In modern baseball, you don’t usually see teams honor individual players with a “day” until they’re retiring.
Fifty years ago, though, teams often had special days for players who were beloved by local fans. The Cubs had honored Ernie Banks in 1964 and gave him quite a few gifts, including a car, back in the day when players weren’t multimillionaires.
And so it was that in 1969, with the team flying high and seemingly on their way to a postseason appearance, that popular outfielder Billy Williams was given his own “day,” commemorated with the button you see at the top of this post. I wasn’t there that day but later acquired one of these buttons, a prized possession for any Cubs fan.
Billy Williams Day was scheduled for June 29, 1969, the day Billy broke Stan Musial’s National League record for consecutive games, 895. Game 2 of the doubleheader was consecutive game 896 for Billy, whose streak eventually went to 1,117 games before he took himself out of a game September 2, 1970 to end it.
It is possible that more people were either in Wrigley Field or attempted to get in than on any other day in history. The announced attendance was 41,060, but contemporary estimates said that perhaps as many as 50,000 people were turned away at the gate. The Tribune reported that three men were arrested outside the ballpark for scalping tickets, one of whom tried to sell a bleacher ticket (then $1) to a detective for the exorbitant price of ... $2.
Here’s some video (unfortunately, without audio) where you can see part of the huge throng that gathered at Wrigley Field that afternoon:
My friend Dave, who has attended hundreds of games at Wrigley Field since the early 1960s, told me this was the only time he came to Wrigley and was unable to get in.
Billy received, according to the Tribune, a car, a boat, several household appliances, a dog (a Weimaraner puppy, a gift from Fergie Jenkins, according to Fergie’s book “The 1969 Cubs”), and contributions to a scholarship fund he had established in his home state of Alabama. The Cubs also sold the buttons for 25 cents, and donated the money to the scholarship fund.
Those who did make it inside the old ballyard saw a doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals, 3-1 and 12-1. Billy celebrated his big day by going 5-for-9, with a double, two triples, four runs scored, and three RBI. Here’s video of Ernie Banks driving in Billy with the first run of the first game, in the eighth inning after Williams had led off with a double:
(The announcer on that clip is Lloyd Pettit, better known for his calls on Blackhawks games.)
The next day, the Tribune quoted Billy:
This was a beautiful day, wasn’t it? This was my day. We hadn’t won a double header all year and they presented me with a double header. I’ve never had a day like this. I even shed a tear and I’ve never done that.
The Cubs had a 50-26 record and led the N.L. East by 8½ games after the doubleheader sweep.
This series will continue throughout the season, noting key events on the 50th anniversary of the Cubs’ memorable 1969 season. Thanks to BCBer MN exile for his assistance with the video clip.