Year Inducted: 1987 (BBWAA, ballot #6, 354/413)
In the mid-2000’s, Albert Pujols’ consistency with the Cardinals led to the nickname “The Machine”. For 10 years, Pujols hit 30 homers, had a .300 batting average and drove in 100 runs, with 100 runs scored nearly every year, too. Very few players can have that sort of consistency. Hank Aaron was one of those players, as was Eddie Murray. But, so was Chicago Cubs left fielder Billy Williams, who year after year put up great numbers while toiling for a poor Cubs team.
Williams played all but two of his 18 seasons in Chicago, where he became a cultural luminary along with his teammates Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. Williams put up a line of .290/.361/.492 with a wRC+ of 132. Spending most of his time in the Friendly Confines, Williams put up 426 homers along with 434 doubles and 88 triples to be one of the more well-rounded sluggers of his time period. Williams was always hitting third for the Cubs, and used his spot in the order to drive in and score over 1400 runs, while being an OK baserunner (+2 runs, 90 steals). An African American who hailed from the Deep South, Williams had to triumph over quite a bit to become the great player that he was.
Defensively, like a lot of sluggers, Williams was not a great fielder. According to Fangraphs, Williams was worth -183 defensive runs, which like Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield, hurt a lot of his overall value numbers like fWAR (which feels like it should be higher than 60.4 for Williams).
Williams was the model of consistency in his career, showing moderately little fluctuation in his numbers from year to year, especially in the number of games he played. From 1962-1973 the fewest number of games that Williams played in was 150 games in the 1972 season, and he played in 160 games most seasons in the 1960’s. While it may seem minor, any player that can take the field that often frequently is a great player; especially when there is no noticeable dip in his numbers during such a stretch.
Williams was not on a pennant winner, nor was he on many great teams during most of his career. This means that it would have been difficult for him to standout against players like Hank Aaron or Willie Mays, who were setting very high numbers to aspire to at the same time that Williams played. Williams was also a very quiet, humble player, and without any Internet back then it was easy for him to fade into the background. As such, instead of being a first ballot inductee as he should have been, Williams had to wait until his 6th year on the ballot to gain his proper place among the immortals.
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On deck 11/25/16:
#51- The player with the highest voting percent of all-time.
#50- The Express stops here.