As I’m wont to do, I (shockingly) complained about the 1986 set and lack of usable info on the back of cards. Well, with Schoolboy Rowe in tow, I guess it wasn’t all bad, especially with this little nugget from Jesse Orosco’s card (his flip side, here).
Piersall was a slick fielder by all accounts. From 1953-1961 he finished no worse than 10th in Defensive WAR, and the 10th place finish was the only time he placed outside the top five. Defense was clearly where Piersall provided value, as a .272/.332/.386 slash line is nothing overly special.
In addition, he didn’t hit for power (just 104 HRs, however his 100th HR was incredibly memorable) or run particularly well (115 steals in 172 attempts).
But, boy, could he field. I mean, heck, he posted a .990 fielding percentage (tied for 13th all time with the likes of Robin Yount, Bernie Williams, and others). He didn’t post such a good fielding percentage by having poor range either. Quite simply, in 1956, he got to more balls than most players do in a career. In that magnificent year, he recorded 455 put outs. That ties him with Gorman Thomas for the 41st most in a season all time. That would be his finest year at the plate as well (.293/.350/.449) and he lead the league in doubles. He earned his second and final all-star appearances and finished 14th in MVP voting.
Unfortunately, I thought this Flip Side would be more light-hearted than it turned out to be. After researching Piersall, it turns out that circling the bases backwards was not an attempt at clowning but an example of his bi-polar disorder – one that was highly publicized in the book/movie Fear Strikes Out. In my research, I also found that he circled the bases running backwards – but in the correct order – to celebrate his 100th home run – a homer he hit off Phillies pitcher Dallas Green.
Perhaps it is fitting, given Piersall’s condition, that I started this Flip Side off looking to be jovial and have ended it on a relatively sad note.
Or, conversely, in the man’s own words (and during one at bat he did wear a Beatles wig and play air guitar), “Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?”
Had he never circled the bases backwards, I certainly wouldn’t have learned much about him. But at least he went nuts in a funny way…