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“Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened? — Jimmy Piersall, The Truth Hurts

Thanks to Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of Jimmy Piersall in the film Fear Strikes Out (1957), quite a few people, many of them not baseball fans, came to know of Piersall. The brash, high-strung rookie outfielder made a splash with the Boston Red Sox in the early 1950s, but was sent down to the minors after suffering a mental breakdown. Americans during the Eisenhower era weren’t very sympathetic to fellow citizens suffering from mental disorders and, after Piersall’s recovery and return to the Red Sox, baseball fans in opposing cities made his life hell. Largely unfazed by their jibes and taunts, Piersall went six-for-six in his first game back, and subsequently fashioned a very respectable 17-year big league career, ending up with career marks of .272 and 104 HRs (he celebrated his 100th by trotting around the bases backwards, much to the dismay of his manager). He was cited by no less an authority than Casey Stengel as a better defensive outfielder than the incomparable DiMaggio. But perhaps Piersall’s greatest contribution to baseball lay in his insistence that the game should be fun to play. After his recovery, Piersall consistently displayed a keen wit, a (questionable) sense of humor, and a zany joie de vivre that some writers and fans loved, but which weren’t always appreciated in the clubhouse and front office. After his retirement in 1967, Piersall worked at a number of baseball-related jobs, most notably as a radio broadcaster with the White Sox. However, Jimmy’s broadcasting career was short-circuited after repeated on-air criticisms of players, the manager, and the team-owner’s wife. ~ Written by Albert Kilchesty

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