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Pierce and Waner: About Time

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 them. 

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 something.

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 keith@baseballevolution.com.

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