A gifted all-around performer, Jimmy Piersall was a talented defender who possessed modest power and hit his share of doubles. Despite his baseball playing abilities, he was best known for the demons in his closet. Suffering from mental health problems, Jimmy was the model for Anthony Perkins’ character in the film Fear Strikes Out.
When Piersall made his debut with the Red Sox in 1950, they had a bevy of talent in the outfield with Hall of Famer Ted Williams and two guys that hit above .320 that season: Dom DiMaggio and Al Zarilla. Due to their stockpile in the outfield, Jimmy was given a trial at shortstop as a rookie but when Vern Stephens joined the fold, his time at short was over. With Ted Williams off to the Korean War, a spot was opened for Piersall in 1953. He played regularly and led the league in sacrifices.
Piersall made his first All-Star team in 1954 when he paced American League right fielders in two-baggers. The Red Sox finished below .500 in 1954 but when new skipper Pinky Higgins switched Jimmy to center field and Jackie Jensen to right, they finished above .500 again. At his best in 1956, Jimmy made his second All-Star appearance and led the junior circuit with 40 doubles. In the field, Piersall had ten outfield assists and posted a .992 fielding percentage.
A career year for power came in 1957 as Jimmy came within one long ball of reaching 20. He, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were the only Major League center fielders with 100 runs scored that season. The next season Jimmy won a Gold Glove Award but his batting took a turn for the worse. Traded to the Indians for Vic Wertz for the 1959 season, Jimmy’s bat stayed cold during that campaign before it thawed out in 1960. That year he re-established himself as a star Major Leaguer by swatting 18 homeruns and stealing 18 bases.
During the high-powered offensive season of 1961, Jimmy led American League center fielders in batting average. He topped center fielders in fielding percentage and was thus awarded a Gold Glove Award. Cleveland astutely dealt Jimmy to the Senators when his value was high and he quickly lost it in Washington. His batting average, which had been .322 in 1961, fell to .244 with the Senators in ’62. He began the ’63 season with Washington but was traded to the Mets for Gil Hodges. About two months later he was released and finished the season with the Angels.
Piersall stayed on with the Angels in a limited capacity until 1967. In an outfield platoon for Bill Rigney’s charges in 1964, Jimmy had his last good year when he hit .314. His platoon status shifted to backup status the following year and he never again was a regular. After his playing days, Jimmy went upstairs and joined the broadcasting profession.
G 1,734/R 811/H 1,604/2B 256/3B 52/HR 104/RBI 591/SB 115/BB 524/SO 583/BA .272/SA .386/OBP .332