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BILLY WILLIAMS My sweet swinging lifetime with the Cubs

Posted by athomeatfenway on March 14, 2009

Favorite Cub of a Generation !

Favorite Cub of a Generation !

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

 

 

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Ferguson Jenkins at World Series Club

Posted by athomeatfenway on December 23, 2008

Ferguson Jenkins back in the day

Ferguson Jenkins back in the day

On Dec. 15, 2008, Fergie spoke for 90 minutes at the World Series Club of Greater Hartford’s hot stove league dinner.

The World Series Club of Greater Hartford was founded in 1926.  Early speakers included Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Connie Mack & Lefty Gomez.  The club continues  today.  If you can drive to Hartford, you’ll want to experience this.  Go to:  http://www.worldseriesclub.com/index.asp

 

Ferguson Jenkins is an eloquent and dashing figure today at age 65.  His considerable speaking gifts held 240 baseball fans in his palm on Dec. 15 at the W.S.C. of Hartford. 

The mind is sharp, the build still tall and powerful. 

The abundant hair is gone and replaced with a shining, shaven dome.

He was as forceful in bringing the audience back to the 1960’s as he was knocking down MLB batters.   (He hit 84 of them.)

It was completely appropriate on this night that one of the classiest radio personalities anywhere, Arnold Dean of WTIC-AM, introduced Ferguson Jenkins. 

Dean noted Fergie’s 3000+ K’s and few walks (less than 1000) in over 4500 MLB innings; his 20 victories in 6 yrs consecutive, and being named to the list of Top 100 Best BB Players of the 20th Century.

Not to mention his HOF induction in 1991 with Gaylord Perry, Rod Carew, Tony Lazzeri and Bill Veeck.

Ferguson took us back to his beginning – growing up in Chatham, Ontario.  That’s where he played youth hockey with Chico Mackie, Pat Stapleton and Walt Tkachuk    all future NHL players.

Fergie was a hockey star, making the Chatham All Stars.  He was not destined to play hockey though.   After one particularly rough game at age 15, his Mom, who was blind, said “Fergie, hockey won’t work out    because the only things on the ice that are black are you and the puck.  It isn’t meant to be.”

 

Fergie’s mother was a Baptist, and she raised him with discipline.  She told him that if he did not abide in The Lord and read the Bible, he would soon enough meet The Devil.  (“Well, in 1966, I met The Devil.  And it was Leo Durocher.  He had two sayings, ‘If you don’t like it, I’ll back the truck up.’, and ‘Nice Guys finish last.’.”)

Jenkins says he was lucky because he had two parents.  “My Mom always ironed my uniform and had it very clean.  My Dad always told me I had better polish my shoes.  I had black, black spikes.

Look presentable.  Play the way you look.  Always listen to your Coaches.  And Coaches, never talk down to your players.

At Mom’s behest, Fergie took up Baseball.  2 years later he signed a pro contract.

*****

 

Jenkins knows his career achievements like you or I know how our pants size.  4,500 IP.  267 complete games.  Hit 84 batters.  Lost 79 1-run games
Lost 13 games by a score of 1 – 0.  Might have won 350 games with a few breaks, a few more run scored.

Staying healthy is the key, according to Jenkins.  Gibson and Koufax had freak injuries that limited their win totals.  A Clemente liner off the tibia cut Gibby’s career short.  A slide into second base caused the initial damage to Koufax’s elbow.   All you can do is work hard, keep your team in the game, and try to stay healthy, advises Ferguson.

 

Some more advice:  Don’t be afraid to pitch inside.  Knock down the biggest guy on the other team.  If the biggest guy doesn’t charge the mound, the little guys won’t either.

 

NUGGETS

 

The McCovey Story.  It’s 1967 and Willie McCovey is tearing the cover off the ball.  The Cubs go to Candlestick early in the season.  Jenkins pitches well but McCovey smacks a 2-run game-deciding homer.  Cubs & Jenkins lose.  Some time later, the Giants visit Wrigley.  Jenkins pitches well but McCovey hits a bases clearing double for 3 RBI and sure enough, Cubs & Jenkins lose again.  Later in the same season, the Cubs return to San Francisco.  Jenkins and Ernie Banks, roommates, check in at the hotel and are unpacking when their phone rings.  It’s the concierge.  He surprises Fergie when he tells him that their car is waiting.  Fergie tells the concierge to hang on and asks Banks if he ordered a car.  Banks says “No.”.  The baffled Jenkins returns to the phone and asks the concierge, “What’s the significance of the car?   We didn’t order it.”.  And the Concierge said, “Oh, Mr. McCovey wanted to make sure that Mr. Jenkins gets to the ballpark alright.  He paid for the limousine.”

True story.

So they took it to the ballpark.

McCovey went 0-for-3.

*****

The Buffalo Head Gang.  This is how Fergie remembers it.  Mid-September, 1977.  The Red Sox have a 2 game lead on the Yankees with 13 games left.  Zimmer demotes Rick Wise, Bill Lee and Fergie Jenkins himself into the bullpen.   Yankees win.  Sox finish 3rd behind the Orioles. 

Retrosheet.org has it a little differently.  The Yanks have a 3.5 game lead on Aug. 31, 1977.  The Sox go a remarkable 22 – 8 for September.  The Bombers go 19 – 9.    Sox play .733 ball down the stretch and it is not good enough.

What ?  Were they going to win all 30 games with the Buffalo Head Gang in the rotation ?

 

 

Fergie on New York signing Sabathia for $160 million:  He’s not as heavy as he looks, he’s hard as a rock…it will work out…he loses only to the Yankees, he beats every other team in the league….N.Y. will score runs for him…I’d be happy going to the ballpark everyday if I signed that contract.  (In fact, with what rookies make, I want to play again.)

Fergie on the 6 HR’s that he hit in a year:  I got my chance to show what I could do (with a bat) in the NL…if a pitcher made a mistake, I was going to punish him…..Zambrano is one ahead of me in career homers by a pitcher…but I had a 20/20/20 season:  24 wins, 28 hits, and 20 rbi in 1971…..I also hit 2 HR w 3 rbi in a win vs. Montreal……

Favorite Park to Pitch in:  Yellowstone.

The one time he was ejected: (paraphrased) 1972.   I was going to pitch to Henry Aaron, whom I had great success against.  I gave up 2 HR to Hank in 11 years of pitching to him.   (Seaver, in 7 years yielded 11 HR to The Hammer.). With a game on the line, two on, and Aaron at the plate, Whitey Lockman yanked me…I just knew I would have gotten Aaron out.  Of course, the reliever yielded a 2 rbi double on his second pitch.  Game over.  And I just lost it.  I chucked 6 bats onto field and was ejected.  The Cubs sent me to a therapist. 

Best all around Cub:  Billy Williams

Best all around players in the N.L.:  Mays and Clemente.
Best in the A.L.:  Kaline and Carew

Best Fenway Memory:  How Yaz lowered his head but didn’t move any other muscle when an opponent crushed a homer over the monster.

Pete Rose:  we’re not on speaking terms.

Jim Rice in the HOF:  He has the stats, but he never won a championship, and that has held him back.

Baseball strategy today:  Back in the day, the starter pitched every 4th day, went 7 or 8 innings, threw 110 pitches, then handed the ball to a closer. 

Today, we have 5 starter,s each expected to go 6 innings, with 110 pitches. 

Today it is Starter-Holder-Set-up-Closer. 

Back then, the roster held 9 pitchers and 16 position players.  Today, the roster holds 14 pitchers and 11 position players.

That’s where the strategy has gone.

Back in the day:  After a start, here is what your schedule looked like:
Day 1 Off
Day 2 throw BP
Day 3 Throw
Day 4 Start

On knowing your career is done:  You know it.  You feel differently. The fire is gone.

 

Ferguson Jenkins held court for 90 wonderful minutes.  We sang Happy Birthday to him.  He signed autographs for all.  We enjoyed abundant chicken, sausage, pasta, ribs and salad.  Beverages at friendly prices, too.

 

 

The World Series Club of Greater Hartford was founded in 1926 by businessmen who wanted tickets to see the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Soon the Club started inviting baseball personalities to speak at off-season dinner meetings.  Speakers in the early years included Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch and Lefty Gomez.  In a meeting celebrating the Club’s 25th anniversary in 1951, the guest speaker was Connie Mack.  The club continues to meet today, holding for 4 to 6 dinners with speakers every off season.   If you are within a reasonable drive of Hartford, you’ll want to experience these dinners.  For more information, go to:  http://www.worldseriesclub.com/index.asp

Fergie more recently

Fergie more recently

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Red Sox Larry Lucchino bidding on Cubs ?

Posted by athomeatfenway on November 30, 2008

Larry would do a hell of a job for the Cubbies.

Larry would do a hell of a job for the Cubbies.

 

I had an opportunity to speak with the owner of a MLB club this morning — and was granted some insights into the hot stove league season that is upon us.

 

The A.L. East is terrified that the BoSox will land Mark Texieira.  The Sox hitters are a little older, a little worn, and would benefit tremendously from the addition of Texeira. 

 

With Texeira in the 4-spot behind David, you’ve got a bashing line-up with no rival in the League.  The concern over the potential damage an Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Texeira top of the order would do is magnified by the awareness that the BoSox are hell bent on signing Texeira.  That’s the word.  Apparently, they are in it – all the way.

 

MLB owners recently asked Larry Lucchino straight up what the heck was going on with the rumors that he is involved with a group trying to purchase the Cubs.  This one seems to come straight out of left field, fellow Soxaholics.  But, who better than Lucchino to evaluate and harvest the rich fiduciary potential of a club that owns the hearts, minds and wallets of the vast mid-west and that has not won a Championship in 100 seasons ?   Lucchino-Henry-Werner pulled off an extraordinary monetization of New England’s BoSox affection.  Don’t be surprised if Larry is setting up an office on Waverly Avenue next year.

 

The Red Sox have become the least colorful team in MLB, and by colorful, yes, I mean racially.  How ironic that in the year that America proved that color will not be the criteria by which we pick our President, there is a suggestion that the Boston Red Sox have intentionally gone Caucasian.  Let’s see….Youk at first, Dustin at second, Jed at short, Mike at third, Bay in LF, Jacoby in center and Drew in RF, David at DH, with Tek behind the plate.  Not one African American.  And there’s not a lot of pigment present.  But — our D.H. is from the D.R..   Dustin is Italian-Portugese-Spanish.  Mike is of Cuban heritage.  Jacoby is Native American.  Hmmm.  We may not have any African American starters —  but we do have diversity.  Did I mention Youk is the best Jewish player in the game ?.

 

The free agent market changes.  What the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels and Dodgers decide to do will effect everyone and everything with each and every change.  Why did Johann Santana go to the Mets for veritable peanuts last winter ?  Why indeed did this happen after the BoSox offered Jed Lowrie and Jon Lester to Twins GM Terry Ryan, who held out for more ?  Because in between the Yankees came out of the market for Santana, deciding to go with Kennedy and Hughes, their own young guns, instead of locking up the 2x Cy Young winner.  With the Yankees out of the bidding, the Sox didn’t need to play keep away —  and the Mets had an easy path.

 

Stay tuned my brothers and sisters.  Much swappin’ and signing to be done in December.

 

 

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