Yes it has been a while since I have written a post. I decided that instead of forcing bad posts on my readers I will write only a few times a week and the stories I write will take on the forgotten and overlooked players in sports history. For better or worse, there are many great stories in baseball history. Everything from Moe Berg the catcher that was a spy to Korleone Young the basketball player that wasn’t. This post will center on former major leaguer Jimmy Piersall.
For those of you you will never know the disease that is bipolar disorder, consider yourself lucky. I have encountered it a few times in my life and it is a struggle not only for the person who has it, but also his or her family. Of course back in the 1940s and 1950s, people who had a bipolar disorder were considered crazy. They were thought to be suffering from a nervous breakdown or something similar.
Jimmy Piersall was a player who struggled with his disorder for years, and although he never really overcame it in his career, there were some fantastic stories about him throughout the 1950s and 1960s when he played. Piersall was signed by the Red Sox in 1948 as a then 18 year old. By 1950 he was playing in the major leagues as one of the youngest players at the time. His nickname was “The Waterbury Wizard”, because of his dazzling game and the fact he was from Waterbury, Ct. By 1952 he was a mainstay on the Red Sox and also had his first public showing of his disorder.
It was May 24th, 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. These outbursts would continue through the season, however when he spanked the four year old son of a teammate in the clubhouse, the Red Sox moved him down to the minor leagues. It didn’t get any better in the minors.
He was ejected from several games and even heckled an umpire from the roof of a stadium after being ejected from one game. His behavior was so erratic that he was finally forced to seek treatment where he was diagnosed with “nervous exhaustion”. He would blame this on his father for driving him to become a professional baseball player. He remained in treatment for seven weeks.
In 1953 he came back to the Red Sox and went on to have a great season, eventually finishing 9th in MVP voting and remained a fixture in Boston until 1958. The on field antics didn’t stop though he was known for talking to himself or statues in Monument Park at Yankee stadium. He once wore a Beatles wig to an at bat and played air guitar on his bat.
What’s amazing is that even though he was clearly “insane” as he once referred to himself, he would put up very solid numbers year in and year out. Of course he could also be counted on for being ejected from games for crazily running back and forth in the outfield during a Ted Williams at bat, weraing a little league helmet during an at bat, and throwing a baseball at the Chicago White Sox scoreboard. These were just the highlights.
He would go on to play for the Indians, Senators, Mets and Angels over the course of a 17 year career. One of his funniest moments on the field was when he was with the Mets. He hit his 100th career home run and decided to run the bases in order but doing so running backwards. After hisc areer ended he would go on to work in the front office of the Angels, then briefly had a career as a broadcaster, including a stint with Harry Caray.
He wrote two books about his life in baseball, Fear Strikes Out and The Truth Hurts. The first book was later turned into a movie where he was portrayed by Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame). If you haven’t had a chance to see it, you owe yourself a favor as a baseball fan to check it out.
His story is truly amazing and when you consider what he had done you would think he would have been run out of baseball if he was playing now-a-days. As you can imagine he has many cards from his playing days. Some can be had for as little as $5 while most (because of the age of the card) will run between $20 and $40. What you might now know is that there are plenty of his certified autographs available on current cards. Most of these also sell for between $15 – $25. He is such a unique player and part of baseball history. He would be a fun addition to any collection and certainly would allow you to tell stories of baseball’s most famous “insane” athletes.