Web Analytics and Web Statistics by NextSTAT The Boston Sports Nut: Antics and Problems of Jimmy Piersall - Characters of the Game

Monday, June 9, 2008

Antics and Problems of Jimmy Piersall - Characters of the Game

On May 24, 1952, just before the game against the NY Yankees, Piersall engaged in a fistfight with Billy Martin. Following the brawl, Piersall briefly scuffled with teammate Mickey McDermott in the Red Sox clubhouse. After several such incidents, he was sent down to the Minors to the Birmingham Barons on June 28. The final straw came when Piersall actually spanked the 4-year old son of teammate Vern Stephens in the Red Sox Clubhouse during a game.

In less than three weeks with the Barons, Piersall was ejected on four occasions, the last coming after striking out in the second inning on July 16. Prior to his at-bat, he had acknowledged teammate Milt Bollings home run by spraying a water pistol on home plate. Piersall then moved to the grandstand roof to heckle home plate umpire Neil Strocchia.

Receiving a three-day suspension, Piersall entered treatment three days later at the Westboro State Hospital in Massachusetts. Diagnosed with "nervous exhaustion," he would spend the next seven weeks in the facility and miss the remainder of the season. According to his autobiography, Piersall blamed much of his condition on his father, who pressured him to succeed as a baseball player as a small child.

Nevertheless, not only would Piersall return to baseball by the opening of the 1953 season, but he finished ninth in voting for the MVP Award. The next year he became the Red Sox's regular center fielder, taking over for Dom DiMaggio and playing well enough to remain a fixture in the starting lineup through 1958.

He once played a game in a Beatles wig, led cheers for himself in the outfield during breaks in play, and "talked" to Babe Ruth behine center field In his autobiography, Piersall commented, "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?"
Piersall was selected to the AL All-Star team team in 1954 and 1956, largely due to his outfield play, which drew favorable comparisons to Joe DiMaggio.
On December 2, 1958, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger. , Piersall was reunited with his former combatant Billy Martin, who also had been acquired by the team. In the Memorial Day doubleheader in Chicago, he was ejected in the first game for heckling umpire Larry Napp, then after catching the final out of the second game, whirled around and threw the ball at the White Sox' scoreboard. He later wore a little league helmet during an at-bat against the Detroit Tigers and after a series of incidents against the Yankees, Indians team physician Donald Kelly ordered psychiatric treatment on June 26.

After a brief absence, Piersall returned only to earn his sixth ejection of the season on July 23, when he was banished after running back and forth in the outfield while the Red Sox' Ted Williams was at bat. His subsequent meeting with American League president Joe Cronin and the departure of manager seemed to settle Piersall down for the remainder of the season.

Piersall came back during the 1961 season, earning a second Gold Glove while also finishing third in the batting race in with a .322 average. However, he remained a volatile player, charging the mound after being hit by a Jim Bunning pitch on June 25, then violently hurling his helmet a month later, earning him a $100 fine in each case.

On September 5, Piersall's 74-year-old father died of a heart attack. Two days after attending the funeral, Piersall returned to play in New York only to be the target of continued fan abuse. During the September 10 doubleheader at Yankee Stadium Piersall was accosted on the field by two fans, one of whom he punched before attempting to kick the other. Despite the minor eruptions, Piersall earned a $2,500 bonus for improved behavior, but following three hectic years in Cleveland, Piersall was dealt to the Washington Senators on October 5. His time in the nation's capital would not be long after his production declined, with the veteran outfielder then being sent to the Mets on May 23, 1963, for cash and a player to be named later.

In a reserve role with the second-year team, Piersall played briefly under manager Casey Stengel. In the fifth inning of the June 23 game against the Phillies, Piersall ran the bases while facing backward (though in the correct order) after hitting the 100th home run of his career off Phillies pitcher Dallas Green. One month after reaching the milestone, Piersall was released by the Mets, but he found employment with the Los Angeles Angels on July 28. He would finish his playing career with them, playing nearly four more years before moving into a front office position on May 8, 1967. More info in Jimmy Piersall

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