Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a left-handed pitcher named Walter William Pierce. His friends called him “Billy.”
At the age of 31, Billy had pitched for 11 seasons. He averaged 16 wins, 13 defeats, a 3.14 ERA, and a 126 ERA+ over a 162 game season, but in those days, a season was 154 games.
Twenty-one year old Billy worked only 55 and one-third innings for the 1948 Detroit Tigers, with a horrible 6.34 ERA. The Tigers had seen enough and traded him to the Chicago White Sox. It was one of the best trades the Sox ever made.
In his first season with the Pale Hose, Billy won only 7 games, but lost 15. Of greater significance, as modern statistics has demonstrated, was the fact that in 171 and two-third innings, Billy allowed only 145 hits. The potential was there.
Billy won 18 games in 1953, but became a really big winner with back-to-back 20 game seasons in 1956 and 1957.
Today, there is a left-handed pitcher named Cliff Lee. His friends call him Cliff.
At the age of 31, Cliff has pitched for 10 seasons. Just like Billy Pierce, Cliff has averaged 16 wins over a 162 game season. He has averaged 10 defeats, or 3 less than Billy, but Cliff has averaged an ERA of 3.87, compared to Billy’s 3.14, and an ERA+ of 111 compared to Billy’s 126.
Billy averaged 239 innings over a 162 game season, while Cliff averages 219 innings.
Since Billy pitched for White Sox most of his career, he didn’t have many opportunities to pitch in the World Series, but in 1959, the Go-Go Sox won the pennant. Facing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, Billy worked in relief, appearing in three games and allowing only two hits in four innings.
In 1962, Billy was a member of the pennant-winning San Francisco Giants. Against the New York Yankees in the World Series, Billy started two games. He was 1-1, allowing the World Champions only eight hits in 15 innings. He had a 2.40 ERA.
In his two World Series, Billy was 1-1, with a 1.89 ERA.
Cliff Lee appeared in the 2009 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies. Cliff baffled the New York Yankees, as he won the only two games the Yankees lost to the Phils. Cliff’s ERA was 2.81, as he allowed 13 hits in 16 innings.
In 2010, Cliff faced the San Francisco Giants as a Texas Ranger. He started two games, lost two games, and pitched to an ERA of 6.94 as the Giants became World Champions for the first time since 1954.
In his two World Series, Cliff is 2-2 with a 4.55 ERA.
Billy Pierce’s highest salary was $41,000.
In 2010, Cliff Lee’s salary was $9 million, and the free agent will probably receive a minimum of $20 million a season for a minimum of five seasons.
Pierce’s $41,000 salary in 1958 would be worth about $310,000 today. The major league minimum is $400,000. Why isn’t Marvin Miller in the Hall of Fame?
Lee’s anticipated $20 million today would have the equivalent of $2,600,000 in 1958.
At the age of 31, Billy Pierce and Cliff Lee had comparable careers. Cliff Lee is a solid pitcher, but if he had played in 1958, he would not have been in the same class as Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Robin Roberts (right-hander), or Jim Bunning (right-hander).
As Jimmy Jones used to sing,
Timing a tick a tick a tick a
Good timing a tick a tick a tick a tick a
Timing is the thing
It’s true good timing brought me to you.