On Childhood Heroes: Jimmy Piersall

I read somewhere once that stories that were favorites when we were children usually tell something about us (Mine was Ferdinand the Bull). The same is likely true of our childhood heroes.

Like the song says, many of my boyhood heroes were cowboys. Hopalong Cassidy. The Lone Ranger. Shane. But one was a baseball player.

Jimmy Piersall was an average ball player whose career included tenures with the Boston Redsox, Cleveland Indians, and New York Mets. He achieved much attention for his antics. Sitting in the shade of a centerfield flag pole during a pitching change. Decking two fans who tried to assault him on field. Running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th homerun. He was also known for having had a very public mental breakdown while with the Redsox. Nowadays he likely would be diagnosed to be suffering from Bipolar Disorder. So I suppose it tells something about me that one of my boyhood heroes was a broken rebel.

One day my Dad asked me if I’d ever heard of Jimmy Pearsall. I had, having read his book Fear Strikes Out and also being an avid baseball card collector. My Dad then indicated that he and my Mom would be attending a wedding at which Jimmy would be present and did I have anything for him to sign. I immediately produced my copy of the card pictured above. After the wedding, my Dad returned the card, now signed by Jimmy in addition to another publicity card also signed by Jimmy on which he referred to himself as “Your pal”. What a thrill for a ten-year-old boy! The fact that he was a rebel with problems was completely overshadowed by his very gracious gesture to me. It was a lesson I never forgot. The fact that a person has a label and that he/she might be unconventional need not take away from their humanity. That baseball card (which I still have) is a gentle reminder to me to never let labels or nonconformity blind me.

Jimmy is still alive and still outspoken.

Reflection: Did you have any childhood heroes/heroines? What might they say about you?