As an outfielder with baseball's oft-frustrated Chicago Cubs, Billy Williams labored many years on the city's north side without tremendous national recognition. Playing on the opposite side of town this week, the retired great picked out a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleball that apparently didn't knuckle and drove it into Comiskey Park's upper deck for a two-run homer.
The blow led to his selection as the Most Valuable Player in the All-Star Old-Timers Game, which was played in conjunction with the golden anniversary major league All-Star game and was won by the National League old-timers 6-5. Said Billy afterwards: ''I just find it kind of ironic that I had to wait until I was 45 years old to get an MVP award.''
Despite outstanding seasons in 1970 and 1972, Williams finished behind Cincinnati's Johnny Bench in the MVP balloting on each occasion. In 1970 he batted .322, drove in 129 runs, and had 42 homers. The comparable figures in 1972 were .333, 122, and 37. Long may he swing
Isn't it about time Miller Barber endorsed X-ed out golf balls? Nicknamed ''Mr. X'' because of his lack of flamboyance, Barber is once again leading the Senior PGA tour with $144,800 in earnings. He was the tour's leader last year as well, running his total to six victories on the 50-and-older circuit.
''Miller couldn't wait to join the seniors,'' fellow golfer Bob Goalby said during last weekend's $150,000 event in Marlboro, Mass. ''He told me it would be just like stealing.''
To which Barber responded, ''You tell Bob Goalby that if I'm stealing now he owes me about $200,000, which he stole from me over the past 20 years.''
Miller has actually been a fixture on the pro golf tour for the last quarter century and is perhaps best known as the round man with the aviator sunglasses and Amana golf hat. The quintessential journeyman, he's won only six regular tour events, but has produced numerous respectable finishes. So many, in fact, that the low-key Louisianian has compiled well over $1.5 million in career earnings. Touching other bases
* Although Herschel Walker gained 1,812 yards to lead the United States Football League, he never seemed the superman he was at the University of Georgia. Of course, having to play 30 games in the last 10 months didn't exactly help Herschel, who will finally get a long-awaited rest now that the USFL's inaugural 18-game season has ended. Despite a huge salary, Walker was no ''franchise'' player capable of carrying the New Jersey Generals on his back. The team, in fact, fell far below expectations, finishing with a 6-12 record even though it was supposed to be a contender for league honors.
* Who should pop up at the current World University Games in Edmonton, Canada but Nadia Comaneci, who now serves as an assistant coach of the Rumanian gymnastics team. In 1976 she was the sensational 14-year-old champion of the Montreal Olympics. Four years later, during the less publicized, boycotted Moscow Games, she tied for second in the all-around.
* The National Hockey League has finally decided to try to do away with tie games in the regular season. Beginning next season a five-minute sudden death overtime will be used. If no one scores in this period, the game is entered as an official tie. Despite a high incidence of ties (127 of 840 games during the past regular season), the league has been reluctant to go to extra stanzas, which can present problems in making tight travel connections and mean more wear and tear for the players. Just because there's a tiebreaking system in place doesn't necessarily mean many more games will be won or lost. Teams are still likely to play very defensively at the end, whether it's overtime or not, since a tie brings a point in the standings. A team that plays recklessly, meanwhile, can come up empty-handed in its effort to win.
* NBC-TV announcers Dick Enberg and Bud Collins made an excellent point during Wimbledon coverage of the men's final. They said that if New Zealander Chris Lewis was even a little guilty of committing foot faults (as replays showed he sometimes was), the line judge was right in making the appropriate call. The point was made that in baseball, no umpire would call a ball fair just because it is barely foul. Neither would a basketball official ignore it when a player's foot was just a little out of bounds. The viewing audience no doubt sympathized with John McEnroe's overmatched opponent, but as Enberg and Collins reminded us, rules are rules, no matter how agonizing their enforcement may be.
* George Foster of the New York Mets on his unusually long set-up time before batting: ''I don't like to rush things. I want to be relaxed at the plate. Besides, the guys in the concession stands appreciate it.''