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Jimmy Piersall (1929 – 2017)

by Kirk Fox

Former MLB center fielder wrote about his struggle with mental illness…

Jimmy Piersall, a former Major League center fielder who wrote about his struggle with mental illness, has died at age 87, according to multiple news sources.

The Boston Red Sox said Piersall died Saturday, June 3, 2017, at a care facility in Wheaton, Illinois. Piersall, who played with the Red Sox for seven seasons, is a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.


Piersall was born Nov. 14, 1929, in Waterbury, Connecticut. He led his high school basketball team to the New England Championship, scoring 29 points. He signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox when he was 18.

He made his first appearance in the big leagues in 1950. He made the All-Star team in 1954 and 1956. In 1956, he led the league in doubles. Piersall was an outstanding defensive player who won two Gold Glove awards. After playing for the Red Sox, he went on to play for the Indians, Senators, Mets, and Angels. Piersall retired after the 1967 season.

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Piersall was known for several strange incidents during his career. He got into a fistfight with Yankees infielder Billy Martin before a game in 1952. After a few more incidents that season, Piersall was sent to a minor league team in Birmingham, Alabama. After more bizarre outbursts with Birmingham, including jumping on the grandstand roof to heckle an umpire, Piersall was admitted to a hospital for “nervous exhaustion” and missed the rest of the season. He would return for the 1953 season.

Piersall’s odd behavior continued even as he excelled on the field. When he hit his 100th career home run, he ran around the bases backward.

Piersall co-wrote his biography in 1955 titled “Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story.” He talks about having a nervous breakdown and being admitted to a mental hospital for therapy. Piersall’s father put an enormous amount of pressure on him to be great in baseball. The book was adapted into a movie in 1957 that featured Anthony Perkins as Piersall. Piersall later was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

After his playing career, Piersall was a broadcaster for the Texas Rangers in 1974 and the Chicago White Sox from 1977 until 1981.
He is survived by his wife, Jan; nine children; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He is survived by his wife, Jan; nine children; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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