Former White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce dies at 88

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Friday, July 31, 2015

CHICAGO -- Billy Pierce, a seven-time All-Star pitcher who played in two World Series and spent most of his 18 years in the majors with the Chicago White Sox, died Friday. He was 88.

Pierce died after a battle with gall bladder cancer, said his family and the White Sox.

The left-hander played for Chicago from 1949 to 1961, starting three All-Star games in the mid-1950s. He also played for his hometown Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants, going 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA, 1,999 strikeouts, 193 complete games and 38 shutouts. He reached the series with Chicago in 1959 and pitched a three-hit victory for San Francisco in Game 6 three years later against the Yankees.

His No. 19 was retired by the White Sox in 1987, and he made it on the Hall of Fame's Golden Era Committee ballot last year though he was not voted in.

"Generations of White Sox fans lost one of their heroes today," White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "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."

Off the field, Pierce helped raise millions of dollars for Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities.

Pierce was born April 2, 1927, in Detroit and grew up in suburban Highland Park, Michigan, where he played high school baseball and signed with the Tigers when he was just 17.

It was rather by chance that he first got interested in the game.

"When I was 10 I refused to have my tonsils removed," Pierce once said, according to a write-up for last year's Hall of Fame ballot. "My folks offered me a major league baseball and a good glove if I'd have the operation. I took the bribe. It really was a thrill to throw around that league ball, and I've been throwing ever since."

Known as "Billy the Kid" Pierce, he is remembered as one of the best left-handers of his era, winding up and launching hard fastballs and sliders despite his relatively short 5-foot-10 frame.

"That little so-and-so is a marvel," Joe DiMaggio once said after facing Pierce. "So little -- and all that speed. And I mean speed. He got me out of there on a fastball in the ninth that I'd have needed a telescope to see."

Pierce is one of 13 pitchers to start three or more All-Star games (1953, '55-56), and he finished third in the 1962 Cy Young race. He threw four one-hitters and seven two-hitters in his career and was just one out away from throwing a no-hitter on June 27, 1958, against the Washington Senators. He was denied when pinch-hitter Ed Fitz Gerald sent a double landing just inside the foul line.

In the postseason, Pierce went 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA over five games (two starts) in the 1959 and 1962 World Series.

"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. "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?"

He is survived by his wife, Gloria, two sons, a daughter, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. Funeral arrangements were pending.