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A Hall of Fame personality

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
More Info on Jimmy Piersall
By Mike Puma
Special to

Signature Game

June 23, 1963 - Having noted that New York Mets teammate Duke Snider didn't receive much attention for hitting his 400th career home run earlier in the season, Jimmy Piersall concocted a plan to receive considerably more ink for his next homer, which would be No. 100. He even practiced it.

Facing Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Dallas Green, Piersall hit a pop fly just over the rightfield fence at the Polo Grounds, a distance of about 260 feet. After his first drive into the stands as a Met, he put his plan into operation. He sped around the bases backward. "I did it good, too," Piersall said. "I even shook hands with the coach at third base."

The stunt made the front page of several New York newspapers. But one person who wasn't amused was his manager, Casey Stengel. "Casey was so mad that he cut me [two days later]," Piersall said. "But I got $6,000 severance pay for one month, which made it my best payday in baseball, although I'd hit only .194 for the Mets. He did me a favor."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Piersall grew up as an only child after a much older brother died in Jimmy's youth.

  • As a junior in high school, Piersall began getting headaches that plagued him until the time of his breakdown in 1952.

  • Anthony Perkins, who played Piersall in the 1957 movie "Fear Strikes Out," got a thumbs down in a review by the player. "He threw a baseball like a girl and danced around in the outfield like a ballerina," Piersall said.

  • In the movie, Piersall's father was played by Karl Malden.

  • During a game at Yankee Stadium, Piersall once hid behind the centerfield monuments, and "talked" to Babe Ruth.

  • While playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1960, Piersall was ejected from a game when he refused the home plate umpire's order to stop running around the outfield with his arms raised as the pitch was delivered to Ted Williams. After being ejected, Piersall raced toward the umpire, throwing his cap and glove. He had to be restrained by teammates. Piersall was guilty of violating an obscure rule that forbids fielders from trying to distract the batter.

  • Williams called Piersall the best outfielder he ever saw.

  • Piersall also earned praise from Ruth's widow, who told him, "The Babe would have loved watching you play."

  • Piersall took two years of acting lessons and did an episode of "The Lucy Show" with Lucille Ball in which he played himself.

  • Piersall's first front-office job consisted mainly of handling group ticket sales for the Oakland A's in 1972. "The deal was I would get 20 percent of what I sold, and I'd draw against my commissions," Piersall said.

  • Although they once fought, Piersall became friends with Billy Martin, who hired Piersall as a coach with the Texas Rangers. "He was a very human individual," Piersall said. "Sensitive and, like me, easily offended."

  • When Piersall was hired by the White Sox as a broadcaster by owner Bill Veeck in 1977, he was teamed with the legendary Harry Caray. "Veeck had nothing to lose," Caray said. "He had a bad team and he needed to sell tickets. He knew that Jimmy and I could do that, somehow."

  • Umpires threatened to forfeit a game against the White Sox in 1981, saying Piersall's taunts in the broadcasting booth were inciting the crowd.

  • When Piersall criticized White Sox slugger Greg Luzinski for failing to run out a grounder, Luzinski threatened not to re-sign with the club if Piersall remained on the job.

  • Besides "Fear Strikes Out," Piersall authored "The Truth Hurts," in which he details his ouster from the White Sox organization.

  • After being fired as a minor league instructor by the Cubs in 1999, Piersall was looking forward to life after baseball. "I love to fish," he said. "I can fish 4-5 hours a day. And it's a blessing that I won't have to get on those airplanes anymore."

  • Piersall has twice undergone open-heart surgery.

  • He had nine children with his first wife Mary. They divorced in 1968.

  • Piersall lives with his third wife Jan, whom he married in 1982, in Chicago.

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