Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Past, Present and Future

I've been watching history take place today. HBO is broadcasting the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, live, this afternoon. A cavalcade of timeless entertainers - culminating with Pete Seeger singing "This Land is Your Land" accompanied by Bruce Springsteen (tears and chills!). No matter where you stand politically, you must admit that Democrats have access to the BEST entertainers around! The next four years will provide us with a welcome break from the conservative elements of the country music world.

Meanwhile, I have continued to be mesmerized by the programming on the MLB Network. I've watched portions of the 2007 postseason (they're up to game 4 of the WS right now), and earlier in the week caught parts of Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary series. And continuing with the historical bent of my weekend, this afternoon I watched "Fear Strikes Out."Life photo of Jim Piersall and RS manager Joe Cronin by George Silk (1957)

Piersall was the promising RS rookie who suffered from Bipolar Disorder. As this bio from ESPN says:

It didn't take long for Piersall to establish himself as a sideshow. And he soon displayed the signs of the mental illness that had stricken his mother. An antagonist of fans and umpires alike, he called attention to himself by taking bows after almost every catch.

Before a game on May 24, Piersall goaded Yankees second baseman Billy Martin into a fight and then brawled with teammate Mickey McDermott. Less than three weeks later, he made pig noises at St. Louis Browns pitcher Satchel Paige.

Following other instances of erratic behavior, Piersall was shipped to Triple-A Birmingham on June 28. Three weeks later, he entered Westborough State Hospital for psychiatric treatment; he was released after six weeks.

Of course, even a sane man could be goaded into punching Martin, but... I didn't realize that Piersall was still alive - after retirement, he found work as a broadcaster with Harry Carey for the White Sox:

In 1980, Piersall, angry that a reporter was questioning White Sox players about the team's decision to remove him as a voluntary outfield coach, choked the writer. That night, he also scuffled with the boss' son, Mike Veeck, because Piersall had called Veeck's stepmother "a colossal bore." Seeking to "rest and recoup," Piersall spent three nights in Illinois Masonic Hospital suffering from exhaustion.

As controversial on the air as he was on the field, Piersall was suspended by the White Sox in 1981 for calling baseball wives "horny broads." In 1983, he was fired for being too critical of the White Sox

He now controls his illness with Lithium (some sites I read said he, in fact, was manic depressive). As a person living in 2009, the depictions in the film of early psychiatric treatment are hard to watch. Piersall underwent electroshock therapy several times, and was confined in a mental hospital several times. The film seems to point the blame on his strict father's pushing him into baseball - his dad was himself a frustrated player. There was also a history of mental illness in the family, as his mother seems to have suffered from a similar disorder. And yet, after therapy and drug treatment, Piersall returned to the Red Sox - he ended up playing 17 years, won two Gold Gloves, and was on two all-star teams.

An interesting story of a memorable character in Red Sox history. Interesting that Piersall wore number 37 - the same number worn by another memorable RS character, Bill Lee. The current bearer of the number: Hideki Okajima. Stay sane, Oki!

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Blogger Tex said...

Very interesting story Beth. Working with juvenile delinquents...well I do and I guess you sorta do too ;)

you know that mental illness hits more people than we all realize...especially in my line of work. Treatment was horrible years ago...but it wasn't that long ago that electroshock therapy was still being used. scary.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Ted D said...

Beth, I knew Piersall was bipolar, but I had no idea he was still alive. Great post!

10:27 AM  

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