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Orient resident, MLB 20-game winner Bill Hands dies at 76

03/09/2017 4:53 PM |

Longtime Orient resident and former Major League 20-game winner William Hands Jr. died Thursday in Florida. 

The former Chicago Cubs pitcher and longtime owner of the Orient Service Station on Main Road was 76 years old.

“The gas station was like the barber shop in ‘Andy Griffith,” Orient resident Carol Gillooly said of Mr. Hands’ business. “Everybody would be trying to solve the problems of the world and talking about baseball.”

Mr. Hands, who was born in Hackensack, N.J., spent 11 seasons in the majors, including seven years as a right-handed pitcher with the Cubs. He also spent short stints with the San Francisco Giants, Minnesota Twins, and Texas Rangers, winning 111 games with a career earned run average of 3.35.

In 1969 he pitched to a 20-14 record and 2.49 ERA pitching for the Cubs, who were nine games ahead in first place in the National League East on Aug. 13, but ended up losing the division to the eventual champion New York Mets.

Mr. Hands grew up in Rutherford, but summered in Orient, he said in an October 2015 interview with The Suffolk Times, which centered on the fact that the Cubs were playing the Mets in the playoffs (and eventually lost.)

“No one hated the Mets more than Billy Hands,” said Bill Fish, the golf pro at Islands End in Greenport, who played golf with Mr. Hands every Friday for the past five or six years from April to October. He still wore his Cubs hat and rooted for Chicago.

This past season, Mr. Hands got to see the Cubs finally win the World Series for the first since 1908.

“He was ecstatic about that, that’s for sure,” Mr. Fish said. “He stuck around long enough to see it. We were all happy about that.”

Mr. Fish said Mr. Hands was a long-time member of the golf club.

“He was an excellent athlete. He enjoyed golf and outdoors and fishing,” he said. “We hit it off. He was always good with a quick joke.”

Photos of Bill Hands in his playing days as seen inside his shop. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)

When it came to talking about baseball, Mr. Fish said, “You had to ask him questions, but he would definitely get going if you hit on a nerve. He wasn’t going to boast about anything, but if you brought up a subject he knew about, he had some good stories.”

Orient resident and former Suffolk Times publisher Troy Gustavson said he was a neighbor of Mr. Hands and mostly met him at his service station.

“We would chat and invariably, I would bring up the Cubs, because I couldn’t resist,” Mr. Gustavson said. “He was very low key about that, considering he played Major League Baseball and had one of the best seasons ever for a pitcher there. He was always very modest and low key.

He obviously was a loyal Cubs fan, but he didn’t really wear it on his sleeve, even when they won.”

Jeffrey Lyons of Orient, a film critic who has written several books about baseball, said in a Facebook post that baseball immortals like Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle would always make a gesture to show how “impossible” it was to hit Mr. Hands’ slider whenever his name came up.

Mr. Lyons said he will miss his friend.

“I will miss talking baseball with him, miss giving him the weekly baseball trivia sheet during the season and reminding him of obscure ‘cup-of-coffee-’ players who were teammates,” he wrote.

Check back for more details as they become available.

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