Cubs to honor Williams with statue

Cubs to honor Williams with statue

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs will honor Hall of Famer Billy Williams with a statue outside Wrigley Field, to be unveiled Sept. 7.

"It's one of the greatest tributes to a player," Williams said Wednesday. "When this happens, you're so elated because it's a statue erected in front of Wrigley Field where I've performed for so many years.

"It's a great honor. It's great for me, it's great for the family, because the kids, the grandkids, the great-great grandkids can go see it and take their friends, and it'll be there forever."

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts surprised Williams, 71, and his wife, Shirley, when he made the announcement at the team steak fry Tuesday night.

"[Ricketts] is dealing with the present, but he hasn't forgotten the past," Williams said. "He mentioned that last night, when he talked about players who have performed in past years like Ernie [Banks], myself and, of course, [Ron] Santo.

"The ultimate thing is to get to the World Series, and I want to be here when it happens."

The location for the statue is yet to be determined, but it may be temporary. One of the plans connected to the so-called Triangle building to be constructed along Clark Street includes a pedestrian walkway. Williams' statue could be located close to left field, with Banks' statue remaining near Clark and Addison streets.

"In Chicago, it gets kind of cold," Williams said. "I hope it doesn't freeze up. I know Ernie was kind of cold out there, so I have to go out and join him."

The statue will be sculpted by Lou Cella from the Rotblatt-Amrany Fine Art Studio, the same artist who did the Banks statue and contributed to the Harry Caray statue on Addison and Sheffield Avenues.

"Billy Williams thrilled a generation of Chicago Cubs fans with his sweet swing and Hall of Fame career," Ricketts said in a statement. "Now future generations of Cubs fans will learn about one of the true Cubs greats when they visit Wrigley. My family and I congratulate him and are proud to honor him."

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And "Sweet Swinging," which was Williams' nickname, will also be on the statue.

Williams' official title with the Cubs is senior advisor, but he's more than that to general manager Jim Hendry.

"I find myself in tough times asking him things and helping me sort out things that I'm on the verge of maybe being too critical of or having a different perspective of," Hendry said. "Every time I ask him something, he has a profound explanation that helps me along the way the next time."

Hendry became a little choked up when he announced the news to the media in the dugout at HoHoKam Park.

"Besides being a great player for years, what a privilege for all of us to be around him for the last 15 years," Hendry said. "It couldn't happen to a better guy. He's not only one of the greatest Cubs ever but one of the greatest influences on Cubs players and employees."

The Cubs sure could use Williams' sweet left-handed swing. He batted .296 with the Cubs from 1959-74, and was inducted into Cooperstown in July 1987.

"I'd like to have had him a few years back," Hendry said, laughing.

Williams is a constant presence in Spring Training.

"We never asked him to come to work here," Hendry said. "He does it on his own. He doesn't volunteer a lot of stuff or how we should do things, but when he talks, I sure listen."

"I come out because I love the game," Williams said. "If you don't love the game, you don't play 1,117 straight games. It's the same way here -- I come out and do whatever I can. If you want to talk hitting, you want to talk outfield, this is what it's all about. I had that done for me when I first came to the big leagues. A lot of players, older players, came over and explained what it took to become a Major Leaguer. We want to keep the tradition of the game going."

He's come a long way from Whistler, Ala. Williams isn't too concerned about the statue's location.

"When they told me there would be a statue erected at Wrigley Field, I was happy with that," he said. "I know there will be a meeting place for a lot of people. There will be a conversation every day. They say now, 'I'll meet you at Ernie Banks' statue.' After Sept. 7, they'll say, 'I'll meet you by Billy Williams' statue.'

"It's a great tribute for any player who has performed. This is the ultimate honor for a player to be [honored] with a life-size statue."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.