Former Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall, known for his colorful antics both on and off the diamond, passed away on Saturday at a care facility in Wheaton, Ill., the club announced Sunday. He was 87.A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame, Piersall spent eight of his 17 Major
Former Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall, known for his colorful antics both on and off the diamond, passed away on Saturday at a care facility in Wheaton, Ill., the club announced Sunday. He was 87.
A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame, Piersall spent eight of his 17 Major League seasons in Boston, appearing in 931 games with the team. He won two Gold Glove Awards in 1958 and '61 as the primary center fielder alongside Jackie Jensen and Ted Williams.
"Ted Williams said [Jimmy] was the greatest center fielder he ever saw," legendary White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson told MLB.com.
Piersall was elected to the American League All-Star team in 1954 and '56, also earning the Thomas A. Yawkey Award as Boston's Most Valuable Player in '56 after leading the Majors in doubles (40).
Born on Nov. 14, 1929, in Waterbury, Conn., Piersall grew up a Red Sox fan and got the opportunity to play for his favorite ballclub when he signed with the team at age 18. He led his high school basketball team to the New England Basketball Championship in '47 and scored 29 points in the title game at the Boston Garden.
In 1952, Piersall had a mental breakdown that nearly ended his career. He battled mental illness throughout his playing days and wrote an autobiography, Fear Strikes Out, that was published in '55. It was later made into a movie two years later, which helped advance awareness of mental health issues.
"Jimmy had some issues," Harrelson said. "Sometimes he went off the edge. But he was something. [Williams] said he was never afraid of a wall, and back in those days, they didn't have many padded walls. Most of them were concrete. If you hit them, you were going to get hurt. But Ted said he never backed away from a wall."
Piersall holds the Red Sox record for most hits in a nine-inning game, going 6-for-6 against the St. Louis Browns on June 10, 1953. Regarded as one of the best defensive players of his era, he was elected into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2010.
Piersall batted .272 with 104 home runs and 591 RBIs over the course of his career while playing for the Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, New York Mets and Los Angeles and California Angels, in addition to the Red Sox.
Quite memorably, while playing for the Mets in June 1963, he clubbed his 100th career home run and circled the bases backwards.
"He was very passionate about everything he did," White Sox radio analyst Darrin Jackson said of Piersall. "Obviously, he was a little loco to go with it."
Following his career as a player, Piersall joined the White Sox broadcasting team alongside Harry Caray and later worked as a Minor League outfield instructor for the Cubs. He played a major role in the development of several notable big leaguers, and in 2012 he was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame.
"The advice he gave me was, 'Do it your own way. Don't listen to anybody,'" Jackson said. 'You be you and broadcast the way you want to broadcast.' He was always giving me advice whether it was as an outfielder or broadcaster. That's Jimmy. He was who he was. But he said some crazy things to some of the fans when we were working and wasn't afraid to say what he felt."
Piersall is survived by his wife, Jan, and his nine children, as well as his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @OMacklinMLB.