By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) Jimmy Piersall was a friend of mine. Every week for almost 13 years, Jimmy would call and talk baseball with me for an hour. At that time, he was the baseball insider for The Score, and I was the baseball guy for ESPN 1000.
The conversations were all based on what Jimmy saw from his baseball perspective and my information gathered from sources and data that I had at my fingertips. Jimmy had a 17-year baseball career behind his insight and 15 years as a baseball analyst and talk show host.
Our two worlds were different but in many ways the same. We were fighting to give the best information and entertainment value to the Chicago baseball fans.
Piersall passed away on Sunday at the age of 87 and will be sorely missed. He played 17 major league seasons and broadcasted White Sox games from 1977 through 1981.
When I was a kid, I had watched Jimmy play center field like his hair was on fire. He was the best center fielder I ever saw not named Willie Mays or Ken Griffey Jr. He did crazy things that confounded other players and front office executives throughout the game. He threw a ball off of the center field scoreboard at old Comiskey Park after catching the last out in a Washington Senators win against the White Sox way back in 1963.
As a witness to the event, I asked him 30 years later why he did it.
“We all hated that exploding scoreboard that Bill Veeck put in there in 1960,” Piersall replied. “That was the ultimate humiliation for the pitcher who gave it up. I promised myself that I would put a dent in that thing if the time was right. I did just that. The next day, we saw carpenters and workers up in the board fixing it. That was great.”
Jimmy had nine children and ended up with the love of his life, Jan, his wife of 35 years. Every time I talked to Jimmy, he would brag about her cooking, baking and love she showered him with. He was a lucky guy.
Jimmy was in a rehab center recently. He had been falling a lot and had lost his ability to stand and walk.
“I went to see him 10 days ago,” Cubs Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams said.”He was not in great shape but his mind was sharp. We talked baseball for two hours. He still loved the game and knew all about what was going on now. Jimmy still knew the players now and what the Chicago players were all about. He was one of the best outfield instructors I ever witnessed. The players he worked with loved the guy and learned a lot.”
One of Jimmy’s students was Cub bench coach Davey Martinez, who came up through the Cubs organization when Jimmy was a roving outfield instructor in the system.
“He was my mentor,” Martinez said. “I became a decent center fielder because of what he taught me.
“To this day, I teach a lot of the things he taught me to our outfielders. How to read balls off the bat, understand what pitch was being thrown, staying in a balanced outfielder set up. He worked religiously on getting a great first step going after a ball. To this day, I owe him a lot.”
Chicago will never forget the great broadcasts that Jimmy did with Harry Caray. They were full of energy and in-your-face impact. He got fired from that job like all of his jobs. He was just too honest. Like all of us, he had flaws.
Jimmy was from the world where they could be nice one second and then bust your chops at the same time. He used to tell me that I was really on top of it with my baseball information but that no matter how much I had, I would never be as popular as him.
“I am an entertainer and a baseball man,” he would said. “You can’t beat that, Levine.”
You were the best, Jimmy!
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.