By Glen Sparks
I need to make a confession. Until I read an article about the Golden Era nominees for the Baseball Hall of Fame, I didn’t know anything about Billy Pierce.
Shame on me.
One of the fun parts about writing this blog is doing research on players I know and, in some cases, players I don’t know. I had to do plenty of research on Pierce.
The next few paragraphs should give you the skinny on this former pitcher. (If you already know about Pierce, give yourself 10 Dazzy Vance Chronicles bonus points.):
The left-hander grew up in Detroit. He played on three teams in his 18-year career (1945, 1948-1964). Pierce broke in with his hometown Tigers, but he enjoyed most of his big years with the White Sox. The Giants traded for him after the 1961 season; he played three seasons in San Francisco.
Over his career, Pierce went 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA (ERA+ 119). He was the American League ERA champion in 1955 and made seven All-Star teams. Pierce struck out 1,999 batters. He led the American League in complete games from 1956-58.
Besides featuring a curveball and slider, Pierce threw an outstanding fastball despite his small stature (Baseball-reference.com lists him at 5-foot-10, 160 pounds). The great Joe DiMaggio once said, “That little so-and-so is a marvel. So little, and all that speed.”
The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers by Bill James and Rob Neyer, published in 2004, rated Pierce as having the sixth-best fastball among pitchers active from 1950-54 and the ninth-best fastball for 1955-59. Of note, James did not rate Pierce among his 100 pitchers in the New Historical Baseball Abstract, published in 2003.
The Sporting News awarded Pierce its A.L. Pitcher of the Year Award for 1956 (20-9, 3.32 ERA, 123 ERA+) and ’57 (20-12, 3.26, 115 ERA+). The following year, on June 27, 1958, Pierce threw a perfect game for 8 2/3 innings. For the season, the hurler went 17-11 with a 2.68 ERA (137 ERA+)
Here are some more points about Pierce:
- Pierce was on the Hall of Fame ballot for five years (1970-74). He never got more than 2 percent of the vote.
- The White Sox sometimes held out Pierce to pitch against the Yankees. His career mark against New York was just 25-37. However, the National League record in the World Series against the Yankees in that same period was just 27-41.
- Pierce’s ERA of 1.97 in 1955 (200 ERA+) was the lowest in the majors between Newhouser’s 1.94 in 1946 and Sandy Koufax’s 1.88 in 1963
- Besides his ’55 season, Pierce had two seasons with an ERA+ of more than 140. His ERA+ in 1952 was 152. He went 15-12 and had an ERA of 2.57. The next year, he had an ERA+ of 147 to go along with an 18-12 record and 2.72 ERA.
- Pierce once put together a consecutive scoreless innings streak of 39 2/3.
- The lefty threw four one-hitters and seven two-hitters.
- Pierce went 16-6 for the pennant-winning 1962 Giants
Now, will Pierce go into the Hall of Fame? We’ll find out Dec. 8. Please check out my Nov. 20 post to read more about the Golden Era committee and all the nominees.
In that post, I wrote about Kaat’s qualifications to make the Hall of Fame. I compared his stats with Hall of Famer Don Sutton and with Tommy John, who is not in the Hall but who usually gets talked about in the same breath with Kaat.
In this post, I am comparing Pierce with another guy from Detroit, Hal Newhouser, who played almost his entire career just a few miles from where he grew up. Newhouser was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1992.
Here is a look at some key statistics of Newhouser and Pierce.
207-150, 580 pct.
3.06 ERA (130 ERA+)
212 complete games
2,993 innings pitched
211-169, .555 pct.
3.27 ERA (119 ERA+)
193 complete games
1,178 base on balls
Summing it up
The numbers look pretty similar. Newhouser has the advantage here, Pierce has the advantage there. Newhouser, of course, is most famous for his big years in 1944, ’45 and ’46 when he went a combined 80-27. In the days before the Cy Young Award, Newhouser won the MVP in ’44 and ’45 and was runner-up in ’46. It should be noted that he was more than just a three-year wonder. Newhouser made six All-Star teams.
A little bit more on Pierce. His strikeout numbers might not seem impressive given the K numbers of the last several years. More batters strike out today than did in the 1950s. That noted, Pierce’s average of 5.62 strikeouts per nine innings was the highest of any pitcher in the 1950s who threw at least 1,000 innings. His average of 7.96 hits per nine innings number ranked him third in the 1950s behind Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Early Wynn. Finally, Pierce’s 3.06 ERA for the decade also ranked him third, behind Ford and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.
I have no idea whether Pierce will be voted into the Hall of Fame. I do know it was fun learning about this outstanding, and overlooked, big-league pitcher.