Note: This page is for 1940s-1960s pitcher Billy Pierce; for the 1920s infielder with a similar name, click here.
Walter William Pierce
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 5' 10", Weight 160 lb.
- High School Highland Park (MI) High School
- Debut June 1, 1945
- Final Game October 3, 1964
- Born April 2, 1927 in Detroit, MI USA
- Died July 31, 2015 in Palos Heights, IL USA
Billy Pierce was a 7-time All-Star, 2-time The Sporting News AL "Pitcher of the Year", and longtime staff ace for the Chicago White Sox. He won 211 games during a standout major league career that began with the Detroit Tigers in 1945 and ended in 1964 with the San Francisco Giants, with 186 wins and six Midsummer Classics sandwiched in the 13 years in Chicago in between.
Pierce was also a two-time 20-games winner who won compiled double-digit wins for twelve ML seasons. The smallish left-hander, affectionately known as "Billy the Kid", appeared in the 1959 World Series for the ChiSox and 1962's with SF, going 1-1 in five games and posting an excellent 1.87 ERA against 72 batters faced.
Crafty rather than overpowering, Pierce overcame his slight build to become one of top pitchers of his era. The White Sox retired his number 19 in 1987, and his image is proudly displayed on the outfield wall at New Comiskey Park. He has said that the best pitches in his repertoire were the fastball and slider.
In 1945, Pierce, a Michigan native, made his major league debut as a member of the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park at the age of 18. His 27 games as a Tiger were a mixed bag, going 3-0 with 61 walks and 53 hits over 65.1 innings.
The struggling White Sox had no qualms about playing their young talent in 1949. The youngest pitcher on the squad, the 22 year-old Pierce tossed 171.2 innings for a 63-91 team, going 7-15 with a 3.88 ERA. Still demonstrating control problems, he walked 112 and struck out 95.
It was the same basic story in a 12-16 1950 season, again walking 137 to 118 strikeouts. Pierce's promise began to emerge in 1951, a 15-14 campaign highlighted by a respectable 3.03 ERA. He cut his walk total down to 73, but only struck out 113 in 240 innings pitched. He also tossed 18 complete games, the fourth highest total in the American League.
Pierce made his first All-Star team in 1953, weathered a somewhat setback 9-10 1954, then had a breakout 1955, with a league-best 1.97 ERA. He won 20 games for the first time and established himself as the staff ace in 1956, earning the The Sporting News' AL "Pitcher of the Year" in both 1956 and 1957. He was also named to five consecutive All-Star teams from 1955 to 1959.
A hip injury forced him to sit out several weeks during the 1959 season. Manager Al Lopez decided to use Pierce as a reliever during the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 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, before an offseason trade that year sent him to the Giants.
Pierce won 22 games in three seasons with the Giants. A 16-6 campaign his 1st year in San Francisco was good for third in the 1962 Cy Young Award voting. That Fall he faced off against the New York Yankees in the 1962 World Series. He lost a 3-2 squeaker in Game 3, but rallied back with a 5-2 win in Game 6, before the Giants bowed 7 games.
Pierce retired in 1964 after 18 seasons in the big leagues. The White Sox have remained an important part of Pierce's life since. He lives in the suburbs of Chicago and makes public relations appearances for the team. His name rang on the ears of modern fans after Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter in 2007, as the media recounted Pierce's four one-hitters and perfect game lost in the 9th 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.
Major League Bests
- Wins: 20 (1956, 1957)
- ERA: 1.97 (1955)
- Innings: 276 1/3 (1956)
- Strikeouts: 192 (1956)
- WHIP: 1.02 (1964)
- Saves: 8 (1963)
- 7-time AL All-Star (1953, 1955-1959 & 1961)
- AL ERA Leader (1955)
- AL Wins Leader (1957)
- AL Strikeouts Leader (1953)
- 3-time AL Complete Games Leader (1956-1958)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 8 (1951-1953, 1955-1958 & 1962)
- 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1956 & 1957)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 9 (1950-1953 & 1955-1959)
- Won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1945 (he did not play in the World Series)
- Billy Pierce (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, February 1979, pp. 80-84.