Cubs legends recall their toughest opponent to face
Even the best of the best can face their match.
Usually, though, that standard is pretty high. The toughest pitcher Billy Williams faced, for example, was one of the best to ever to do it.
Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Famer who pitched to a career 2.76 ERA in 12 seasons, proved to be the toughest hurler that Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams matched up against. That’s an easy choice when that hurler tossed a perfect game against you.
“I remember, we had Harvey Kuenn on the baseball team,” Williams said on a recent episode of Icons of the Ivy on Marquee Sports Network. “And Harvey was a good hitter, and I think he won the batting title over in Detroit. And I remember Joey Amalfitano was on the bench. And Leo [Durocher] called him to pinch hit and Joey Amalfitano goes, ‘I don’t know why he’s going up.’ Then, ‘Whiff, whiff, whiff,’ and come on back.”
Williams posted a career .250 batting average against Koufax with 2 home runs in 68 at-bats.
Dominant pitchers like Koufax can give the best of hitters the most fits. Andre Dawson found that out firsthand against hall-of-famer Bruce Sutter. It was his arsenal that gave The Hawk trouble. At that time, many pitchers had similar pitch mixes.
“Then this guy comes into the league, and he introduces the split finger, the forkball whatever it was,” Dawson said. “He was throwing it, [and] I’m like, ‘What the [heck] is this? How are you supposed to hit that? The ball is there then it just falls out?’”
Dawson hit .204 in 49 at-bats against Sutter, striking out 13 times. Dawson also mentioned the late J.R. Richard as a hard pitcher to face. In 34 at-bats, Dawson hit .235 with 10 strikeouts against him.
“He was pretty nasty,” Dawson said. “And he could be intimidating. I don’t like to use the word intimidating, but he was a little bit under 6’10. Close to it. And he had these long arms and standing on the mound it looked like he was right on top of you. But those two those two guys kind of jumped out at me.”
Another tough pitcher, who also had an intimidation factor about him was Nolan Ryan. The Ryan Expressed pitched in four different decades and is the all-time leader in strikeouts. That made him Ryne Sandberg’s toughest pitcher to face.
“He was just the one that it was a different feeling the night before going to bed waking up that he was going to be out there,” Sandberg said.
But even the best of pitchers have hitters they didn’t like see step into the batter’s box. Just like for hitters, those matchups involved the best of the best.
“Well, you know, you probably wouldn’t even remember this guy,” Hall of fame closer Lee Smith said. “He wasn’t really a good player, man. He just wore me out. You ever heard of a guy named Michael Jack Schmidt?”
Schmidt hit .279 with 5 home runs in 43 at-bats against Lee Smith.
For Fergie Jenkins, his bugaboo was “The Great One”, Roberto Clemente.
“He gave a lot of right-handed pitchers fits,” Jenkins said. “I knew that he was a first-ball hitter. And he’d swing hard at that first pitch and maybe foul it [or] miss it. I go, ‘OK, I’m ahead in the count.’ But he got his hits. But he was tough.”
Clemente hit .274 against Jenkins with 6 home runs in his career.