Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Billy Williams?

All the cards are from a set the Cubs issued in 1993 to honor Billy Williams.

Last Friday, I wrote about Topps' repeated mention of Billy Williams' 1961 Rookie of the Year award.

Jim left this comment: As a kid in the 1960s (and not being from Chicago) I wondered why some people held Billy Williams in such high regard.
Sure, he played in 9999 straight games, but where was the skill in that? In the NL, you had Mays, Aaron, and Clemente as the top-notch outfielders, with Brock, Rose, Flood, and Pinson after them. Personally, I put Williams as a 3rd-level outfield star, along with Willie Stargell, Rico Carty, and Willie Davis. Even on the Cubs, it seemed he was overshadowed (at least nationally) by Banks and Santo. I guess you had to be a Cubs fan to fully appreciate Williams.

Jim's impression of Billy during his playing days was the way he was view by most fans (outside Chicago). That really got me thinking. Did we Cubs fans have an over-inflated opinion of him? Where did Billy Williams fit in the scheme of things in the 1960's and early '70's National League?

I did some research over at What I found surprised me, and maybe it will surprise you too.

Billy Williams career with the Cubs was from 1961 through 1974 (though he had a cup of coffee with the team in 1959 and 1960). I wanted to see where he ranked among the league during that 15 year span in several different categories.

Here is what I found:

NL Home Runs, 1961 - 1974
1. Hank Aaron, 514
2. Willie McCovey, 409
3. Billy Williams, 390

NL RBI's, 1961 - 1974

1. Hank Aaron, 1459
2. Billy Williams, 1344
3. Ron Santo, 1246

NL Runs Scored, 1961 - 1974
1. Hank Aaron, 1393
2. Lou Brock, 1303
3. Billy Williams, 1302

NL Hits, 1961 - 1974
1. Billy Williams, 2492
2. Lou Brock, 2388
3. Pete Rose, 2337

NL Doubles, 1961 - 1974
1. Billy Williams, 402
2. Pete Rose, 394
3. Lou Brock, 389

NL Games Played, 1961 - 1974
1. Billy Williams, 2183
2. Willie Davis, 2083
3. Hank Aaron, 2037

Billy Williams was my all-time favorite player (I wrote about that here), but even I was shocked to see him in the top three in every one of those categories. You would think with stats like those, he would be a perennial all star. Yet he made NL All-Star team only six times. So why didn't he get the praise? Why would Jim wonder about the high regard for Billy Williams?

Here is my take. First, Jim mentioned one reason: Billy was on a team that also included Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. Banks was a superstar when Billy joined the team and Williams was always in the shadow of Mr. Cub. Santo was loud and brash, the team captain; and he got lots of press.

Secondly, Billy Williams was a quiet, humble player. He never sought out the press. He didn't try to bring attention to himself. He just went about his business on the field and let his play do the talking. For almost eight seasons he was in the lineup for every single game. You just took for granted that he would get his hits, smash his homers, and knock in some runs.

And honestly, that is what I admired most about him. I am a quiet, shy person, and I could really relate to him. And a lot of fellow Cubs fans felt the same way. Ernie was Mr. Cub, but our true favorite was Billy Williams.

In some ways, Wrigley Wax is a Billy Williams type blog. I'm not loud or controversial. I don't seek the spotlight. Instead, I'm kind of quiet and unassuming, plodding along with my post a day. I hope I hit the occasional home run with what I've got here, but if I'm just a .300 hitter, I'm fine with that.

Jim's last line was, "
I guess you had to be a Cubs fan to fully appreciate Williams." I most definitely appreciated Billy Williams. I hope that some of you may come to appreciated him a little more, too.


  1. That was stuff I never realized about Williams either. Thanks for bringing it up. I kind of had Jim's question going until now.

  2. Wow, I'm completely surprised that Williams was 3rd in home runs during that time. I would have guessed that Orlando Cepeda, Jim Wynn, Ron Santo, and Dick Allen all had more than Williams.