Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Billy Pierce

Claim to fame: About a month ago I visited Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field for a White Sox game and throughout the game studied their ten retired numbers and corresponding faces decorating the left-centerfield wall. Six of the players honored on that fence are in the Hall of Fame (including Jackie Robinson, whose number is retired throughout baseball), and a seventh, Frank Thomas, will join them shortly. Of the three non-Hall of Famers, Minnie Minoso has come closest to Cooperstown, receiving nine of a possible 16 Veterans Committee votes last year when 12 were required for induction. Then there’s Harold Baines, who hung on the BBWAA ballot for several years before garnering only 4.8% of votes in 2011 and falling off subsequent ballots.

The tenth retired White Sox number: Billy Pierce. I was not entirely unfamiliar with Pierce. In December, while preparing by ballot for BPP’s Top 50 Players Not in the Hall of Fame, I had considered him for the final spot on my list, even checking his name off on the ballot before changing my mind last minute and granting my final vote to Robin Ventura. Still, as I sat at U.S. Cellular Field and stared at those faces, I felt uneducated on the career of this apparently-heralded lefty, knowing significantly less about him than I did about his retired number peers.

So I did my research. Pierce pitched in the Majors in 18 seasons, throwing 89% of his career 3,306.2 innings for the South Siders. He retired with a 119 ERA+ and 1.260 WHIP, having made seven all-star games, led the American League in complete games three times, in WAR for pitchers twice, and, in 1955, in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Pierce never received more than 2% of votes on the BBWAA ballot in his five appearances there. He was eligible to be selected to the 2011 Golden Era Veterans committee ballot but was not chosen and will not again be eligible until 2014.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Historically, those who’ve thrown 3,000 innings with an ERA+ above 120 have done very well in Hall of Fame voting. Among those who meet that threshold and have appeared on a Hall ballot, only Kevin Brown, Will White, and Silver King have failed to garner induction.

Alas, with that 119 ERA+, Pierce falls just short of that admittedly arbitrary mark. This of course doesn’t mean he isn’t Hall-worthy, but it is somewhat representative of how I view his career in regards to Cooperstown. The lefty was often an all-star and award vote-getter, but rarely the dominant pitcher in his league. He had one excellent season but was otherwise merely above average. No statistic of his stands out as spectacular; his ERA, ERA+, WHIP, strikeouts, and even WAR are nice but nothing shiny enough to anchor a Hall of Fame candidacy. By any measure he was a very good pitcher, and by no measure was he a Hall of Famer.

In the end, Billy Pierce just missed earning a spot on my ballot for the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame, just missed earning a spot on the list of 3,000 IP/120 ERA+ hurlers, and falls just short of deserving a spot in the real-life Hall. He seemed just qualified enough to write about here but turned out not interesting enough to say much about; no one will comment here claiming Billy Pierce’s lack of induction a travesty, and no one will comment here claiming me crazy for considering his worthiness. Long-tenured guys who last with one team and post impressive but unspectacular numbers get their faces displayed on their team’s outfield wall, but they don’t always get (or deserve) their faces carved into a Hall of Fame plaque.

0 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Billy Pierce”

  1. No disagreement with your position on Billy Pierce’s HOF qualificaitons. Mr. Pierce pitched just before I started watching baseball so I cannot judge his capability on “other” factors (like I do on Mickey Lolich who I think definitely belongs in the HOF but I digress). I only wonder what would have happened if Whitey Ford, another prominent lefty, and Billy Pierce somehow switched teams. Who would be in the HOF then?

  2. Chuck:
    Interesting that you draw the parallel between Pierce and Ford. There’s some similarity in their numbers.
    Pierce: 18 seasons, 3306 IP, 211-169, 50.0 WAR, 119 ERA+
    Ford: 16 seasons, 3170 IP, 236-106, 50.6 WAR, 133 ERA+
    Despite the WAR being virtually equal, I would still give the edge to Ford on ERA+. If they switched teams, as you suggest, Ford’s advantage in Won-Loss record might disappear.

  3. As regular cite readers know, I’m not much of a SABRmetric type. But, although I won’t go out on a limb to endorse Pierce for the Hall, I wouldn’t mind if he got in. I prefer him (non-SABRmetrically) to Bert Blyleven.
    I am a big Pierce fan and vividly remember his Game 6 complete game effort against the Yankees when he pitched for the Giants. Pierce forced Game 7 with his 3-hitter.

    Earlier this year, the Giants honored those 1962 National League champs and I was please to see Pierce among the honorees—still alive in other words!

  4. I had the pleasure to see Billy pitch often. Remember the Sox of his era were called the “hitless wonders”, pop guns. The Yanks of Ford had bazookas, and usually he could stifle them. He has a better won-lose record than 11 hall of famers. A sparkling era of 327. His 1999 Ks places him 5th among all lefties, and in the top ten of lefties ahead of Ford an Koufax. 7 times an allstar, and revered by Joe D and Ted w. The veterans committee was designed for overlooked guys like Billy who toiled in the second city on the second team in town. I met the guy several times, and he is a true gentle.man, again the kind the Hall wants. My pal the late Moose Skowron said Billy would have won many more games if the threw at guys, which he refused to do, upsetting managers.

  5. My pet HOF peeve is that Billy Pierce isn’t in the HOF but Hal Newhouser is. Statistically, they’re basically the same guy. Both left-handed pitchers born in Detroit and signed by the Tigers. Each made his debut at age 18. Newhouser pitched in the majors for 17 years, Pierce for 18. Newhouser had 488 mound appearances, 374 of them starts; for Pierce those numbers are 585 and 432. Newhouser was 207-150, Pierce 211-169. Newhouser’s ERA was 3.06, Pierce 3.27. Newhouser pitched 2,993 innings, Pierce 3,306.2. Newhouser: 1,249 walks, 1,796 Ks; Pierce: 1,178 vs. 1,999 (!). Each appeared in 2 World Series, Newhouser with the ’45 Tigers and ’54 Indians, Pierce with the ’59 White Sox and ’62 Giants. Newhouser was 2-1 with a 6.53 ERA; Pierce 1-1, 1.89. Except postseason stats (Baseball-Reference.com), these stats are from Baseball-Almanac.com. Of course, Pierce didn’t win 2 MVP awards or the triple crown, but Newhouser’s MVPs were in ’44 and ’45 and the trifecta in ’45, when hitters who weren’t 4F were batting against Germans and (pardon the expression, but this is what they were then) Japs. I’d be just as happy with evicting Newhouser from the HOF as with letting Pierce in. I’d love to have either of them in my rotation. I think they’re both marginal HOFers, but then, I don’t think Reggie Jackson belongs in at all.

  6. Why don’t you define your terms like ERA+? Does that mean 120% higher than peers in that his era was higher in an absolute sense or better because it was actually lower. Understand my confusion?

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