Soderholm-Difatte: An appreciation of Billy Pierce

From SABR member Bryan Soderholm-Difatte at on August 3, 2015:

Billy Pierce passed away on Friday. One of baseball’s premier pitchers in the 1950s, the southpaw Pierce, along with his teammate Minnie Minoso, was among those players from major league baseball’s “golden era” being considered for Cooperstown immortality last year by the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee. Neither player, nor anyone else on the list for that matter, was voted in. But Billy Pierce surely had much to commend him, even if his lifetime 211-169 (.555) record and 3.27 ERA are not on-the-surface Hall of Fame-impressive.

Acquired from Detroit in 1949 in what turned out to be a steal of a trade, Billy Pierce was the first piece in the Chicago White Sox building momentum towards ending their decades of baseball purgatory occasioned by the ignominy of the eight Black Sox who conspired with gamblers to lose the 1919 World Series. Just as Minnie Minoso’s arrival in 1951 became the foundation of the “Go-Go” Sox, Pierce was the cornerstone of a first-rate pitching staff that was essential for the White Sox to compete with the Yankees and Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant.

By 1955, the White Sox were ready to enter the fray in the pennant race. As readers of Baseball Historical Insight know, this year we are focused on that season—sixty years ago—but this article is not part of that series. It’s a reminder of how good Billy Pierce really was. Suffice it to say, Pierce had one of the best years of his big-league career that year. He ended up the season with a record only 15-10, but he led the league with a 1.97 earned run average—far better than anyone else in the bigs—and was the best pitcher in the major leagues in 1955, at least according to the wins above replacement metric for pitchers. Pierce had back-to-back 20-win seasons each of the next two years. When the White Sox finally beat out the Yankees for the AL pennant in 1959, Pierce was only 14-15 with a 3.62 ERA, and did not get a start in the World Series, although he pitched in three of the six games in relief.

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Originally published: August 3, 2015. Last Updated: August 3, 2015.