The Press Pass: Billy Williams 6-26-20

Billy Williams Poignantly Describes Dealing with Segregation While Playing in the Minor Leagues in Oklahoma and Texas. He Consoled Himself with the Realization That His Problems Were Insignificant When Compared to the Problems Which Jackie Robinson Confronted a Decade Earlier.

In an interview with WKXL’s Chris Ryan, Hall of Fame outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, Billy Williams recalls the difficulties of breaking into major league baseball during the days of racial segregation; remembers the managers and coaches, like Buck O’Neil and teammates like Ernie Banks who helped him to adjust to playing in the big leagues; relives his one playoff series with the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox; assesses the tough pitchers of his era—Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, and Luis Tiant; and names the best opposing player that he saw during his career.

Billy Williams had a 16-year major league career from 1960-1976—14 years with the Cubs and 2 years with the Athletics. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1961, a six time All Star, a runner up for MVP in 1970, won a batting title in 1972 with .333 average, was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. Williams had a smooth left-handed swing which generated a lifetime Batting Average of .290, 2,711 hits, 426 home runs, and 1,475 RBIs. Billy Williams had 30 or more home runs in 5 seasons. He also hit above .300 in five seasons and had over 100 RBI in three seasons.

Despite growing up in Alabama, Billy Williams struggled from the effects of dealing with segregation during his time in the Minor Leagues in Oklahoma and in San Antonio, Texas in the mid-1950s. He poignantly describes dealing with loneliness because he was the only African American player on the team. He consoled himself with the realization that his problems were insignificant when compared to the problems which confronted Jackie Robinson a decade earlier. In 1959, Billy Williams became so frustrated that he left baseball and went home. The Cubs knew that Billy Williams had a ton of talent, so they sent Buck O’Neil, a legendary African American player and coach, to talk things over. O’Neil, who is a father figure to Williams, convinced him to return to the team.
Billy Williams credits Ernie Banks with helping to adjust to the big leagues. The Cubs in the 1960s had lots of talent and played hard but couldn’t win a pennant. He describes how supportive the Cub fans were. Billy Williams describes his approach to hitting which involved using the whole field and avoiding strike outs and compares it to the home run happy approaches in today’s game.

In the last two years of his career 1975 & 76, Billy was excited to be traded to the Oakland Athletics. The A’s had won 3 consecutive World Series, and he was finally going to be playing on a winning team. Billy Williams discusses the 1975 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. He describes how brilliant play by Luis Tiant and Carl Yastrzemski helped the Red Sox sweep Oakland 3-0.

The era that Billy Williams played was dominated by outstanding pitchers who were throwing from a mound that was 5 inches higher than today’s mounds. He discusses the great pitchers of his era—Koufax, Ryan, Seaver, and Gibson, but the guy who gave him the most trouble was a journeyman left hander named Ray Sedecki.

In the conclusion of the interview, Billy Williams names Willie Mays as the best player that he ever played against. When a scout evaluates a very good player, they say that he is a five-tool player—someone who can run, field, throw, hit for average, and hit for power. According to Billy Williams, “Willy Mays was a six-tool player who was born to play baseball!”