June 4, 2017

Jimmy Piersall, Dead At 87

Richard Goldstein, New York Times:
Jimmy Piersall, the often outrageous outfielder and broadcaster whose emotional breakdown while a rookie with the Boston Red Sox was portrayed in the 1957 movie "Fear Strikes Out," a rare glimpse at an athlete's mental illness, died on Saturday in Wheaton, Ill. He was 87. ...

Piersall was an outstanding center fielder, a solid hitter and a two-time All-Star, playing in the major leagues for 17 seasons. But his career nearly ended just when it was getting underway. ...

"I was a funny man, a baseball clown, and where the Red Sox went, the fans flocked to see me," Piersall said in his 1955 book "Fear Strikes Out," written with Al Hirshberg. ... "Almost everybody except the Red Sox and the umpires thought I was a riot. My wife knew I was sick, yet she was helpless to stop my mad rush toward a mental collapse."

The Red Sox demoted Piersall to the minors in June 1952, hoping he could gain control of his emotions, but his antics continued, and he entered a mental hospital in Massachusetts a month later. He remained hospitalized for six weeks, undergoing shock treatment and counseling for a nervous breakdown.

Piersall returned to the Red Sox in 1953 and seemed to have surmounted his emotional demons. But he often showboated in the summers to come, most memorably in June 1963, playing for the Mets, when he circled the bases in their proper order but running backward after hitting his 100th career home run.
An AP story quoted Piersall: "I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated."

Boston Baseball History has a lengthy history of Piersall's life and career.

I have a small connection to Piersall. My paternal grandfather owned several grocery stores in northern Vermont and I've been told that Piersall did a few in-store appearances (and possibly appeared in a television commercial). I don't think there are any photos of my grandfather and Piersall together, but I do have an autographed photo of Piersall in his Red Sox uniform that my grandmother passed on to me.

1 comment:

Jere said...

You gotta get a hold of that commercial!

My not-nearly-as-connectiony connection is that Piersall played semi-pro ball in my dad's town after HS, before he signed with the Red Sox, having grown up as a high school star athlete one town over. So that was a big deal for the whole town to have this guy in the majors.

He was also a hero to my mom (who grew up in the same area), considering she was a Red Sox fan with a brother who had a severe mental illness.