Williams goes 8-for-8 in doubleheader

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Steven Walters

After playing 1,117 consecutive games from 1963 to 1970, the Cubs could always count on Billy Williams being in the lineup. But it was a day off in 1972 that preceded one of the best days of his career.

Williams went a perfect 8-for-8 in a doubleheader against the Houston Astros on July 11, 1972, after receiving the previous day off.

The first game of the doubleheader at Wrigley Field started at 12:30 p.m. Playing left field and hitting third in front of Ron Santo, Williams singled home Glenn Beckert to put the Cubs on the board in the first. In the third, Williams singled again off of Ken Forsch, making him 2-for-2. Forsch would surrender a home run to Williams in the sixth. In his final at-bat in the eighth, the left handed-hitting Williams hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Jose Cardenal. Williams finished the game 3-for-3 with a homer, a sacrifice fly and three RBI in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss.

The two teams were at it again with the game starting at 2:35 p.m. Williams doubled in his first at-bat, singled in his second at-bat and homered in his third at-bat. He added a single in the seventh and a single in the eighth en route to a 5-for-5 game. Williams scored three runs and collected an RBI as the Cubs won 9-5.

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“They were getting me out in Cincinnati on the slow stuff so I figured Houston would start me off the same way,” Williams told the Associated Press after the games. “They threw the slow stuff the first two times and then after that I saw everything.”

After the 8-for-8 performance, Williams, who came into the day hitting .310, raised his batting average 18 points to .328. In a seven-game span from July 9 to July 15, Williams went 19-for-31 with two doubles, four home runs, 10 RBI and 10 runs scored.

“A day off now and then helps me both mentally and physically,” Williams said to the AP. “It seems after a day off I get a little extra bounce. Eight-for-8? I’ve never had 8-for-8 even in the Little League.”

Williams later donated the bat he used that day to the Hall of Fame.

From that game forward, Williams hit .358 with 21 home runs, 19 doubles and 76 RBI in 74 games. The 34-year-old would go on to win the batting title with a .333 average and led the National League in slugging percentage (.606), on-base-plus-slugging (1.005) and total bases (348). He also recorded 122 RBI and hit 37 home runs.

Johnny Bench beat him out for NL MVP honors, marking the second time that Williams finished second to the Reds catcher, though Williams would receive the 1972 Sporting News Player of the Year Award.

“And, much as I hate to admit it, the Cubs always seem to finish second, but that year (1972) I doubt if we would have even finished the season without Billy,” teammate Don Kessinger told the Gannett News Service in 1975. “He had an incredible year.”

Born in Whistler, Ala., Williams spent 16 years of his 18-year career with the Cubs and retired after the 1976 season with the Oakland Athletics. A complete hitter, Williams finished with a .290 average, 434 doubles and 426 home runs.

“I hit the ball to all fields,” Williams, a hitting coach after his playing days, told the Boston Globe at the time of his Hall of Fame induction in 1987. “I advocate that as a hitting coach today. You must spread out the defense if you can.”

Williams tallied 14 seasons of 20-or-more home runs, 20-or-more doubles and 80-or-more RBI, tied for the third-most all-time and the most from 1960 to 1975. For his career, he struck out just once more (1046) than he walked (1045).

Williams was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in the Class of 1987.

Steven Walters is the 2018 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development
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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series