There weren’t many locally televised games when the Twins came to Minnesota for the 1961 season. As I recall, the number of telecasts was limited and there were only four home games on the TV schedule.
The theory was that putting home games on free TV worked against selling tickets – and I think it was an accurate assessment of Twin Citians’ willingness to spend money in that era. Credit cards were not in vogue, and the $10 bill you might blow going to a game (ticket, parking, beverage, hot dog) was a precious possession.
There are a few TV snapshots from those early years, and this one has stuck with me through the decades:
Jimmy Piersall is playing center field for the Washington Senators. He is batting early in the game. The Twins starter throws a pitch down the middle of the plate. The plate umpire calls it a strike (which it was), and Piersall drops his bat, starts screaming and is ejected.
One pitch, he’s gone.
This was a baseball moment that I could repeat as fact for many years ... and then along came Baseball Reference. Now those memories of which you are sure must be checked.
Gene Mauch was the first manager that I saw use the fake-to-third, throw-to-first play that became popular in trying to pick off the trail runner. My recollection was that in the years covering Mauch as Twins manager – including three in which when I was in the press box for most every game – that the only player duped by this was Cleveland’s Charlie Spikes, and he was caught twice in the same series at Met Stadium.
Good anecdote. Worth a few laughs.
Trouble was, I went to check it on Baseball Reference, and found only one instance where Charlie could have been picked off in that fashion at Met Stadium. That definitely took away the punch line.
Piersall died on Sunday at 87. Famously, he had a breakdown when playing in the Boston organization in 1952. Anthony Perkins starred in “Fear Strikes Out,’’ a 1957 movie on Piersall’s struggle with mental health.
My recollections of Piersall always have been two-fold: The wacky years (1977-81) that he spent in the White Sox broadcast booth with Harry Caray and Lorne Brown, and the night he got thrown out after taking one strike at Met Stadium.
I had to check on the second item, of course.
Knowing Baseball Reference is there to reveal the truth, you start having doubts. Maybe it wasn’t the first inning; maybe it was when Piersall came up a second time in the third or fourth.
It’s amazing how easy Baseball Reference has made finding something such as this. You look up Jimmy Piersall, find out when he played for Washington, and then look through the game logs for when the Senators were playing at Met Stadium.
There it was: Aug. 21, 1962. Piersall started for the Senators and did not have an official at-bat.
This turned out to be even better than I had hoped. Piersall was in the Senators lineup as the center fielder and was the game’s first hitter. The Twins starter was Jack Kralick and the plate umpire was Al Salerno.
Thus, it was the game’s first pitch from Kralick that Salerno called a strike and caused Piersall to flip out. This could not have been spontaneous; it had to be a pre-planned tirade. Jimmy either didn’t want to play that night or he had a grudge against Salerno from a previous incident.
There were a string of photos from the Associated Press that ran in newspapers around the country:
The Corsicana [Texas] Daily Sun showed Piersall storming toward Salerno as the umpire made the ejection signal, and another photo with him crowding Salerno from behind as Senators manager Mickey Vernon discusses the event with Salerno near home plate.
The Los Angeles Times had AP photos of Piersall climbing the dugout railing to continue screaming at Salerno, and then Vernon and a number of players restraining Piersall in the dugout.
The cutline in the Times read:
‘’JIM’S ON FIRE AGAIN – Irate Jim Piersall of Senators tries to climb dugout railing after being ejected from game Tuesday in Minneapolis. At right, manager Mickey Vernon (3) and teammates finally restrain the hot-tempered outfield veteran.’’
One pitch, center cut, and Piersall goes bonkers.
I knew I had seen that on a rare Twins home telecast in the early '60s, and thanks to Baseball Reference, you magnificent beast of information, for confirming it.