50th anniversary: White Sox trade Billy Pierce away

Fifty years ago today, the White Sox sent one of their greatest and most successful pitchers packing when they traded away veteran ace Billy Pierce to the Giants. To be exact, on Nov. 30, 1961, the Sox traded Pierce and Don Larsen to San Francisco for pitchers Eddie Fisher and Dom Zanni, first baseman Bob Farley, and a player to be named later, who turned out to be a bust of a prospect named Vern Tiefenthaler.

Clearly, in terms of name recognition, the Giants won this trade hands down. Pierce is a 200-game winner and Larsen the man who threw the only World Series perfect game. Meanwhile, odds are you’ve never heard of any of the players the Sox got in this deal.

It was actually part of a larger process going on for the White Sox. The 1961 season placed the South Siders at a crossroads. Beginning in 1951, the team rattled off a series of winning seasons that culminated in the 1959 pennant winning Go-Go White Sox. Hoping to seize the moment and create a dynasty for himself, then-team owner Bill Veeck spent the 1959-60 off-season trading away his best prospects for established veterans.

While he got some quality players—most notably first baseman Roy Sievers from Washington—and enabled Minnie Minoso to return to Chicago from Cleveland, the cost Veeck paid was severe. The lost prospects included Norm Cash, Johnny Callison, Earl Battey, Don Mincher, and Johnny Romano, all of whom became All-Stars in the following years.

Worse yet, the veterans did not quite pan out as expected. The 1960 Sox fell from first to third place. In 1961, they fell further still, finishing in fourth place with an 86-76 record. To be sure, it was a respectable showing, but it was also the club’s worst winning record in nearly a decade. Worse yet, the Sox fielded the oldest club in baseball.

The average age of their hitters in 1961: 30.3 years, easily the oldest in either league. The pitching staff was even older, with an average staff age of 31.5 years. The Sox had been one of the oldest teams in the league for several years in a row, but now they were old and apparently declining. If the squad didn’t engage in some sort of youth movement soon, they could easily find themselves in the second division.

So in the 1961-62 off-season, the Sox engaged in a series of trades in hopes of undoing the 1959-60 offseason.

The first move came on Nov. 27, when the Sox sent Minoso (just days before his 36th birthday), to the Cardinals for Joe Cunningham, a first baseman. Cunningham would be 30 in 1962, no spring chicken but also quite a bit younger than Minoso.

He was also five years younger than the Sox’s established first baseman, Sievers. Suddenly, Sievers was expendable, and Chicago traded him the very next day to Philadelphia for two players in their mid-20s, pitcher John Buzhardt and infielder Charley Smith. Buzhardt would provide several years of good work for the club while Smith was a serviceable backup.

Just two days after the Sievers trade came the Pierce trade. Like Minoso and Sievers, Pierce was in his mid-30s. He would turn 35 just before Opening Day in 1962. He was still a quality pitcher, but the Sox couldn’t be sure he would be so for much longer. It’s the old Branch Rickey axiom: ‘tis better to trade a man a year too early than a year too late.

It turns out, trading Pierce a year too early is exactly what the White Sox did. Pierce posted a fine 16-6 record in 1962, his most wins in a season since 1958. (That said, according to ERA+, he was only a bit above average. He crashed hard in 1963, though, going 3-11. After one more season, he was done.)

Though not as talented a pitcher, Larsen actually had a longer career than Pierce. He served as bullpen filler for the Giants for two-plus seasons and last appeared in a major league game in 1967.

As for the guys the White Sox received, most didn’t do much for the team. Farley failed to hit his weight in Chicago. Player-to-be-named-later Tiefenthaler was terrible for Chicago. He faced only 24 batters in his entire big league career—and got only 11 of them out. Zanni was a bit better, providing a year of solid-though-unspectacular work in the bullpen.

The real prize, though was Fisher. He provided to be an ace fireman for the Sox for the next several years. In 1965, he went 15-7 with a 2.40 ERA over 165.1 innings in 82 appearances. The Giants got better name value in the trade, but Chicago got better performance.

The Sox actually won one fewer game in 1962 than the year before, but moving out some of their older players helped them out down the road. In 1963, they began a series of three straight 90-win seasons and remained competitive through 1967. The Pierce trade was hardly a major factor in that turnaround—the Sox had others coming up, and they remained a veteran team—but the November, 1961 trades helped tide the team over for a few more years.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just feel like skimming.

Day-versaries

4,000 days since free agent Charles Johnson signs with the Florida Marlins, returning him to the team he first broke in with.

5,000 days since the Yankees sign Cuban defector Orlando Hernandez.

7,000 days since George Brett joins the 3,000 hit club. Immediately after belting the historic single, Angels pitcher Tim Fortugno picks him off of first.

9,000 days since Gary Carter’s longest hitting streak peaks at 16 games. He hits .381/.418/.571 during this spell.

15,000 days since former Braves catcher Javy Lopez is born.

20,000 days since the Giants trade knuckleball specialist Hoyt Wilhelm to the Cardinals for Whitey Lockman.

30,000 days since the Dodgers release a pair of future Hall of Famers: Max Carey and Dave Bancroft.

40,000 days since star second baseman Nap Lajoie signs with the Cleveland Indians.

50,000 days since the birth of first baseman Kitty Bransfield.

Anniversaries

1870 Frank Killen, pitcher, is born.

1870 A new rule declares that a batter can call for a high pitch or a low pitch from the hurler. It was a very different game back then.

1885 Boston obtains start pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn, who was under the control of the NL following the demise of the Providence Grays baseball club.

1889 Baltimore leaves the American Association, a major league, for the Atlantic Association, a minor league.

1898 Firpo Marberry, the game’s first star relief pitcher, is born.

1926 The Red Sox hire Bill Carrigan to manage them. He won two world titles as their skipper in the previous decade but will no have no success with them this time

1927 The Boston Braves release hard-hitting first baseman Jack Fournier.

1932 The Reds trade Babe Herman to the Cubs for four players.

1950 Pittsburgh signs free agent Pete Reiser.

1952 Jackie Robinson accuses the New York Yankees of prejudice. He says their front office lets very few black players into their entire farm system.

1953 In Springfield, Missouri, Yankees star Mickey Mantle undergoes surgery to remove torn cartilage from his right knee.

1953 Player representatives reject Commissioner Ford Frick’s plan for a conference on their pension after he bars the players’ attorney from being present.

1955 The White Sox trade starting pitcher Virgil Trucks to the Tigers.

1960 Bob Tewksbury, pitcher, is born.

1962 Bo Jackson, super athlete, is born.

1964 The Red Sox nab Sparky Lyle from the Baltimore farm system in the Rule 5 draft. In the same draft, the Cubs select Bobby Cox from the Dodger system, and the Angels take Vic Power from the Phillies.

1970 The Cubs trade Hoyt Wilhelm to the Braves, which is odd because just two months earlier the Cubs got Wilhelm off waivers from Atlanta.

1970 The Cardinals draft Cecil Cooper from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft.

1971 The White Sox claim Jorge Orta from the Mexicali squad in the Mexican Northern League.

1971 Matt Lawton, Twins outfielder, is born.

1971 Ray Durham, star second baseman, is born.

1972 The A’s trade “Super Jew” Mike Epstein to the Rangers.

1972 Baltimore trades four players, including starting pitcher Pat Dobson and future managers Davey Johnson and Johnny Oates, to the Braves for Earl Williams and another player.

1972 In a five player trade, Kansas City nabs Hal McRae from the Reds for not much of note in return.

1972 The Phillies make a pair of trades in one day, one netting them an outfielder and another costing them one. They get Cesar Tovar in a trade with the Twins and lose Oscar Gamble in a deal with the Indians.

1976 Atlanta sells Jimmy Wynn to the Yankees.

1977 The Cubs sign free agent Dave Kingman, who will enjoy his best season with the Cubs.

1980 Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino is born.

1981 Rich Harden, pitcher, is born.

1987 Cleveland releases slugger Andre Thornton.

1988 Oakland signs free agent Billy Beane. He doesn’t do much for them on the field but has quite a future ahead for himself in various capacities with the club.

1988 The Royals sign free agent catcher Bob Boone.

1988 Centerfielder Wally Berger dies.

1993 Colorado signs free agent Ellis Burks.

1994 The Angels sign free agent reliever Mitch Williams.

1994 The Mets trade Fernando Vina to the Brewers.

1999 Big league umpires vote 57-35 to form a new union.

2000 The Seattle Mariners purchase Japan Pacific League star Ichiro Suzuki.

2001 The Expos sign a one-year lease to play their home games at Olympic Stadium.

2007 The Mets trade outfielder Lastings Milledge to the Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.

2010 The Dodgers trade Ryan Theriot to the Cardinals.

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Comments

  1. Ron said...

    The bigger trade in Billy Pierce’s career was being traded by the Tigers to the whitesox for catcher aaron robinson back around 1950. Pierce was a Highland Park, Michigan native and friend of the family.
    Sort of a precursor by the Tigers’ front office to the Smoltz trade.

  2. Stephen said...

    The trade of all the young talent is why I never forgave Bill Veeck, even durig his second tenure when he tried to save the Sox from moving.  If it wasn’t for his bad trades, we wouldn’t have had to suffer throught the Arthur Allyn Ed Short years.

  3. Ted said...

    The article doesn’t mention Billy Pierce’s outstanding performance in the 1962 World Series.  After not getting a chance to start a game for the White Sox in ‘59, he was the Giant’s ace in the ‘62 WS even though the Giants lost the series.  That should be taken into account in assessing this trade.

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