Cubs in Cooperstown

Billy Williams tours Museum before longtime friend Ron Santo’s Induction

July 10, 2012
Hall of Famer Billy Williams (center) and his wife Shirley listen as senior curator Tom Shieber gives them a tour of the library. (Craig Muder/NBHOF Library)

By Connor O'Gara

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Billy Williams just couldn’t wait any longer.

The Hall of Fame outfielder has been waiting for his former friend and teammate Ron Santo to get inducted among the baseball immortals for over 30 years. Williams would go to a party in Santo’s honor the day the Baseball Hall of Fame voting results came out, hoping it would finally be the year. But until this year, the call never came.

But now, the waiting game is over.

Santo, who passed away on Dec. 2, 2010, was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee on Dec. 5, 2011 and will officially be enshrined on Induction Weekend, July 20-23.

Williams, meanwhile, arrived in Cooperstown 10 days before his pal’s moment in the sun. The longtime Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s outfielder was in town Tuesday to watch his grandson play at a local baseball camp and brought his family along for a private tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“It’s always good to come and see this stuff because I was a fan before I was a player and I was a player before I was a Hall of Famer,” said Williams, who will return to Cooperstown next week for the July 22 Induction Ceremony. “It’s like baseball cards come to life.”

“Sweet Swingin’ Billy” is a regular at the annual Hall of Fame Weekend. But Williams had never before received a behind the scenes look at the history that makes up the Museum.

Williams and his family were taken to the Hall of Fame Library, photo archive and collections archive, where they heard stories about baseball’s historic roots.

 “Man, it’s good to see all this stuff,” Williams said following his visit to the archive.

The group was shown artifacts from the Cubs franchise where Williams played for 16 years. One of those artifacts was a bat Williams donated to the Museum. The bat was from a doubleheader on July 11, 1972 in which Williams finished the day with eight hits.

During the tour, Williams shared stories about his 18-year big league career with the Cubs and Oakland Athletics.

Williams talked about his resistance to play the newly instituted “designated hitter” position when he got to Oakland in the latter part of his career, and related several tales about A’s owner Charlie Finley.

While Williams reminisced about guys he played against, he had plenty to say about the third baseman he played with. Santo and Williams played together from 1959 in the minor leagues until Santo’s final season with the Cubs in 1973.

"To spend that much time with him – you spend every day with the guy for six months of the year – and to know his habits makes, it that much more gratifying (to see Santo elected to the Hall of Fame),” Williams said.

Williams’ relationship with Santo extended beyond the white lines. Both of them worked for the Cubs after their playing days were over, with Williams in the marketing department and Santo as the longtime color commentator on WGN Radio.

“You think of the day of the ceremony and how gratifying it will be because I got to play with him for so long,” Williams said. “My only wish would be that he could be here.

“To be here and to see his family at Induction and know how much this means to them… It will be special.”

Connor O’Gara is the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development