James Anthony Piersall (November 14, 1929 – June 3, 2017) was an
American baseball center fielder who played 17 seasons in Major League
(MLB) for five teams, from 1950 through 1967. Piersall was
best known for his well-publicized battle with bipolar disorder that
became the subject of a book and a film, Fear Strikes Out.
1 Early life
2 Athletic career
3 Personal problems
4 Later athletic career
5 Career after retirement from baseball
7 Personal life
9 See also
12 External links
Piersall led the Leavenworth High School (Waterbury, Connecticut)
basketball team to the 1947
New England championship, scoring 29
points in the final game.
Piersall became a professional baseball player at age 18, having
signed a contract with the
Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox in 1948. He reached Major
Baseball in 1950, playing in six games as one of its youngest
In 1952, he earned a more substantial role with the Red Sox,
frequently referring to himself as "the Waterbury Wizard," a nickname
not well received by teammates.
On June 10, 1953, he set the Red Sox club record for hits in a
9-inning game, with 6.
On May 24, 1952, just before a game against the New York Yankees,
Piersall engaged in a fistfight with Yankee infielder Billy Martin.
Following the brawl, Piersall briefly scuffled with teammate Mickey
McDermott in the Red Sox clubhouse. After several such incidents,
including Piersall spanking the four-year-old son of teammate Vern
Stephens in the Red Sox clubhouse during a game, he was demoted to the
Birmingham Barons on June 28.
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
Bolling's home run by spraying a water pistol on home plate.
Receiving a three-day suspension, Piersall entered treatment three
days later at the
Westborough State Hospital
Westborough State Hospital in Massachusetts.
Diagnosed with "nervous exhaustion", he spent the next seven weeks in
the facility and missed the remainder of the season.
Piersall returned to the Red Sox in the 1953 season, finishing ninth
in voting for the MVP Award, and remained a fixture in the starting
lineup through 1958.
He once stepped up to bat wearing a Beatles wig and playing "air
guitar" on his bat, led cheers for himself in the outfield during
breaks in play, and "talked" to
Babe Ruth behind the center field
monuments at Yankee Stadium. In his autobiography, Piersall commented,
"Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who
ever heard of
Jimmy Piersall until that happened?"
Later athletic career
Piersall was selected to the
American League All-Star team in 1954 and
1956. By the end of the 1956 season, in which he played all 156 games,
he posted a league-leading 40 doubles, scored 91 runs, drove in 87,
and had a .293 batting average. The following year, he hit 19 home
runs and scored 103 runs. He won a
Gold Glove Award
Gold Glove Award in 1958.
On December 2, 1958, Piersall was traded to the
Cleveland Indians for
Vic Wertz and outfielder Gary Geiger. Piersall was
reunited with his former combatant Billy Martin, who also had been
acquired by the team.
Memorial Day doubleheader at
Chicago in 1960, 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
Joe Gordon 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 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 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
Despite the minor eruptions, Piersall earned a $2,500 bonus for
improved behavior, but was dealt to the Washington Senators on October
5. The outfielder was then sent to the
New York Mets
New York 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 Philadelphia Phillies, Piersall hit the 100th home run of
his career, off Phillies pitcher Dallas Green. He ran around the bases
in the correct order but facing backwards as he made the circuit.
One month after reaching the milestone, Piersall was released by the
Mets, but he found employment with the
Los Angeles Angels
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. In a
17-season career, Piersall was a .272 hitter with 104 home runs and
591 RBIs in 1,734 games.
Career after retirement from baseball
In 1955, his book Fear Strikes Out, co-authored by Al Hirshberg, was
published. It became the subject of a 1957 movie version, Fear Strikes
Out, in which Piersall was portrayed by
Anthony Perkins and his father
by Karl Malden, directed by Robert Mulligan. Piersall eventually
disowned the film because of what he saw as its distortion of the
facts, including over-blaming his father for his problems. Many years
later, Piersall authored The Truth Hurts, in which he details his
ouster from the
Chicago White Sox organization.
Piersall had broadcasting jobs with the Texas Rangers beginning in
1974 (doing color and play-by-play for televised games) and with the
Chicago White Sox from 1977 to 1981, when he was teamed with Harry
Caray. He ultimately was fired after excessive on-air criticism of
Piersall, who wintered in Arizona, was invited to a
White House event
2004 World Series
2004 World Series champion
Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox on March 2,
2005. According to a Red Sox official, the
White House prepared a
guest list of about 1,000 for the event, scheduled to be staged on the
South Lawn. "This is a real thrill for a poor kid from Waterbury,
Connecticut," Piersall said. "I'm a 75-year-old man. There aren't many
things left." He also said he visited the
White House once before as
U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
On September 17, 2010, Piersall was inducted into the Boston Red Sox
Hall of Fame.
Piersall appeared as a mystery guest on the television show What's My
Line? that aired on April 28, 1957. Guest panelist U.S. Senator George
Florida correctly guessed Piersall's identity.
Piersall appeared on
The Lucy Show
The Lucy Show with
Lucille Ball and Gale Gordon.
The episode originally was broadcast on September 13, 1965. Lucy, Mr.
Mooney and Lucy's son meet Jimmy at Marineland on the Palos Verdes
Piersall was married three times. He had nine children with his first
wife, Mary. They divorced in 1968. He resided in the
until his death, with his third wife Jan, whom he married in 1982.
Piersall died in
Wheaton, Illinois on June 3, 2017 at the age of 87.
List of Major League
Baseball annual doubles leaders
List of Major League
Baseball single-game hits leaders
^ Photo of scuffle with Piersall, fans, and police (archived)
^ Game statistics for June 23, 1963:
New York Mets
New York Mets 5, Philadelphia
Phillies 0 at retrosheet.org
What's My Line?
What's My Line? - Jim Piersall; Paul Douglas; Sen. George A.
Smathers (panel) (Apr 28, 1957)"
Piersall, Jim and Al Hirshberg. Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall
Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company (1955); University of
Nebraska Press (1999). ISBN 978-0803287617.
Piersall, Jimmy and Dick Whittingham. The Truth Hurts. Contemporary
Books (1985). ISBN 978-0809253777.
Career statistics and player information from MLB,
Puma, Mike (19 November 2003). "More Info on Jimmy Piersall". ESPN
profile and career chronology
"Jimmy Rounding First" Panorama – Extreme Photo Constructions
American League Outfielder
Gold Glove Award
1957: Kaline, Mays, Miñoso
1958: Kaline, Piersall, Siebern
1959: Jensen, Kaline, Miñoso
1960: Landis, Maris, Miñoso
1961: Kaline, Landis, Piersall
1962: Kaline, Landis, Mantle
1963: Kaline, Landis, Yastrzemski
1964: Davalillo, Kaline, Landis
1965: Kaline, Tresh, Yastrzemski
1966: Agee, Kaline, Oliva
1967: Blair, Kaline, Yastrzemski
1968: Smith, Stanley, Yastrzemski
1969: Blair, Stanley, Yastrzemski
1970: Berry, Blair, Stanley
1971: Blair, Otis, Yastrzemski
1972: Berry, Blair, Murcer
1973: Blair, Otis, Stanley
1974: Blair, Otis, Rudi
1975: Blair, Lynn, Rudi
1976: Evans, Manning, Rudi
1977: Beníquez, Cowens, Yastrzemski
1978: Evans, Lynn, Miller
1979: Evans, Lezcano, Lynn
1980: Lynn, Murphy, Wilson
1981: Evans, Henderson, Murphy
1982: Evans, Murphy, Winfield
1983: Evans, Murphy, Winfield
1984: Evans, Murphy, Winfield
1985: Evans, Murphy, Pettis, Winfield
1986: Barfield, Pettis, Puckett
1987: Barfield, Puckett, Winfield
1988: Pettis, Puckett, White
1989: Pettis, Puckett, White
1990: Burks, Griffey Jr., Pettis
1991: Griffey Jr., Puckett, White
1992: Griffey Jr., Puckett, White
1993: Griffey Jr., Lofton, White
1994: Griffey Jr., Lofton, White
1995: Griffey Jr., Lofton, White
1996: Buhner, Griffey Jr., Lofton
1997: Edmonds, Griffey Jr., Williams
1998: Edmonds, Griffey Jr., Williams
1999: Green, Griffey Jr., Williams
2000: Dye, Erstad, Williams
2001: Cameron, Hunter, Suzuki
2002: Erstad, Hunter, Suzuki
2003: Cameron, Hunter, Suzuki
2004: Hunter, Suzuki, Wells
2005: Hunter, Suzuki, Wells
2006: Hunter, Suzuki, Wells
2007: Hunter, Suzuki, Sizemore
2008: Hunter, Suzuki, Sizemore
2009: Hunter, Suzuki, Jones
2010: Crawford, Gutiérrez, Suzuki
2011: Ellsbury, Gordon, Markakis
2012: Gordon, Jones, Reddick
2013: Gordon, Jones, Victorino
2014: Gordon, Jones, Markakis
2015: Calhoun, Céspedes, Kiermaier
2016: Betts, Gardner, Kiermaier
2017: Betts, Buxton, Gordon