Billy Pierce, one of the White Sox’s all-time greats, died Friday morning after a battle with cancer, the team announced. He was 88.
Statement from the White Sox
Billy Pierce, the classy, diminutive yet hard-throwing lefty who followed an elite career on the pitching mound with 46 years spent raising money to fight cancer, passed away this morning. Pierce died after a battle with gall bladder cancer. He was 88.
“Generations of White Sox fans lost one of their heroes today,” said Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the White Sox. “It was an absolute privilege to consider Billy a friend. He epitomized class, not just as a ballplayer on those great Go-Go White Sox teams of the 1950s, but as a gentleman and as a human being who devoted so much of his life to helping others.”
Pierce debuted on the Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee ballot in 2015 as one of 10 finalists, but did not receive the necessary number of votes for induction. His No. 19 was retired by the White Sox in 1987, and a statue of the left-hander in mid-windup was unveiled at U.S. Cellular Field in 2005.
Pierce is survived by his wife of 65 years, Gloria, son Bill Jr., daughter Patty and son Bob, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.
“We cannot thank ‘Pa’s’ doctors and health care providers enough,” said Bob Pierce on behalf of the entire Pierce family. “To his surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Wayne, and the staffs at Northwestern Medicine, Silver Cross Hospital and ManorCare, we are forever appreciative.”
“Billy was such a kind-hearted and thoughtful man,” said Christine O’Reilly, vice president of community relations for the White Sox. “The tireless work, effort and love he put into Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities – raising millions over the past five decades – shows you how much compassion Billy had for others and for his adopted home of Chicago.”
Pierce served as a committee member of Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities for 46 years, acting as president of the group for 20 years. Since its inception, Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities has raised over $16 million to help in the fight against cancer.
Pierce played 18 major-league seasons with Detroit (1945-48), the White Sox (1949-61) and San Francisco (1962-64), going 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA (1,201 ER/3,306.2 IP), 1,999 strikeouts, 32 saves, 193 complete games, 38 shutouts and a
.240 opponents average over 585 games (432 starts). He ranked in the Top 5 in the
major leagues in complete games (4th), IP (4th), strikeouts (4th), wins (5th), starts (5th) and shutouts (5th) from 1945-64.
The Detroit native is one of 13 pitchers to start three or more All-Star games (1953. ’55-56). The list includes Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, Greg Maddux, Jim Palmer, Robin Roberts and Warren Spahn. Pierce finished third in the 1962 MLB Cy Young race and fifth in the 1956 American League MVP voting.
Pierce ranked among the AL leaders in numerous categories from 1945-61, including second in strikeouts (1,842), IP (2,996.1), shutouts (35) and starts (395), third in wins (189) and complete games (183), fourth in opponents average (.239) and fifth in ERA (3.24). He is the only pitcher to rank in the Top 5 in each of these categories during that span. Pierce led the AL with a 1.97 ERA (45 ER/205.2 IP) in 1955 and 186 strikeouts in 1953, and recorded 20-win seasons in 1956 and ’57.
The left-hander ranks among the White Sox all-time leaders in strikeouts (1st, 1,796), shutouts (3rd, 35), starts (3rd, .390), wins (4th, 195), IP (4th, 2,931.0), opponents average (5th, .240), complete games (T5th, 183) and ERA (10th, 3.19).
“Billy Pierce is a Hall of Famer in my mind,” said longtime friend, teammate and five-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder Jim Landis two years ago. “He is the greatest pitcher I played behind in so many ways.”
Pierce, who threw four one-hitters and seven two-hitters in his career, came within one out of a no-hitter on June 27, 1958 vs. the Washington Senators when a double fell just inside the foul line.
Pierce was at his best in the postseason, going 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA (4 ER/19.0 IP) over five games (two starts) in the 1959 and 1962 World Series. He threw 3.0 scoreless IP for the White Sox in Game 4 of the 1959 Fall Classic at the Dodgers and recorded a complete-game, three-hit victory for San Francisco in Game 6 of the 1962 World Series vs. the Yankees.
Pierce was instrumental in helping the Giants reach the 1962 World Series by recording a win and save in a best-of-three playoff victory over the Dodgers. Pitching opposite Sandy Koufax in the opener at Candlestick Park, he threw a three-hit shutout in the Giants 8-0 victory. In the series-clinching, 6-4 victory in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, Pierce pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save.
A seven-time All-Star, Pierce’s three Midsummer Classic starts (1953, ’55-56) tied for sixth-most in history. This season, Chris Sale joined Pierce (1955-59) as the only pitchers in White Sox history to make at least four straight All-Star teams.
Often matched up by his managers with the vaunted Yankees teams of the 1950s, Pierce made 15 starts head-to-head with Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, going 7-7 while the White Sox took eight of the 15 games.
“Billy had the best fastball and slider,” said outfielder Jim Rivera. “(Manager) Al Lopez knew that with Billy on the mound, it was a win. And everybody loved him as a teammate.”
“You have to remember that we didn’t score a lot of runs,” Landis said, “so Billy had to work his butt off to win a ball game. He pitched in a lot of tough games, but always seemed in command. That alone is a good indication of a great pitcher.”
“Billy was a fiery competitor,” said teammate Jim McAnany. “But quiet about it. He let his pitching speak for itself. He was a master at throwing to locations and had good breaking stuff. He may not have shown his emotions, but they were there.”
“Billy was one of the great, great pitchers,” said Minnie Minoso, who passed away March 1. “He was a control pitcher with an outstanding fastball and curve. When I came to Chicago, I was the first black player, and he always treated me with respect. He was special on and off the field.”
“There’s no question being elected to the Hall of Fame would be one of the greatest things that ever happened to me,” Pierce said last year upon being nominated before the Golden Era Committee. “But I’ve experienced a lot of good things in my life. I’ve got a wonderful wife, great kids and grandkids, and I’ve been honored by the White Sox and their fans. What more do you want?”
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made in Pierce’s name to the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities.
Details on services are pending.