Asked in 1953 by Chicago White Sox general manager Frank Lane why
he didn't brush back plate-hogging Philadelphia A's second
baseman Cass Michaels, Chicago lefthander Billy Pierce replied
that he and Michaels used to bowl together. Despite being too
nice to throw chin music at Michaels or almost anyone else,
Pierce won 211 games and was by far the American League's
winningest southpaw of the 1950s--Whitey who?--yet never received
more than seven Hall of Fame votes from the baseball writers.
Maybe there's truth to that adage about guys like Pierce and
where they finish. "They always criticized me," he says, "but it
just wasn't the way I played the game."
In 1957, during Pierce's second straight 20-win season,
Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich wrote that anyone who
doubted that Pierce was the league's best lefty "is risking
committal as an incurable psycho who can neither read the figures
nor respond to reason." Called Billy the Kid because of his
youthful face, adolescent build (5'11", 175 pounds) and
high-pitched voice--he also neither drank nor smoked--Pierce lost
the fizz on his fastball in the late '50s and early '60s and
retired as a San Francisco Giant after the '64 season.
Pierce, 73, has worn many caps since, as part owner of an
Oldsmobile and Cadillac dealership for two years, working briefly
as a stockbroker and informally scouting talent for the White
Sox. (He found 1983 AL Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle playing
semipro ball in '78.) Finally he became stuck on envelopes,
working as a salesman and p.r. man for the Continental Envelope
Company in Chicago for 23 years before retiring in '97. Selling
and promoting were ideal pursuits for him. "You use the same
competitive drive getting a customer as you do playing baseball,"
Pierce says, "and being nice doesn't hurt."
Pierce lives in the Windy City suburb of Lemont, Ill., with
Gloria, his wife of 51 years. (They have three grown children and
five grandchildren.) He spends much of his time working for the
Chicago Baseball Cancer Charity, which has raised $9.5 million
for research at two area hospitals. Pierce, who has been
president of the organization for nine years, has been giving
time to the cause for 29 years. He increased his involvement
after Nellie Fox, his roommate for 11 seasons on the White Sox,
died of skin cancer in 1975.
Lobbying by Pierce and other members of the Nellie Fox Society
helped Fox get inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. The group
is now called the Billy Pierce Society, but Pierce realizes it's
unlikely he'll be voted into Cooperstown. "If you can look back
and have very good memories," he says, "what more can you ask?"
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MEEK (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG
He was called Billy the Kid for his youthful face, adolescent
build and high-pitched voice.