From humble beginnings to an opportunistic bus ride, Billy from Whistler sought to become a Hall of Fame player and became a Chicago Cubs legend.
Hall of Famer Willie Stargell called him “the best left-handed hitter I ever saw.” Former Cubs manager Leo Durocher claimed he “was a machine.” During a span of eight seasons from 1963 to 1970, Billy Williams never missed a game, penciled in the lineup 1,117 consecutive times. For this, writers began to dub Billy Williams as “Iron Man.”
Billy Leo Williams was born on June 15, 1938, in Whistler, Alabama. The town was a hotbed for segregation and rampant prejudice, which made growing up hard on Williams and his tight-knit, impoverished family. Despite lacking the most basic necessities, the family found sanctuary in sports.
His father, Frank, once played semi-pro baseball for a team in Whistler called the Stars. He would often encourage Williams and his brothers to follow in his footsteps, teaching them the fundamentals of the game in local sandlots. He likened them to the Alou family, seeing flashes of talent in all of them. Billy was the standout and, even at a young age, aspired to one-day play baseball professionally.
While playing for the Mobile Black Bears, a team with the luxury of uniforms that traveled the local area, he shared the field with teammate Tommie Aaron. Tommie, the brother of Milwaukee Brewers slugger, Hank Aaron, was a highly sought after prospect that drew the attention of scouts across the country. While originally in Mobile to scout the brother of the legendary “Hammerin’ Hank,” Chicago Cubs scout Ivy Griffin became more focused on Williams and signed him instead.
In his autobiography, “My Sweet-Swinging Lifetime with the Cubs,” Williams states his signing bonus consisted of just a cigar for his father and a paid bus ticket to Ponca City, Oklahoma, where the Cubs’ Class-D affiliate played.
Just a few short days after graduating high school, Williams boarded the bus and left Alabama to achieve his dream and play professional baseball.