BILLY WILLIAMS My sweet swinging lifetime with the Cubs
Posted by athomeatfenway on March 14, 2009
With Fred Mitchell. 213 pages, Triumph Books, 2008.
Billy Williams is one of the most beloved Cubs among baby boomers. That sweet swing, 500 home runs, and his affable nature appeal to Cub rooters, and connects them to one warm, bright summer 40 years ago.
Remember the ’69 Cubs ?
Their starting 4 – Jenkins, Hands, Holtzman and Selma– had 74 victories.
Phil Regan, The Vulture, came in for relief and picked the bones of chased hurlers for 13 wins and 17 saves.
The ’69 campaign had memorable moments.
Opening Day was a come from behind victory in extra innings. Don Kessinger set a record with 54 consecutive errorless games to start a season.
Billy Williams smashed Stan Musial’s N.L. record for consecutive games played as the Cubs swept the Cards on June 29.
Kenny Holtzman tossed a no-hitter.
But the season was memorable for a collapse. The Mets couldn’t hit and weren’t thought to be qualified to sniff 3rd place.
The lead was down to 2.5 games on Aug. 27, as the Cubs lost for the 7th time in 9 games.
From Sept. 8 to 17, the Mets stayed hot while the Cubs doddered.
At the finish: Mets 100-62. Cubs 92-70.
The pain was acute. Despite the choke, these talented Cubs attracted new fans in the Summer of ’69.
Williams profiles his famous Cub mates (Banks, Fergie, et al.) But it is his notes on the lesser stars that are interesting.
Pete LaCock, son of Hollywood Squares host, Peter Marshall, got his first MLB hit off Dock Ellis, and recorded the last hit given up by HOF’er Bob Gibson, a pinch hit grand slam in 1975. Although he wasn’t a big star, LaCock was a certified talent, winning the 1977 AA MVP Award with a .320 BA and 27 HR’s.
Lou Johnson was the only other African American teammate of Williams’ on the 1959 Houston Buffaloes. A good athlete, a tough guy, and a great dancer. Lou was a Dodger when Koufax no-hit the Cubs in 1965. In that game, the Cubs starter, Bob Hendler, tossed a 1-hitter. Lou got the only hit off Hendler.
Gene Oliver, Cubs back up catcher, for reasons unknown, hit Sandy Koufax like he owned him. Milt Pappas, who no-hit the Padres in 1972, still gets red in the face when remembering how Bruce Froeming called a 3rd strike a ball to take away the possibility of a perfect game.
Adolfo Phillips was going to be the next Willie Mays, according to Durocher. He hit 4 home runs in a double header. He could do it all. But physical ability doesn’t get it done without the right mental makeup. Once N.L. pitchers started to brush him back, he was never the same.
This book is an easy read.
It is like being locked in a room with Billy Williams for 6 hours as he tells story after story, some short, some long.
He’s an aged, wise, open eyed historian that understands where his career was in the progression of racism in baseball. It reads like oral history — organized into 8 chapters:
-I Quit. (Sick of racism in the Texas minor, he went back to Alabama.)
–The 1969 Cubs Collapse
–The Mobile Mafia
–Cubs teammates from A to Z
–That sweet swing
–It’s Oakland In and Out (1975 & 1976 with Charlie O’s crew.)
–The Right Necessities (African Americans & opportunity)
–A Spoonful of Wheat Germ & Honey (Thoughts on Steroid users)
These chapters are followed by the complete text of Billy’s HOF induction speech.
This is not a great book for Baseball fans of all breeds. Fans with a historical bent could be mildly entertained by it.
Williams’ life is all about the relationships with teammates and fans. Fans of the great City of Chicago will find it rewarding. An important life in the rich tradition of the Cubs is examined, and this read is enriching for members of the Cubs’ family