Sox great wows fans in Beverly
By Hannah Kohut Correspondent August 11, 2012 9:02PM
White Sox great Billy Pierce signs copies of the baseball book “Like Night and Day,” at Bookie's Paperbacks and More in Chicago, IL on Saturday August 11, 2012. The author of the book, John O’Donnell, is seen at center. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 11, 2012 2:08AM
It’s not every day a White Sox legend comes to a neighborhood bookstore to sign autographs, so when it does happen, people come out in droves, especially when the weather was a beautiful as it was on Saturday evening.
85-year-old Billy Pierce, who was a left-handed pitching standout for the White Sox during the 1950s, came out to Booksies Paperbacks in Chicago’s Beverly community to join writer John O’Donnell for a book and photo signing.
O’Donnell, a longtime friend of Pierce, said he grew up in a “mixed household,” — meaning his mother was a Cubs fan and his father was a White Sox fan. So what else better to do than write a book about those experiences?
“I felt like I was qualified to see what both sides are like, and they are fantastic,” O’Donnell said. “So I decided I’d write about comparing what the two crowds, the two ballparks, everything, between 1964 and 1969.”
Waiting patiently in the line that stretched out of the parking lot to 103rd Street just west of Western Avenue, were Jane McGrath and her 23-year-old son, Stephen.
“Stephen and I are both big White Sox fans, no matter who’s around we try to get things signed,” Jane McGrath said. “My dad wanted the book, and so we are here.”
At the front of the line, Jim Menard was as excited as he could be. He was introducing his two grandsons to a “baseball player of (high) caliber.” He was eagerly taking photos of 10-year-old Jack and 8-year-old Michael as they posed with Pierce.
“I’ve given up hope of ever meeting someone of his caliber because he’s not only professional on the field, but he really sets the bar in terms of being a real gentleman,” said Menard, 64.
Menard said he misses the days when baseball was a game, and not a business. He also watched Pierce play at Comiskey Park back in the day.
Jack Menard, 10, even received some throwing tips from the legend himself.
“He told me to throw overhand,” he said.
Jim Menard said he took his grandsons to a White Sox game recently and said they didn’t know who No. 19 was along the outfield wall of White Sox greats.
“Now when they go to a White Sox game, they’ll see his name and number on the left-field wall and they’ll know it means something to them,” Menard said.
Philip Kujawa, 7, of Beverly, was excited to meet Pierce.
“I was waiting all week for this,” Philip said. “He’s really nice, and I read a book about old-time baseball players.”
His father, Philip Kujawa, Sr., was just as thrilled about the meeting.
“It was a great honor to finally meet Billy Pierce,” the 48-year-old Kujawa said. “He’s probably the best left-handed pitcher that’s not in the hall of fame. Hopefully he’ll be there soon.”
Amid the flurry of fans waiting to have their “Like Night and Day” books and black-and-white glossy photos of Pierce signed was Kathleen Soskie, with a baseball card of Pierce from “sometime in the 1950s.”
“My son and I went to a baseball card shop on 95th Street about 20 years ago, looking for a Billy Pierce baseball card,” Soskie said. “We found this one and practically had to wrestle it away from the Evergreen Park mayor at the time.”
Time was not an issue for Pierce, as he was all smiles and did not turn away a single fan. Dressed neatly in a button-down shirt, with his hair neatly combed to the side, he chatted with some of the fans about the good old days.
“I enjoy this,” Pierce said. “You see a lot of people bringing back things that happened years ago, bringing back people that I used to know, because I lived in Evergreen (Park) for 34 years. I enjoy meeting people.”
He said he particularly likes to meet the younger fans.
“The little kids are fun,” Pierce said. “But some of them have this picture of (a younger) me, and look like they want to say, ‘Who’s this old guy signing it?’ ”
O’Donnell said proceeds of Saturday’s sales will benefit Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities.
Pierce’s pitching led to 186 wins and 1,796 strikeouts. He played 13 seasons with the White Sox and was selected to the All-Star Game seven times.