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Jim Piersall

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James Anthony Piersall

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[edit] Biographical Information

"Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?" - Jimmy Piersall

Jimmy Piersall was a high-visibility player who had a long career in the major leagues. Some saw him as a minor star who possessed natural all-around athleticism. A good hitter and excellent fielder with a strong arm and above-average speed, Piersall was later a broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox along with Harry Caray. He was one of the few Americans whose battle with mental health issues were well-known in the 1950s. He eventually figured out that his issues would give him the freedom to act zany, which endeared him to fans.

Piersall was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1948, and broke in for 6 games in 1950. There wasn't much room for him to stick, with Vern Stephens at shortstop hitting 30 home runs, and Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Al Zarilla in the outfield all hitting around .320.

He came back up in 1952, playing 30 games at shortstop and 22 in the outfield. The next year, 1953, he became a regular in the outfield, as DiMaggio and Zarilla had aged, and Williams was off most of the season serving in the military. Piersall remained a regular in the outfield through 1958. He had very good range defensively, and while he was not a tremendous hitter, he showed moderate power.

He led the American League in doubles in 1956, and was occasionally among the leaders in other offensive categories. He got votes for the MVP Award several times, finishing as high as 9th in 1953. He won a Gold Glove in 1958.

After 1958, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in the Vic Wertz trade. He slumped in 1959, but hit 18 home runs in 1960 and batted .322 in 1961. He won another Gold Glove in 1961.

Moving to the Washington Senators for 1962, he had another off-year. In 1963, he played for three teams: for the Senators, for the New York Mets (he was traded for Gil Hodges), and after being released by the Mets, for the Los Angeles Angels. He was to spend the rest of his career with the Angels. In 1964, he hit .314 in 87 games with the Angels.

Similarity scores show the most similar player as journeyman Dave Martinez, but Piersall was almost certainly a better offensive and defensive force than Martinez. Detroit's Johnny Groth, who played during the same era, compares favorably to Piersall.

He was the subject of the movie Fear Strikes Out, based on his autobiography, published in 1955. He was a coach for the Texas Rangers in 1975. He was a radio and television broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox from 1977 until 1981, teaming up with Harry Caray most of that time, although in 1977, he teamed with Mary Shane, the first female announcer in baseball history, for radio and television broadcasts.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2-time AL All-Star (1954 & 1956)
  • 2-time AL Gold Glove Winner (1958/CF & 1961/OF)
  • AL Doubles Leader (1956)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1957)

[edit] Further Reading

  • Jim Piersall and Al Hirshberg: Fear Strikes Out, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, MA, 1955.
  • Jim Piersall (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, March 1977, pp. 81-83. [1]
  • Mark Armour: "Jimmy Piersall", in Mark Armour and Bill Nowlin, eds.: Red Sox Baseball in the Days of Ike and Elvis: The Red Sox of the 1950s, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2012, pp. 272-281. ISBN 978-1933599243

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