Jun 22, 2016

Remembering Mets History: (1963) Jimmy Piersall Rounds The Bases Backwards

Sunday June 23, 1963: In the first game of a Sunday double header at the Polo Grounds, Casey Stengel’s young Mets (27-44) took on Gene Mauch’s Philadelphia Phillies (31-39). 

New York pitcher Carl Willey had a great day, as he threw a complete game two hit shut out. Willie walked no one striking out six batters. He bested his record to 6-6 with a 2.62 ERA, best on the Mets staff. That day he earned the win over Phillies pitcher &  future Mets manager; Dallas Green.

The Mets scored first, in the 3rd inning apaif of walks to Tim Harkness & Ron Hunt set the stage for a Duke Snider RBI single. 

In 5th inning a strange but funny & classic thing happened. Jimmy Piersall a character in his own right, led off the inning with a HR. It was a milestone in his playing career, being the 100th HR for him. Piersall dropped the bat and went to circle around the bases. But he did so running backwards.

Piersall was a veteran two time All Star & gold glove outfielder in his days with the Boston Red Sox. He was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown due to emotional exhaustion. He related it back to his father, who had put a tremedous amount of pressure on him in becoming a pro ball player.

He did make a successful comeback taking over centerfield in Boston after Dom DiMaggio's reign. But it certainly did not come without any drama. He fought with his own teammates, and other players as well. Once in a huge brawl he beat Billy Martin to a pulp. During another game he went up to the grand stands to heckle an umpire. 

In 1964 he came to the plate wearing a Beatles wig & playing air guitar on his bat. Eventually he was traded to the Cleveland Indians then to the Washington Senators in exchange for Gil Hodges. Piersall was ejected from games, six games in 1960.

Legend has it he was once seen sprinting back & forth in the outfield when Ted Williams came to bat. He was the subject of the great baseball movie “Fear Strikes Out” starring Tony Perkins in 1957.

On hitting his 100th HR, Piersall had observed Duke Snider hit his 400th home run just a few weeks earlier. He noted that there wasn’t much fan fare for such a great feat. He vowed when he hit his 100th HR, he would do something to make it festive. 

He certainly did, the Polo Grounds loved it, as he trotted around the bases backwards, even some of his team mates  laughed. He never tripped and even shook third base coach; Cookie Lavagetto's hand on the way around.

The Phillies team & pitcher Dallas Green were not amused. Neither was MLB Commissioner Ford Frick who was in attendance that day. The Mets organization didn’t like it either, Manager Casey Stengel was so angry, he cut Piersall from the team two days later.

The Mets won the game 5-0 and the night cap as well 4-1.

Trivia: Jimmy Piersall once appeared on The Lucille Ball Show as himself. In Boston he was praised by Hall of Famer; Ted Williams as the best outfielder Williams ever saw.

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