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.