“They called me crazy and I was.” Jimmy Piersall

He was an 18 year old kid out of Waterbury Connecticut when James Anthony Piersall signed with the Red Sox in 1948. Two years later he made his major league debut at Fenway Park, pinch running for Ted Williams in a comeback win against the Yankees; and in 1952, he made it to the Red Sox. A tremendous raw talent, the 22 year old rookie played 30 games at shortstop, 21 games in right, threw in a couple in center and even played a game at third base. Taking to calling himself “The Waterbury Wizard”, the brash and cocky kid did not endear himself to the veterans on the squad. However, it didn’t take long to realize that the young Piersall was battling more than just opposing pitchers. By the end of June he had been involved in an on field fight with Billy Martin, a clubhouse fight with teammate Mickey McDermott and had spanked the four year old son of teammate Vern Stephens.

Banished to the minor league Birmingham Barons to mature and find himself, his antics continued until he climed atop the grandstand roof to heckle the home plate umpire. Receiving a three game suspension, he was sent to Westbourough State Hospital in Massachusetts. Diagnosed with “nervous exhaustion”, he spent the remainder of the 1952 season there.

He returned to the Red Sox in 1953 and became their regular rightfielder. Enjoying one of his finest seasons, he finished ninth in the MVP voting. Now entrenched in the Red Sox outfield, he would ultimately move to centerfield where, flanked by Ted Williams in left and Jackie Jensen in right, he was part of the best outfield in the American League. A two time all star with the Red Sox, he was the first centerfield recipient of the Gold Glove Award in 1958.

On December 2, 1958, the Red Sox traded Piersall to the Cleveland Indians for first baseman Vic Wertz and centerfielder Gary Geiger. He played 10 more seasons with the Indians, Senators, Mets before finishing in California with the Angels. And he continued to battle his demons.

Never quite fulfilling his tremendous promise as a baseball player, Jimmy Piersall’s contributions range far beyond the baseball field. His very public battle with manic depression (bi-polar disorder) raised a level of national awareness of mental illness and the courage it takes to endure. His story is chronicled in his book Fear Strikes Out.

http://www.amazon.com/Fear-Strikes-Out-Piersall-Story/dp/0803287615

Piersall became an inspiration to millions of Americans and played a highly significant role in bringing mental illness out of the closet. Embraced by the fans, they often paid the fines that his colorful behavior, at times, incurred.

Following the Red Sox World Series victory in 2004, Piersall was part of the Red Sox contigent which was invited to the White House. “This is a real thrill for a poor kid from Waterbury” he said, “and I’m a 75 year old man, there’s not much left.” In 2010, Jimmy Piersall was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame. In November he celebrated his 82nd birthday.

         And so it was on this date in Fenway Park history, December 2, 1958

 

 

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About fenwaypark100

Hello and welcome, my name is Raymond Sinibaldi. An educator for more than two decades, a baseball fan for nearly 60 years, I have authored four books about baseball and her glorious history; with a fifth on the way in late spring of 2015; the first, The Babe in Red Stockings which was co-authored with Kerry Keene and David Hickey. It is a chronicle of Babe's days with the Red Sox. We also penned a screenplay about Babe's Red Sox days so if any of you are Hollywood inclined or would like to represent us in forwarding that effort feel free to contact me through my email. In 2012 we three amigos published Images of Fenway Park in honor of the 100th birthday of Fenway Park. That led to the creation of this blog. The following year, 2013 came my first solo venture, Spring Training in Bradenton and Sarasota. This is a pictorial history of spring training in those two Florida cities. The spring of 2014 brought forth the 1967 Red Sox, The Impossible Dream Season. The title speaks for itself and it also is a pictorial history. Many of the photos in this book were never published before. The spring of 2015 will bring 1975 Red Sox, American League Champions. Another pictorial effort, this will be about the Red Sox championship season of 1975 and the World Series that restored baseball in America. I was fortunate enough to consult with sculptor Franc Talarico on the “Jimmy Fund” statue of Ted Williams which stands outside both Fenway Park and Jet Blue Park Fenway South, in Fort Myers Florida. That story is contained in the near 300 posts which are contained herein. This blog has been dormant for awhile but 2015 will bring it back to life so jump on board, pass the word and feel free to contact me about anything you read or ideas you may have for a topic. Thanks for stopping by, poke around and enjoy. Autographed copies of all my books are available here, simply click on Raymond Sinibaldi and email me.
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