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Go-Go White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce dead at 88

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Billy Pierce, the star left-handed pitcher of the Go-Go White Sox teams of the 1950s, died Friday after a battle with gallbladder cancer. He was 88.

Pierce spent 13 of his 18 Major League Baseball seasons with the White Sox from 1949-61. He was a seven-time All-Star who collected 20 wins in back-to-back seasons in 1956-57. He led the league with a 1.97 ERA in 1955 and struck out 1,999 batters in his career, including a league-best 186 in 1953.

Pierce fell short of Hall of Fame induction in the Golden Era Committee ballot late last year, but his number was retired by the Sox in 1987 and a statue of him mid-windup was unveiled at U.S. Cellular Field in 2005.

“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 his Hall of Fame nomination. “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?”

The Sox honored Pierce again with a moment of silence before Friday’s game against the Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field.

Pierce is one of several Chicago baseball icons to pass away in 2015, which already saw the deaths of Ernie Banks, Minnie Minoso and Lennie Merullo – the last surviving Cubs player to have participated in a World Series.

“You know, it’s been a tough year for Chicago with regards to some of the legends of Chicago sports leaving us,” Sox executive vice president Ken Williams said. “That’s life’s cycle, and I’ve always preferred to celebrate versus mourn. He’s a White Sox. He’s up there, and he’ll be pushing for us from above. He was a very good man, very nice man.”

Pierce threw four one-hitters and seven two-hitters in his career. He fell one out shy of a perfect game on June 27, 1958, when the Washington Senators’ Ed Fitz Gerald hit a pinch-hit double in the ninth inning that fell just inside the foul line.

He ranks in the top five all-time on the Sox in strikeouts (1,796), shutouts (35), starts (391) and wins (195).

Pierce was the only Sox pitcher to make at least four straight All-Star teams before Chris Sale accomplished the feat this season.

“Generations of White Sox fans lost one of their heroes today,” Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “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.”

After his baseball career ended in 1964, Pierce spent 46 years as a committee member of Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities. He was the president of the committee for 20 of those years, and the group has raised more than $16 million in the fight against cancer.

“Just a sweetheart of a guy,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “A special guy. You’re going to miss him. When he comes around here he was great to talk to. Just a classy person all the way around.”

Pierce is survived by his wife of 65 years, Gloria, his son Bill Jr., daughter Patty and son Bob, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Email: djust@suntimes.com
Twitter: davidjustCST