Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. On Monday, we look back on the career of Hall of Famer Billy Williams.
Billy Williams is one of the greatest players in Cubs history, hitting 392 home runs for Chicago over 16 seasons from 1959-1974, before he spent the final two seasons of his Major League career with the A's.
Williams was born in Whistler, Ala., just outside Mobile, on June 15, 1938. He was the youngest of five children. His father, Frank, had played semi-pro baseball, and Billy was naturally gifted in the sport. The Cubs signed Williams and he made his big league debut on Aug. 6, 1959, at age 21.
After getting sporadic playing time in 1959 and '60, Williams' first full season in the Majors came in 1961. That year, he slashed .278/.338/.484 with 25 home runs in 146 games, earning National League Rookie of the Year honors.
Williams would go on to become one of the most consistent players of his generation, playing in every game of the season in each year from 1963-70. The left fielder played in 1,117 consecutive games over that span, and he was selected to the NL All-Star team four times (he would again be named an All-Star in 1972 and '73).
In 1970 and '72, Williams finished as runner-up in NL MVP Award voting; he produced a career-high 205 hits and 42 home runs in '70, and a career-best 1.005 OPS with 37 homers two seasons later.
Though he was overshadowed during his career by other great players such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and teammate Ernie Banks, Williams quietly put together a Hall of Fame career, finishing with 426 home runs and an .853 OPS over 18 seasons. He was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
The Cubs retired Williams' No. 26 the month after his induction in Cooperstown. It became the second number behind Banks' No. 14 to be retired by the franchise. In 2010, the Cubs unveiled a statue of Williams outside Wrigley Field.
Following his playing career, Williams served as a Major League coach for the Cubs (15 years), A's (three years) and Indians (one year).