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Remembering Jimmy Piersall, a Success Story in Overcoming Mental Illness

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Jimmy Piersall triumphed over mental illness to pursue a successful career as a MLB player and then broadcaster.

Jimmy Piersall, former White Sox broadcaster and major-league outfielder, passed away at the age of 87 Saturday.  He died of a longtime illness in a care facility in Wheaton, Illinois.  

Piersall became a baseball icon at the beginning of his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1952. His fame was not due to his talents alone.  His on-field antics gave fans and journalists plenty of entertainment.  He mocked the throwing motion of Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige, got into fights with umpires, opponents, teammates and coaches.

After playing 56 games in the majors,Piersall was admitted to a mental hospital.  His antics were not just for show, and Piersall would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  After returning in 1953, Piersall went public to talk about mental illness, reshaping public perceptions of the mentally ill since he had become so beloved by fans.  

Piersall published an autobiography in 1955 called Fear Strikes Out, which would be made into a movie just two years later and offers insights into Piersall’s life that few knew, apart from his closest family. 

Aside from his personal life, Piersall was a two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner.  Piersall ended his career with a .272 batting average 104 home runs, and 591 RBIs.  He played on five different teams during his career, spending the longest stint with the Boston Red Sox.

After a successful baseball career, Piersall’s personality got him a job as a sports broadcaster for the Texas Rangers in 1974.  In 1977, he was hired by the Chicago White Sox to broadcast with Harry Caray but was fired in 1981 for criticizing the team’s management excessively on air.  

The Boston Red Sox seem to have taken most to Jimmy Piersall.  In 2005, they invited him to come to the White House after their 2004 World Series win.  In 2010, Piersall was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.  The Red Sox organization was first to announce his death on Saturday as well.  

Piersall is survived by his nine children, his wife Jan, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Piersall leaves behind a legacy of being able to overcome mental illness and live a successful life, inspiring millions across America to do the same.

Alex Baltzegar is a contributor at Merion West, where he writes about American politics. His columns generally address issues of particular interest to Merion West’s more conservative readers. Originally from California, Alex now lives in North Carolina.

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