File This One Under: “What Might Have Been…”

File This One Under: “What Might Have Been…”

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 File This One Under: “What Might Have Been…”

At Comiskey Park 59 years ago yesterday, June 26, 1958, in a game between the White Sox and Senators, lefty Billy Pierce retired the first 26 batters he faced. With two-out in the bottom of the ninth – one out away from baseball immortality – pinch-hitter Ed Fitzgerald doubled weakly down the right field line for the Senators’ only hit. The 31 year-old Pierce then went on to strike out Albie Pearson on three pitches to one-hit the Senators, 3-0.

The lone hit marred what would have been a historic accomplishment. Not only had no lefty thrown a perfect game since Lee Richmond’s first-ever perfect game in 1880, but only one American League left-hander (Mel Parnell in 1956) had pitched even a no-hitter between 1931 and 1962.

Billy Pierce spent 18 seasons in the major leagues. Although he’s best remembered for his 13 years with the White Sox (1949-1961), he also pitched for the Tigers (1945, 1948), and the Giants (1962-1964). 

Over his career, Pierce went 211-169 (.555), with a 3.27 ERA, 1,999 strikeouts, 193 complete games, and 38 shutouts. He was a seven-time All-Star with back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1956-57. He was a member of two pennant winners (1945, 1959), and one World Series champion (1945). His 20 wins in 1957 led the American League; and he led the major leagues with a 1.37 ERA in 1955. He posted an American League best 186 strikeouts in 1953, and led the league in complete games three times (1956, 57, 58). Pierce threw four one-hitters, and seven two-hitters. He ranks in the Sox’ top five all-time in strikeouts (1,796), shutouts (35), starts (391), and wins (195). 

Among left-handers, Pierce ranks near the top all-time. His 1,999 career strikeouts were the fifth most by a left-hander when he retired, and his American League total of 1,842 ranked ninth in league history. He also ranked tenth among left-handers in career wins (211), sixth in games started (432) and games pitched (585), eighth in shutouts (38) and ninth in innings pitched (3,306⅔). 

In 1962, Pierce played a pivotal role in helping the Giants win the National League pennant, going 12–0 in home games and getting a three-hit shutout and a save in a three-game tie-breaker against the Dodgers to clinch the title.

After his baseball career ended in 1964, Pierce spent 46 years as a committee member of the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities, serving as president for 20 years. Billy Pierce was selected to the Chicago White Sox All-Century Team and received The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award for 1956 and 1957. His #19 has been retired by the White Sox and a statue of him was unveiled at U.S. Cellular Field in 2007.

-Gary Livacari

Photo Credits: Public Domain

Information: Excerpts edited from article on Billy Pierce’s passing, August 1, 2015, in the Chicago Sun-Times; and from the Billy Pierce Wikipedia page.

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I'm a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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