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. He was the youngest of five children. It was not easy for a black kid growing up in the Deep South during the 40s and 50s but, even though the family often experienced hard times mustering up money for even the most basic necessities, they remained close to one another and found sanctuary in sports.
His father, Frank, had played semi-pro baseball for the Whistler Stars. This prompted all the Williams boys to play baseball in local sandlots, encouraged and instructed by their father. Frank said of his sons, “They were all good ballplayers. They could have been like the Alou brothers, but they wanted to marry and you can’t get into the way of that.” Billy pushed for an opportunity to play baseball professionally.
While playing for the Mobile Black Bears, a team with uniforms that traveled the local area, he shared the field with teammate Tommie Aaron. Tommie, the brother of Milwaukee Brewers superstar slugger, Hank Aaron, was a highly-touted 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.
His signing bonus consisted of a bus ticket to Ponca City, Oklahoma and a cigar for his father. Two days after graduating high school, Williams got on the bus and left home to achieve his dream and play professional baseball.