Drive two hours east of New York city, to the rural hamlet of Orient, Long Island. There, you’ll likely need to make a pit stop at the only gas station for miles. If you’re lucky, the tall, skinny man pumping your gas won’t be just any local. He’ll be former Chicago Cubs pitcher, William “Froggy” Hands, Jr.
On any given morning, Bill Hands shows up at his old service station, to work and chat with an array of locals who gather inside a small office, its walls adorned with baseball memorabilia.
They talk about fishing, golf and of course, baseball.
A player on one of Chicago’s most memorable teams, the 1969 Cubs, Bill Hands began his professional baseball career with the 1965 San Francisco Giants. After one season, Hands was traded to the Chicago Cubs, along with Randy Hundley, for Lindy McDaniel and Don Landrum, and by 1968 was an integral part of the Chicago squad.
That year, the 185 lb., 6’2” right-hander posted a solid 16-10 record, with a 2.89 ERA. In 1969, when the Cubs were overtaken by the team that would become known as the “Miracle Mets,” Hands was 20-14, with a glittering 2.49 ERA, 18 complete games, and 300 innings pitched.
“I beat the Pirates for my 20th win in ’69,” Bill remembers. “For me, that was quite an accomplishment. I mean, most pitchers are measured by that [20th victory].”
Actually, there were other wins to measure Bill Hands by; games that he is too modest to mention. Like the game, earlier in 1969, in which Hands out-pitched future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and the Mets, 1-0. Or the one on August 3, 1972, when Hands had his finest outing, beating the Montreal Expos 3-0.
“I had a no-hitter with two out in the ninth inning, and [Ken Singleton] hit a little ground ball that went off my glove. Well, [Paul] Popovich was playing second, and he said, ‘you should’ve let it go, I had it.’
“But,” Hands recalls, shrugging his shoulders, “it’s a reaction.”
Hands was traded to the Minnesota Twins the next season, and by 1975, his career had ended, in part because of ongoing back ailments and muscle spasms. But Hands, not one to take responsibilities lightly, felt that there was more to life than baseball.
“I worked for an oil company in all my off seasons. After [each season] I went fishing for ten days. But the guys that I played ball with; all they did was go hunting and fishing all the time. I had a family to feed, and we didn’t make the kind of money they make today. I had to go to work.”
That work became Bill’s life, and a decade later he decided to purchase Orient’s only service station, and help his son set up shop as a mechanic. Concerned that they wouldn’t make enough money to put food on the table, he started a retail oil business on the property. Both endeavors proved successful and continue to operate today.
Hands grew up in Rutherford, NJ, but the small tight-knit community of Orient is in his blood, and he considers it his true home.
“I was a summer kid here. I had been coming out here since World War II, until I got out of high school in 1958. Then, when I started playing ball, I always came out here to go bass fishing after the season was over. I bought a piece of property in the mid-Seventies, and built a little summer house.”
Along with the work and a little fishing, Hands plays at least two rounds of golf per week, and while he was famous in the clubhouse for his chess skills, he doesn’t find many worthy opponents these days. And he always makes time to talk baseball.
Hands talks about the effect free agency has had on the game, his distaste for the designated hitter, and the changing role of pitchers.
“They have so many specialists. Where they have a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, a ninth inning guy. We didn’t have anything like that.”
Hands was a New York Giants fan as a youngster, but he doesn’t play favorites anymore. Not really. He just loves the game.
“I root for the Cubs, but they’re hard to root for,” he says. “First of all you don’t get to see them that often [on television in Orient], and they never win. I mean, I’m a Cubs fan. I follow them, but I’m just a baseball fan in general. I like to watch a good ball game.”
When asked if he thinks the Cubs will ever win another World Series, Hands replies: “They’re due. I mean, the Red Sox won one, the White Sox won one; why not the Cubs?”
A modest man, Hands dismisses the various newspaper articles about his life posted on his office walls, the baseball cards that bear his name, and the autographed photos of old teammates.
But when Froggy pauses in front of a picture of him and his son on the field, sporting matching Twins uniforms, he smiles knowingly. “I really like that one.”
Damon Peter Rallis is a baseball fan, a freelance writer, and a dad, from Long Island, NY.