Tuesday, June 6, 2017

RIP Jimmy Piersall (1929-2017)

“I want the world to know that people like me who have returned from the half-world of mental oblivion are not forever contaminated."  -- Jimmy Piersall
In 1952, at the age of 22 and after playing only 56 games for the Boston Red Sox, Jimmy Piersall had what was then called a nervous breakdown.  He was admitted to a mental hospital and treated with electric shock.  Piersall returned to the team the following season, and went on to enjoy a fine 17-year career, playing for five teams. He was a two-time All Star (1954 and 1956) with a very respectable career batting average of.272.  He was an excellent center fielder, winning two Gold Gloves

Piersall's recovery and successful return to the game was certainly impressive.  But what was truly remarkable was how he went public with his struggles with what was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder in Fear Strikes Out.  The book was published in 1955, when such things were not generally talked about in public, particularly by sports figures.  (I never read the book, but I do remember the movie starring Anthony Perkins who, not surprisingly, could do an emotional breakdown as well as anyone, but was too uncoordinated to convincingly portray a ballplayer.) 

Throughout his career, Piersall was known for being, shall we say, "colorful."  He fought with players and fans.  He shot water in an umpire's face with a water pistol, wore a Beatles wig to home plate, and threw baseballs and an orange at a scoreboard.  Casey Stengel, who managed him on the Mets, said, "he's great but you have to play him in a cage."

Perhaps the perfect metaphor for his unconventional career was how he commemorated his 100th career home run in 1963 (as a Met).  He made it home but did it his way -- running around the bases backwards.


Post a Comment