and Billy the Kid

Billy Pierce

Billy Pierce

Walter William “Billy” Pierce was born in 1927 in Detroit. He played sandlot baseball, but his first organized experience on the diamond didn’t occur until 1942. He played first for his high school team, then moved to the mound when the star pitcher was hurt. He was good enough to make an All Star High School game in 1944. He was 17 and won the game 8-0. He’d already come to the attention of the hometown Tigers and was signed for the 1945 season, a year that saw a lot of kids and graybeards playing in the big leagues.

He split time between Detroit and minor league Buffalo. At 18 he got into five games, all in relief for the Tigers. They got to the World Series. Pierce didn’t pitch, but did pick up a ring as the Tigers won in seven games. He was back in the minors in 1946 and ’47. His win total and his ERA got better, but in his last year he had 125 walks and an equal number of strikeouts. He got back to the Tigers in 1948, but because of a lingering 1946 back injury didn’t pitch a lot (55 innings) and was still having control problems. The upshot was a trade to the White Sox.

He still wasn’t very good in 1949 or 1950, but he began hitting his stride in 1951. Pierce himself credited new manager Paul Richards, who spent time as both Pierce’s manager and catcher in the minors, for helping him with his delivery and teaching him a slider. From 1951 through 1958 Pierce was a very good pitcher, leading the American League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts once each. He won 20 games twice and was a six-time All Star (starting the game in 1953, ’55, and ’56). Unfortunately, his team wasn’t all that good and in the AL they had to face the Yankees year after year.

But by 1959 Chicago was improved enough to challenge for the AL title. Pierce’s roommate, Nellie Fox, won the MVP, teammate Early Wynn won the Cy Young Award, and the ChiSox went to their first World Series since the Black Sox of 1919. Unfortunately, Pierce was beginning the downside of his career. He had his first losing campaign since 1954 (going 14-15), his strikeouts dropped by 30, and his ERA jumped by almost a full run. He did only relief work in the Series (a six game loss to the Dodgers). Pierce was only 32, but he’d been pitching off and on in the Major Leagues since he was 18.

He had two more decent, but distinctly, for him, down years at Chicago, then was sent to San Francisco and the National League in 1962 (there weren’t a lot of cross-league trades back then). The change of scenery helped. He went 16-6 and helped the Giants to their first pennant since the 1950s when they were in New York. At the end of the regular season the Giants and Dodgers were tied for first place, so a three game playoff series was held. Pierce pitched and won game one, took the save in game three, and the Giants ended up winning the playoff and returned to the World Series. In the Series, Pierce lost game two, then won game six. The Yankees won game seven..

In 1963 Pierce spent most of his time in the bullpen, repeating that in 1964. He picked up 12 saves in those two years, but his career was done. For his career he was 211-169 with an ERA of 3.27 (ERA+ of 119). He pitched 3306.2 innings, giving up 2989 hits, walking 1178 and striking out 1999 (I know he’s in his 80s, come on, somebody give him one more inning). He had 38 shutouts and pitched a one hitter.

After retirement he worked at a car dealership, did a little scouting, then worked in public relations and sales for an envelope company. Sporadically, he’s gotten some support for the Hall of Fame. In 2007 he received a statue at US Cellular Field (White Sox home park) as one of the greatest White Sox players. Works for me.

 

 

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4 Responses to “and Billy the Kid”

  1. wkkortas Says:

    I read somewhere that Al Lopez really didn’t trust Pierce, and didn’t think he could win unless he had his A-level stuff on a particular day. Considering Bob Shaw (who, granted, was pretty good in ’59) got two starts in the WS and Pierce got nothin’, I’m guessing that was clearly the case.

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    V, I don’t care much about his baseball stats. What I want to know is how was Pierce at selling those cars and envelopes. THAT’S what’s important to me.

    Glen

  3. steve Says:

    Great post and great to hear of another pitcher who credits an actual someone-Paul Richards with helping him attain some kind of pitching rhythm and hopefully an enjoyable life. At the risk of sounding like a hallmark card, I have to admit these kinds of stories remind me that we’re not alone.

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