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Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce

The Baseball Page

Billy Pierce

Position(s):
P, 1B
Born:
April 2, 1927
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
160 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-01-1945 with DET
Allstar Selections:
1956 TSN, 1957 TSN

Billy Pierce Career

Defying his small stature, southpaw Billy Pierce was one of the most effective pitchers of the 1950s. He won 155 games during that decade, ranking fourth behind Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts, and Early Wynn. Originally signed by his hometown Tigers, he was dealt to the White Sox in one of the worst deals in Detroit history. He was a seven-time All-Star, and he started the Mid-Summer Classic for the American League three times.

His 1,999 career strikeouts were the fifth most by a left-hander when he retired, and his AL total of 1,842 ranked ninth in league history. He also ranked tenth among left-handers in career wins (211), sixth in games started (432) and games pitched (585), eighth in shutouts (38) and ninth in innings pitched (3,306⅔). He holds the White Sox franchise record for career strikeouts (1,796), and his club marks of 186 wins, 2,931 innings and 390 starts are team records for a left-hander.

The White Sox retired his number, 19, in 1987 and his larger-than-life image is annually displayed on the outfield wall at Comiskey.

"I refused to have my tonsils removed. My folks offered me a major league baseball and a good glove if I'd have the operation. I took the payola. It really was a thrill to throw around that 'league' ball." - Billy Pierce

Early Career

This prep sensation from Detroit was acquired by the White Sox from the Tigers before the 1949 season in a lopsided deal for journeyman catcher Aaron Robinson and $10,000. In the 13 years he wore a Sox uniform, Pierce was a pitching anchor. 

Chicago White Sox

The struggling White Sox had no qualms about playing their young talent in 1949. At 22, Pierce was the youngest pitcher on the squad. He tossed 171.2 innings for a team that lost 91 games. Pierce went 7-15 with a 3.88 ERA. He walked 112 and struck out 95.

It was not until 1951 that Pierce really came into his own. still only 24 years old, Billy won 15 games and posted a 3.03 ERA. He cut his walk total down to 73. Pierce also tossed 18 complete games, the fourth highest total in the league.

He threw four one-hitters, and in 1953 he had seven shutouts, pitching 51 consecutive innings without yielding an earned run. His 186 strikeouts that year led the league. But his Sox teammates had trouble scoring runs. Following one particularly dry stretch, after the Sox put across a run, Nellie Fox turned to Pierce and said: "Here's your run. Now go out there and hold it." And most of the time he did. The Sporting News named Pierce "Pitcher of the Year" in both 1956 and 1957. 

AL managers saved their best for Pierce. In head-to-head competition against Whitey Ford, Pierce won eight and lost six lifetime; against Bob Lemon, he won seven of nine decisions. Pierce's record suffered from pitching so much against New York – who he faced more often than any other team – when the Yankees dynasty was at its peak; although his career record against New York was only 25–37, that was still slightly better than the 27–41 mark compiled by National League (NL) championship teams over 11 World Series against the Yankees during the same period.

In 1955 Pierce's 1.97 ERA led the league, and in 1957 only Pierce and Jim Bunning won 20 games in the AL. Pierce tied for the league lead in complete games each year from 1956 through 1958. A seven-time All-Star, Pierce missed a chance at immortality in a June 27, 1958 game against Washington. He had allowed no baserunners through 8-2/3 innings when backup catcher Ed Fitz Gerald pinch hit. He whacked a Pierce curveball that landed fair down the right-field line, depriving Pierce of a perfect game.

A hip injury forced Pierce to sit out several weeks during the 1959 season. Manager Al Lopez decided to use Pierce as a reliever during the World Series. It was a decision that many fans second guessed after the White Sox lost the series.

Pierce pitched two more season in Chicago, making another all-star team in 1961. Following the 1961 season, he was traded to the Giants. Pierce finished his White Sox career with 186 wins.

San Francisco Giants:

Pierce won 22 games in three seasons with the Giants. He finished third in the 1962 Cy Young Award voting. Pierce played a pivotal role in helping them win the NL pennant, going 12–0 in home games and getting a three-hit shutout and a save in a three-game tie-breaker against the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the title.

He also faced off against the long time rivals, New York Yankees in the 1962 World Series. He lost Game 3 by a score of 3-2, but rallied back to lead the Giants to a 5-2 win in Game 6, he gave up only 3 hits. The Giants lost the series in 7 games.

After 18 seasons in the big leagues, Pierce retired in 1964.

Retirement

The White Sox have remained an important part of Pierce's life. He lives in the suburbs of Chicago and makes public relations appearances for the Sox. His name appeared in a number of newspaper articles after Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter, as Pierce tossed four one hitters and once lost a perfect game in the ninth inning.

The lefty was named to the White Sox "Team of the Century", and is applauded for his work both on and off the field.

Sources:

Wikipedia

BR Bullpen

Baseball Library

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Tagged:
1959 World Series, 1962 World Series, All Star, Billy Pierce, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants

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