The 1950s were a bad decade for the Red Sox as they struggled just to finish at the middle or bottom of the American League for the entire decade. While Ted Williams concluded his legendary career during the course of the decade, the Red Sox did have some really good players alongside him, including Jackie Jensen. Another who gets mentioned as one of the stars of that lost decade is Jimmy Piersall.
“The Waterbury Wizard” (as he called himself, much to the annoyance of his teammates) came up with the Red Sox in 1950 and spent until 1958 with the team as their center fielder. However, his play on the field was overshadowed by his bizarre behavior, multiple physical altercations with opponents and teammates, demotions to the minor leagues, and numerous ejections.
Piersall underwent therapy for months in 1953 before returning to the Red Sox for good and he became famous in 1955 when he published his book Fear Strikes Out which detailed his struggles with bipolar disorder in an era when mental illness wasn’t very well understood or openly discussed. This was later turned into a feature film in 1957, further raising Piersall’s profile.
When looking at his numbers with the Red Sox, though, Piersall was good but not great. In eight seasons as the Red Sox center fielder, he batted .273 with 66 home runs and 366 RBI. Apart from his first two seasons, Piersall played in 130 or more games in every season and he made two All-Star teams (1954 and 1956) and won a Gold Glove with the Sox in 1958.
While he’s not looked back upon as a franchise legend, he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame and is routinely pointed out as one of their stars of the 1950s. If it weren’t for his mental health struggles and the higher profile it brought (he was quoted as saying “the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts. Whoever heard of Jimmy Piersall until that happened?”), that probably wouldn’t be the case.