Local man pitched in the big time
Morgan County resident Bill Butler achieved a goal every kid who ever donned the hat of their favorite team, picked up a baseball bat, ball, and glove has always dreamed of — playing baseball in the Major Leagues.
From 1969 through the 1975 season, Butler pitched in the big leagues and wore the uniform of an American League team.
High school to the Majors
But his story began in what was then the small town of Herndon, Virginia where he pitched well enough for his high school team, the Herndon Hornets, to receive several offers to sign with big league ball clubs after his graduation in 1965.
Butler signed with the Detroit Tigers organization and played minor league baseball for the next three years in Duluth, Minnesota, Daytona Beach, Florida, Rocky Mount, North Carolina and Montgomery, Alabama before being picked up by a Major League team.
Kansas City Royals
“I was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 1969 expansion draft, went to spring training that year, had a great spring and made the big club,” Butler said.
Butler pitched well for the expansion Royals with a respectable record of nine wins and 10 losses with a 3.90 earned run average for a first year team that only won 69 games while losing 93.
Butler said some of his more notable teammates were Lou Pinnella, Jim Rooker, Wally Bunker and Moe Drabrowky.
He remembered the first batter he faced in the big leagues was Hall of Fame hitter Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins who hit 573 homers during his career.
“I was 22 and nervous. I threw hard and had a fastball around 95 miles per hour. I threw Killebrew my best one and he hit it 409 feet,” Butler said.
Fortunately the wind was blowing in and the center field fence was 410 feet away. The centerfielder caught the ball. “After seeing that, I thought I might not be up here very long,” Butler said.
In 1971, Butler had elbow surgery from which he never fully recovered. In 1973 he was traded to the Minnesota Twins where he pitched for the next three years.
The Twins fared better than the Royals finishing in second place to the World Champion Oakland Athletics each of those years.
“One time we went out to Oakland and when we left Minnesota we were one game out of first place with only seven games to play. We had a four game series in Oakland and they beat us all four games,” Butler said.
Butler was a spot starter, “basically the fifth starter,” and a middle relief pitcher for the Twins.
Three of his teammates were Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven, all future Hall of Famers. Other notable teammates were Bobby Darwin, Lyman Bostock and Bill Campbell, he said.
Butler said the team that gave him the most trouble when he pitched was the Boston Red Sox.
“I was primarily a fastball pitcher and they were an excellent fastball hitting team. But the guy that gave me the most problems in my whole career was the third baseman for Oakland, Sal Bando. He wore me out,” Butler said.
His favorite Major League cities were Boston and New York. “Being from a small town like Herndon, a big city like New York or Boston was really exciting,” Butler said.
Asked what his favorite minor league city was, he picked Tacoma, Washington. “Tacoma is really a beautiful area,” Butler said.
His favorite manager was Royal’s Manager Bob Lemon. “He was a wonderful guy, had been a great pitcher with the Cleveland Indians and had a wealth of information to pass on to a young pitcher,” Butler said.
Butler was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 1975 season and sent to their minor league triple-A team in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He retired from baseball in 1977.
Life after baseball
“I was in retail management for almost the whole time since I have been out of baseball,” Butler said. He worked for Southland Corporation (7-Eleven stores) and later was the manager
of the Sheetz service station and store in Winchester.
He met his wife Pat, who managed the Sheetz in Hancock, at a seminar for managers in Hagerstown. They have been married 14 years and both retired from Sheetz two years ago.
He has a son and a daughter that live in the Winchester area. She has three sons, two living in California and one in Pennsylvania.
The Butlers live near the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area which suits him well. “I am an avid outdoorsman and love to hunt and fish,” he said. His wife often goes fishing with him.
The Butlers enjoy working in their garden, being with family and doing volunteer work with members of the Berkeley Baptist Church.
“I got a letter back in early April that Herndon High School was 100 years old this year and I had been named to Herndon’s all century baseball team. On May 13 they had a celebration and I was honored to be a part of that,” Butler said. The school retired his jersey number, number 9.
Looking back on his career in professional baseball, Butler said, “It was a dream come true.”