Sunday, April 16, 2017

All that he's seen

Last week, Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams came out onto the field and received a World Series ring. He hadn't played for the Cubs since 1974, but he's part of the team. Not only in the hearts of the fans but as part of the Cubs organization, acting first as batting coach and now as "senior advisor."

To old-time fans like me, he's "Sweet Swinging Billy." I grew up on him. He was a perennial
All Star. A fixture in the outfield. He was handsome. He was reliable. #26 was so much more mature than the other eight Cubs in the line up.

In 2008, I finally found out why when I read his autobiography. Born in June 1938, he grew up in the segregated south. His extravagant natural gifts led him to professional baseball, and his first exposure to overt racism.

The year was 1959. He was a talented 21-year-old black man who filled the stands and thrilled the fans by day. But once he left the field, he no longer felt like an adult in the white man's world. He couldn't eat with his white teammates. He couldn't stay in the same hotels. The discrimination was so hard for him to bear that he left the team and went home to Whistler, Alabama.

Buck O'Neill, a member of the Cubs organization, visited Billy at home and spent two days trying to convince him to rejoin baseball. Billy did, but now he had an emotional distance, a cool persona that would always make him seem more businesslike than flamboyant, like an adult determined to excel at a boy's game.

Last week, at age 78, he finally got a World Series ring. He strode onto Wrigley Field and was hugged by the current Cubs coaches and management. That includes Laura Ricketts, Cubs co-owner and board member, and Brooke Skinner, Laura's wife.

That's right. He was hugged by a white woman, and by that white woman's lesbian partner, in full view of 41,000 people.

I bet if you told 1959's Billy Williams that would happen to him, he would call you crazy.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting experience. How times have changed!


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