by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
July 24, 2007
The Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates franchises each took important
steps towards educating their fans on their franchise histories this past week.
Billy Pierce had his statue erected alongside five other White Sox greats on US
Cellular's center field concourse, and Paul Waner finally had his jersey number
retired by the Pirates. Who knows? With this increased exposure for
two of Major League Baseball's forgotten stars, one in ten Pirate fans might not
immediately answer, "Roberto Clemente" when asked who the greatest right fielder
in Pirate history was.
Statues of Carlton Fisk, Charles Comiskey, Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox, and
Minnie Minoso all adorn the center field concourse on Chicago's South Side.
Those last three names all appeared on the 1959 White Sox roster, the fan
favorite Go-Go White Sox team that provided Chicago's only World Series
appearance between 1920-2004. A statue of Billy Pierce now stands among
Pierce may not be a Hall of Famer, but he's the forgotten man of the Go-Go
Sox. You might argue that his anonymity with regards to that team is due
to it being an off year for him - just 14-15 with a 3.62 ERA - except that
Jungle Jim Rivera was absolutely useless that season, yet was generally a more
celebrated player in White Sox lore than Pierce was.
Hopefully, that has changed. Rivera attended the unveiling of Pierce's
statue on Monday night along with Minoso, Bill Melton, Ron Kittle, and Jim
Landis. Ron Majors from NBC listed many of Pierce's accomplishments to a
crowd of people gathered around the statue. Two stats that Majors failed
to mention: Pierce's 1.97 ERA in 1955 is one of only 41 instances of
a starting pitcher posting a sub-2.00 ERA
since 1920 and that Pierce has a career ERA+ equal
to or better than than 30 Hall of Fame pitchers.
But when interviewed after the ceremony, Pierce did not really want to talk
about his accomplishments. He instead steered the conversation towards
what the 2007 White Sox need to do to get on a winning streak. Perhaps
Pierce's relative anonymity is partly due to his unwillingness to self-promote.
Billy Meyer, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Pie Traynor,
Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, and Danny Murtaugh comprised the Pirates'
retired jersey list, along with the omni-retired #42 of Jackie Robinson.
All of these players are Hall of Famers except Murtaugh, who guided the Pirates
to two World Series Championships, and Billy Meyer. I had not heard of
Billy Meyer until I began writing this article, but he appears to have been a
worse manager than Lloyd McClendon was. Maybe he had an amusing hairdo or
Anyway, we can now add Paul Waner's name to that list. Being a Hall of
Fame member as well, Big Poison certainly fits in with these other names.
He played with the Pirates for 15 seasons, and led the team in OPS in 10 of
those. The Pirates had winning records in 12 of those 15 seasons. In
addition to being the franchise leader in batting average (.340), Waner holds
single season Pirate records for runs, hits, doubles, and RBI, setting them all
in the 154-game era.
But most Pittsburghers have never heard of Paul Waner. I suppose part
of the problem is that although the Pirates got to the World Series in 1927 on
the strength of Waner's MVP season, that year they lost to the Yankees, when in
1960 they beat those Yankees then proceeded to beat the Baltimore Orioles twice
in 1970's World Series play. With more successful teams more fresh in the
minds of Pirate fans, they soon forgot about the stars of the past. So
while most sensible baseball analysts would take Waner, Kiner, and Arky Vaughan
over Clemente, Stargell and Mazeroski, most Pirate fans would not.
So I view the retirement of Waner's number as an effort to change that.
Perhaps we'll see an Arky Vaughan statue joining the Clemente, Stargell, and
Wagner tributes outside of PNC Park. Fans may realize that even though
Vaughan is the second best shortstop in Pirates history, that he may still be
the second best shortstop of all time. Perhaps Fred Clarke will get his
number retired by the Bucs, since he's as good a left fielder as Stargell and at
least as good of a manager as Martaugh.
For the present, at least the average baseball fan knows a little bit more
about two of the great players in baseball history.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.