Society

Baseball Legend Jimmy Piersall Dies At 87

| by Michael Doherty

Former Major League baseball star Jimmy Piersall has died at age 87.

Piersall was known for his colorful personality and impressive skill as a center fielder, according to the Chicago Tribune. He died on June 3 surrounded by family.

The Red Sox announced Piersall's death, at a care facility in Wheaton, Illinois. Piersall played for the Red Sox for seven seasons, and is a member of the team's Hall of Fame.

Piersall, born in Connecticut in 1929, made his Major League debut in 1950. In addition to playing for the Red Sox, he also played with the Mets, Indians, Angels, and the Senators, according to Legacy.com.

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Piersall was known for his antics on and off of the field, such as running the bases backward after his 100th career home run, and nearly causing the Red Sox to forfeit a game after he flipped off an umpire.

"I never smoke or drank," said Piersall. "All I did was like broads."

He once boasted that his unpredictable persona "made me a lot of money."

"I'm the gooney bird that walked to the bank," said Piersall in 2001. "I'm doing better than most of those guys who said I was crazy."

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He was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and his struggles with mental illness were recorded in his biography, "Fear Strikes Out," which was later adapted into a movie starring Anthony Perkins as Piersall, according to The New York Times.

"I was a funny man, a baseball clown, and where the Red Sox went, the fans flocked to see me," said Piersall in the book, which he co-wrote with Al Hirshberg. "Almost everybody except the Red Sox and the umpires thought I was a riot. My wife knew I was sick, yet she was helpless to stop my mad rush toward a mental collapse."

Piersall became a broadcaster for the White Sox after his playing career, working with Harry Carray.

"Jimmy had some issues, obviously, and I didn't know him well enough to know what kind," said White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson. "But when he didn't take his medicine, sometimes he went off the edge."

"Fans liked Harry and I, so we never changed," said Pierall in 2014. "We were entertainers for a last-place ballclub. And let me tell you, that wasn't easy. You'd hear Harry with bases loaded, cry: 'He paaaaaapped it up.'"

"Mr. Piersall’s courageous description of his struggles with manic depression, now called bipolar disorder, helped bring the disease and its treatments out of the shadows," wrote New York University Langone Medical Center Professor Dr. Barron H. Lerner. "It was really a big deal 60 years ago."

Sources: Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Legacy.com / Photo credit: Andrei Niemimaki/Flickr

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