Photo courtesy of the White Sox, inset photo by Jeff Vorva
Former Evergreen Park resident Billy Pierce died Friday at age 88. Pierce’s number was retired in 1987 (inset).
There are so many people who remember White Sox pitching legend Billy Pierce as a “great guy.’’
After he retired from baseball in 1964, the former longtime Evergreen Park resident became an ambassador for baseball and the White Sox. He showed up at so many functions and seemingly always had a smile and nice things to say to everyone he met at these affairs.
Let’s face it, it’s easy to be a “great guy” at some Hot Stove league events or banquets in which everyone is having a good time and talking about the sport they love. But if they can still be that nice on days when most men to punch a wall or kick the dog…
Pierce died on Friday in Palos Heights and later that day, Oak Lawn’s Ed McElroy, who was a radio announcer in the 1950s when Pierce and the “Go-Go” White Sox were hugely popular in Chicago, remembered a time when the lefthander had a chance to be anything but a great guy.
“The Sunday before the Sox were trying to win the pennant (in 1959) he pitched and got knocked all over the place,” McElroy said. ‘’I got a call at 10 that night about a kid who was so sick, they didn’t think he would live until Christmas and wondered if there was something we could do for him.
“I called Billy at 10:15. I told him the story. This is hours after he got killed at the ballpark that day. He said “I’ll see you there tomorrow.’ That’s Billy Pierce, you know what I mean? You don’t call a guy who gets knocked around like that, but you call Billy Pierce. He was just a beautiful person. He was unbelievably pleasant.’’
Pierce died at age 88 of gallbladder cancer and he spent 18 years in the major leagues. He was with the Sox from 1949-61.
He was one of three Chicago baseball legends to die in 2015. Sox great Minnie Minoso and Cubs legend Ernie Banks also passed this year. Banks died Jan. 23 and Minoso died on March 1.
Pierce had a career mark of 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA, He threw 193 complete games including 38 shutouts and notched 1,999 strikeouts.
But around here, he was known for more than just numbers.
“Billy lived in Evergreen Park for many years, his home was about a block from the Little League Baseball Field,’’ John Halverson of Bradley wrote on Legacy.com. “I…remember when a kid would knock on his door and ask Billy to give him a few pointers on pitching and Billy would always come out and help him. He was always helping out whatever way he could for the Shriners Hospital for Children. What a man.’’
The Sox retired his number, 19, in 1987 but he has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 2014, the Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee reviewed his case but did not let him in.
Another Evergreen Park native, former major league pitcher and current White Sox radio announcer Ed Farmer, said Saturday during a pregame show that Pierce is HOF material.
“He embodied a Hall of Famer both on the field and off the field,” Farmer said. “He was the same man now as the man I met when I was 16 and you don’t see that very often.’’
Pierce, whose actual name was Walter William Pierce, is survived by his wife, Gloria (nee McCreadie) and children William Pierce, Patricia Crowley and Robert Pierce.
He was a longtime parishioner of Evergreen Park Presbyterian Church and a 33rd Degree Mason of Evergreen Park Lodge.
Visitation was scheduled for Tuesday at the Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn Oak Lawn while a private funeral service for family and close friends was scheduled to be held Wednesday at Evergreen Park Presbyterian Church with the entombment at Chapel Hill Gardens South Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made in memoriam of Bill Pierce's name to the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities, P.O. Box 2865, Glenview, IL 60025.