Piersall broke in as a centerfielder but switched to shortstop at the major league level in 1952 after posting .346 and .339 averages for Boston’s minor league affiliate at Birmingham. His season was curtailed by a nervous breakdown, recounted in Piersall’s book, Fear Strikes Out, which was later made into a movie.
Piersall’s comeback with Boston in 1953 was marked by a 6-for-6 performance on June 10, 1953 and a new philosophy for dealing with fans who taunted him about his well-publicized illness: “Give ’em their money’s worth.” His career was characterized by numerous zany stunts, including hiding behind the monuments at Yankee Stadium while with the Indians and running backward around the bases after hitting his 100th career homer as a Met in 1963.
Piersall became the Red Sox’ regular centerfielder in 1954, taking over for Dom DiMaggio. Playing the shallowest centerfield in the majors, he won two Gold Gloves. Piersall’s best years at the plate included a league-leading 40 doubles, 91 runs, 87 RBI, and .293 average for the 1956 Red Sox; 19 HR and 103 runs for the Red Sox in 1957; 18 HR, 66 RBI, and a .282 average for Cleveland in 1960, with a career-high 18 steals, fifth in the league; and a .322 average, fourth in the league, for the 1961 Indians.
Piersall joined Cleveland in exchange for Vic Wertz and Gary Geiger after the 1958 season, and the Senators gave up three players to get him two years later. Waived to the Mets in 1963, Piersall averaged .194, irked manager Casey Stengel, and was released. He hit .314 for the Angels in 1964 as a part-timer before retiring in 1967. He became an outspoken and controversial broadcaster with the White Sox and was ultimately fired for criticizing their management.