Class of '59 toasts 2005 White Sox
Former teammates reminisce about trip to Fall Classic
CHICAGO -- Billy Pierce had a busy schedule Tuesday.
The left-handed hurler, who was a key force in getting the White Sox to the World Series in 1959, had scheduled press interviews at 11 a.m. CT, 12:30 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. and then participated in a 4 p.m. conference call with the Chicago media to discuss the current World Series entrant and the last team on the South Side to make the Fall Classic.
And remember, the good-natured Pierce hasn't even pitched since 1964, when his 18-year, 211-victory career came to an end with the San Francisco Giants. But Pierce certainly doesn't mind the constraints on his time, which figure to increase as Game 1 of the World Series approaches on Saturday.
"It's so wonderful to see the club doing so great and the White sox getting notoriety," Pierce said on the conference call. "This club deserves it."
Pierce was joined by Jim Landis and "Jungle" Jim Rivera, who were outfielders on the 1959 squad, during Tuesday's 30-minute chat with the media. Even with 10-15 reporters on the phone and the three all living in different parts of the country, they immediately struck up a conversation that made it seem as if this trio was hanging together once again in the clubhouse after a game.
They all talked about being at their respective homes Sunday night, watching as the White Sox won the American League pennant with a 6-3 victory over the Angels at Angel Stadium. Both Rivera and Landis joked with Pierce in regard to getting a few extra World Series tickets, with Pierce still serving a community relations representative for the White Sox.
There even were a few personal moments of triumph shared, as Rivera told his two comrades on the diamond that he recently recorded another hole-in-one.
"Every time we talk, you seem to be telling me about another hole-in-one," said a laughing Pierce.
This special team from 1959 won the American League, despite finishing sixth out of eight teams in average (.250) and last in home runs with 97. But the Go-Go Sox won with defense and speed, amassing 113 stolen bases, 45 more than the runner-up.
There also was a special bond between this group that still hasn't been shaken. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same in looking at the 2005 version of the White Sox.
That camaraderie from almost five decades ago was on display on June 18, when the White Sox had a reunion for a number of players from 1959. The get-together coincided with the White Sox hosting an Interleague series against the Dodgers, the same team to beat the South Siders in six games during the 1959 World Series.
On Tuesday afternoon, the trio reminisced about playing before a record crowd of 92,706 at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles and facing Sandy Koufax. Rivera spoke of the famous moment from Game 2 at Comiskey Park, when White Sox outfielder Al Smith went back toward the wall for a Dodgers' home run and had beer dumped on him.
They also spoke of the White Sox winning Game 1, 11-0, behind Cy Young award winner Early Wynn. The franchise's first World Series title since 1917 seemed to be just a few easy steps away.
"I thought we had the world by the tail," Rivera said of the double-digit whitewashing, led by two home runs from Ted Kluszewski. "Your first game you do that, it should go pretty well. We felt so confident from it all."
"Player for player, position for position, I thought we had a very good team," Pierce continued. "I thought we would win, right up until the last out."
"Everybody looks at our 1959 team and thinks it was a fluke," Landis added. "I don't feel that way. The 1959 team was a great club. Three Hall of Famers from that group are a pretty good indication."
Landis holds a special connection to this current White Sox roster, as his son, Craig, represents center fielder Aaron Rowand, right-handed pitcher Jon Garland and first baseman Paul Konerko. In fact, once the World Series comes to a close, Craig Landis could be the most-talked about man in Chicago, as Konerko becomes a free agent.
But talk on this day was all about World Series, past and present. Landis mentioned how both Rowand and Konerko told him back in Spring Training that this team would be improved, simply because they could catch the ball better as a group.
Rivera pointed out that Garland, Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia made up one of the best four-man rotations he's ever witnessed. Pierce said the four straight complete-game efforts reminded him of old-time baseball.
"It has changed now, with specialists in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings," Pierce said. "But going nine innings was how the game was played back then."
Pierce pointed out how having a young manager such as Ozzie Guillen makes it easier for the current players to relate. Then, each one of the former players made their championship pick. Not surprisingly, Pierce chose the White Sox in five or six games while Landis and Rivera thought the White Sox would win in seven games.
Of course, the opponent still has yet to be determined. There also was talk of how most of the 1959 players lived on the South Side of Chicago, a number staying in a place called the Picadilly Hotel on the outer drive, and the love they felt from their fan base.
When the team returned home after beating Cleveland to win the American League in September 1959, Pierce remembers 40,000 or 50,000 fans waiting at Midway Airport at 2 or 3 a.m. He also recalls the fans sitting on their front porches celebrating as he took a taxi home.
This group of players didn't have to deal with quite as much pressure in regard to the franchise's 42 years between World Series appearances, unlike the constant reminder of the 46 years between trips for the 2005 squad, basically because there wasn't as much media around. They media certainly has latched on to these former players in the present, serving as the secondary stars behind Ozzie Guillen's crew.
"It's so tremendously exciting," Landis said. "It's all worth it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.