were something of an enigma: all that talent – especially in the heart of the line-up, and so little to show for it. (Of course, the same thing might also be said about the Cubs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.)
Left fielder Billy Williams was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1961 and the NL batting champion in 1972.
How did the Cubs, with the likes of Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo playing nearly every day, consistently have to struggle so hard to reach .500, much less contend? And add a Billy Williams to that equation, and the Cubs of the 1960s become all that much more puzzling.
Because out of that trio of offensive superstars, Billy Williams might just have been the best of the three during the 1960s.
Williams was consistent, not spectacular. His swing was so compact, so smooth and sweet, that it’s somewhat surprising he won only a single batting title during his 18-year career. He never led the league in home runs or RBIs, and led only once in runs and hits (both coming in 1970). But between 1961 and 1973, William never had fewer than 20 home runs or 84 RBIs.
All told, during those 13 seasons, he averaged 28 home runs with 98 RBIs, batting a combined .298. He batted over .300 five times during that period. He ranks twelfth among home run hitters during the 1960s.
From 1962-1969, Billy Williams was the model for consistent performance. He batted a combined .293 and averaged 28 home runs and 95 RBIs per season. He also played in an average of 162 games per year.
All three of those great Cub players were also three of the most durable in the National League, but no one was more durable than Williams. From 1962 through 1970, Williams averaged 162 games per season, appearing in more than 162 games for three of those seasons. He set the league record for consecutive games with 1,117 in 1970, a record that stood for more than a dozen years.
Williams was Rookie of the Year in 1961 and an All-Star six times. He was a Cub for all but the last two seasons of his career, when he was a designated hitter for the Oakland A’s (and made his only post-season appearance in the 1975 American League Championship Series, going hitless in seven at-bats). He finished his career with more than 400 home runs and over 1,400 RBIs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.