Baseball Way Back: Pierce-Ford matchups epitomized Sox-Yankees rivalry
I wish I could hate the Yankees.
I'm talking about hating the Yankees the way the late Sox pitcher and broadcaster Ed Farmer said he did when growing up a Sox fan in Evergreen Park.
Or the way author and raconteur Jean Shepherd, of "A Christmas Story" fame, used to describe the hatred harbored by his "old man," whose cascading cries of "Lou Gehrig, you're a bum!" would rain down from the outfield seats at Comiskey Park.
It is difficult to muster that visceral loathing now. The two teams only meet a few times and play in different divisions.
But during the 1950s and early 1960s, before the American League split up into divisions, the Pale Hose and the Bronx Bombers were embroiled in a torrid rivalry.
In those days, it meant something for the pesky David on the South Side to beat the Goliath from the Big Apple.
The Yankees captured 13 pennants between 1950 and 1964. The Sox only hoisted the AL flag once during that period, in 1959, while finishing second four times and third six times.
At the epicenter of this raging rivalry were the annual duels between Whitey Ford of the Yankees and Billy Pierce of the Sox.
Ford's recent death offered a reminder to older Sox fans of how these two lefty gunslingers used to go at it.
They faced each other 15 times as starters between 1953 and 1960, with Pierce emerging from the smoke of battle with a 7-7 record, while Gerry Staley won an eighth game for the Sox in relief.
While Ford gained Hall of Fame immortality with a 236-106 record and a 2.75 ERA and 1,956 strikeouts, Pierce, who posted a 211-169 career record, a 3.27 ERA and 1,999 strikeouts, earned a statue at U.S. Cellular Field in 2007.
Yankees manager Casey Stengel knew Pierce's value, telling reporters in 1954, within earshot of Ford, "You want to know who is the best left-hander in the league? That feller Pierce with the White Sox. He's better than my feller."
Stengel enjoyed the luxury of having both pitchers at his disposal as American League manager for the 1956 All-Star Game, one of three All-Star Games started by Pierce.
In 1982, in the Sporting News, Bill Madden summed up the challenge facing Pierce against Ford.
"Always it was Pierce against Whitey Ford and always, to me, that seemed like an unfair matchup. They were your classic 'stylish' left-handers, equal in guile and guts, but Ford had those howitzers of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Bill Skowron and Hank Bauer behind him, while Pierce came armed with popguns."
Ford had the upper hand early in the rivalry. On May 17, 1955, at Yankee Stadium, Pierce yielded the game's only run in the sixth on an Eddie Robinson groundout that brought home Mantle, who had walked, advanced on a walk to Berra, and stolen third.
On June 5, 1955, at Comiskey Park, Pierce outlasted Ford, pitching 10 innings, but he still lost 3-2 after an inside-the-park home run by Billy Hunter in the top of the 10th.
One heartbreaking loss came Sept. 18, 1956, when the Yankees clinched the pennant. Pierce, bidding for his 21st win, matched Ford for 10 innings, but lost 3-2 on Mantle's homer in the 11th, his 50th of the season.
Stengel reacted with relief, saying, "I don't care who wins the National League race. We beat Pierce tonight. Have they got anyone in that league who's as good as Pierce?"
The tide of the Pierce-Ford rivalry turned the following season, with Pierce winning six of the next nine.
Pierce struck out eight and retired the last 16 batters in a 3-1 win against Ford May 21, 1957. Pierce helped his own cause with a single to score Jungle Jim Rivera.
On April 30, 1959, Pierce pitched an 11-inning complete game in a 4-3 triumph. Al Smith drove home Nellie Fox with the winning run on a single off Ryne Duren to send the Comiskey crowd home happy.
On May 15, 1959, Pierce was masterful, holding the Yankees to six singles and hurling seven strikeouts in a 6-0 shutout. Meanwhile, Ford failed to get past the sixth.
Pierce and Ford would only face each other twice more in the regular season, with Pierce winning the final contest 9-1 on Aug. 8, 1960.
Pierce was traded to the San Francisco Giants after the 1961 season. He would have the last word in his rivalry with Ford.
After helping the Giants to the 1962 pennant with a 16-6 record and two key performances in a three-game playoff with the Dodgers -- including a shutout victory over Sandy Koufax and a save in the clincher -- Pierce again faced Ford, this time in the World Series.
Pierce was brilliant in Game 6, giving up three hits in a complete game 5-2 win. Ford -- pulled with two outs in the fifth -- gave up all five runs.
Pierce -- who helped raise millions as president of Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities -- never reached the Hall of Fame. He said shortly before his death, "I've experienced a lot of good things in my life. I've got a wonderful wife, great kids and grandkids, and I've been honored by the White Sox and their fans. What more do you want?"