The season began well for Billy Hands. In June he suffered a June swoon so common among the Wrigley players, but as the National League campaign passed the half-way mark, he has become a consistent performer behind Durocher’s ace, Ferguson Jenkins. Hands opened the season with a 6-1 mark in the first two months, but then dropped five of his next six decisions. Hands has bounced back to life in July with two victories to run his record to 9-5. After years of comparative obscurity, the 29-year-old righthander suddenly has emerged as one of the league’s best pitchers.
He has a good fast ball, which sinks and induces ground balls. “When I’m right, I’ll get as many as 15 ground balls in one game,” he explained. In addition, he has a super-slider which he can almost always throw for strikes, and which barely nips the outside corner. “He’s just a good pitcher, a really good pitcher,” said Don Kessinger, the Cubs’ star shortstop. “When he’s pitching,” added Kessinger, “all the infielders stay on their toes. We don’t go back on our heels because you know he’s always going to be right around the strike zone.”
Hands, in his 11th season as a pro, agrees that he’s matured as a pitcher. “I suppose you can say that I have matured with experience,” he explained. “Now I always have the feeling I can get a hitter out – at any specific time. I know I can throw the ball to spots.” It’s been a tough uphill climb for Hands. Success didn’t come easy to him and one year, in 1966, he made 26 starts without completing a game, though he came close several times. That was probably his toughest season of all because he was neither fish nor foul and was used both as a starter and reliever. “That probably held up his development,” said Joe Becker, the Cubs’ pitching coach. “It was an unfortunate situation. A pitcher can’t do both and do a good job. He either has to start or relieve.Maybe that’s why it took him a little longer to mature,” explained Becker. “But he started to come into his own last year.Don’t forget he won 17 games last season.”